Trip Report: Singapore Airlines Premium Economy

In my last post, I wrote about my experience flying in premium economy class on Lufthansa. Recently, I have flown twice on Singapore Airlines in their premium economy cabin: once to Paris and the second time to Australia and New Zealand. I’ll do a quick review of the experience here as a point of comparison.

The planes

On my flights between Singapore and Paris and Singapore and Melbourne, I flew on the Airbus A380, the largest passenger plane flying. On the flight between Singapore and Auckland, I flew on the Boeing 777-300ER. Both planes feature premium economy class in a 2-4-2 configuration.

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Above, the Airbus A380 after our arrival in Paris.

Of the planes, I prefer the Boeing 777. The Airbus A380 is a massive, double-deck plane and it simply feels like a huge plane with heaps of passengers in it. In reality, the A380 has only 379 seats (Lufthansa puts 509 on the same plane!) so it is not as densely configured. Nonetheless, the Boeing 777-300ER has only 264 passengers so feels much less crowded.

The cabin

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On the Airbus A380, there are 38 premium economy seats in a 2-4-2 layout. The seat is 19.5 inches wide with a 38-inch pitch. According to the stats on SeatGuru.com, this is 1.5 inches wider than on Lufthansa. That said, I did not find the seat any more spacious.

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There is a large seat back monitor, which is controlled from a remote in your armrest. The screen appears marginally larger than on Lufthansa but that doesn’t make a huge difference.

The seat has many storage areas and useful amenities, including an individual power port and a USB plug. The magazine pouch has a cheap, plastic feel and was broken on two of the seats. Overall, the seat was comfortable although I found it more so if I place a pillow on the front of the seat cushion under my legs.

There is ample legroom and, as with other airlines’ premium economy, each passenger has his or her own armrests. There is also a nice pillow and large blanket for each passenger along with noise-cancelling headphones.

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As a comparison, here is a view of the regular economy class during the flight. It is in a 3-4-3 layout and feels considerably more crowded.

The service

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Before departure, the flight attendants did not offer beverages – different than on Lufthansa. Menus were placed in the seat back pockets. Singapore does offer a “book the cook” option, allowing you to select certain main courses in advance, a feature Lufthansa does not offer in premium economy.

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After takeoff, warm towels were handed out followed by a service of drinks and nuts. The signature Singapore Sling cocktail is available as well as a full selection of premium beverages.

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The flight attendants are friendly and attentive. They are more polished than at Lufthansa, in terms of having very specific customer service phrasing they are expected to use. Some people perceive this as robotic, other people like it.

As an example, when Tawn asked for a beverage that they didn’t have on the cart, the flight attendant said she would be happy to get him the drink but it would be a few minutes – but would he like something else while waiting?

I thought that was a good touch.

Also, when I was boarding, the flight attendant saw my boarding pass, recognized my seat number, and said “Oh, 35D! You have the special meals ordered, a XYZ for dinner and XYZ for breakfast.” I was impressed that he remembered that off the top of his head.

The meals

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Meal services are decent, although I liked the ones on Lufthansa better. Here is a braised beef dish with mashed potatoes.

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There as also a Chinese-style stir fried chicken with rice, which was a little oily but tasty. Notice that for this flight served out of Paris, we had a little block of cheese.

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The breakfast service before arriving into Singapore was sad. This quiche and hash brown was limp.

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And the waffle was soggy and the egg rubbery. Overall, a poor showing from Singapore airlines.

While I do not show them here, I did try the “book the cook” meal service when fling to the southern hemisphere. While I liked having the option of choosing a meal in advance, I was not overwhelmed by the quality of the catering. Only the cumin-spiced lamb chops out of Melbourne were impressive.

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For the Paris flights, premium ice cream was served – a nice treat.

The timing of the service was generally fine. The exception was the overnight flight from Melbourne to Singapore. Only 7.5 hours in length and departing at midnight, there is only a light snack service to begin with (which I slept through) and a full meal is served before landing. Unfortunately, they started the service 2.5 hours before landing. Had they pushed it back another 30-60 minutes, it would have allowed people to get more rest.

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In terms of inflight entertainment, Singapore Airlines has a huge selection of movies, TV shows and music to keep you occupied. The selection was wider than on Lufthansa, although there is only so much time you have on the flight so on either airline you will be able to find something to fill your time.

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The screen is high-resolution and bright and the controls were responsive. Unfortunately, the screens were not touchscreen, requiring you to fiddle with the handset controller.

The lounges

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Singapore Airlines has just recently opened a new lounge in Bangkok on the D concourse, a location superior to their previous lounge on the A concourse. The lounge is beautiful and continues to have a wide variety of foods and beverages.

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A selection of food in the old lounge in Bangkok

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Above, in Paris all the Star Alliance carriers use a shared lounge facility which has a good selection of food and beverage but which can become quite crowded and is also a bit dark.

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Most disappointing is the “Gold Lounge” in Singapore, especially the one in Terminal 3. Singapore Airlines, like all Star Alliance members, welcomes other members’ gold-status passengers. In Singapore, their main hub, they have a separate lounge just for non-Singapore gold members. These lounges are not that nice: crowded, limited food selection and no showers or other amenities.

Overall

Premium economy is usually a reasonable value: more space and comfort without breaking the bank. Depending on the route and when you fly, Singapore offers some attractive prices for this good service.

Comparing Lufthansa and Singapore, they are quite similar. Singapore has a better entertainment system. Lufthansa has better food and a slightly better seat. Singapore has friendlier flight attendants but slow service. Lufthansa has service that gives you more time to sleep but with flight attendants who, while professional, are not as buttery with their words. Lufthansa offers better lounge experiences across the system; Singapore offers good lounges for non-Singapore passengers everywhere but in their hub city.

At the end of the day, if the two airlines offered me the same price on the same route, I would choose Lufthansa as I think the experience was just slightly better. But you will not go wrong with Singapore at all.

In a few weeks, I will be flying EVA Air, the Taiwanese carrier, on their premium economy service. I will post another report covering that trip.

 

My First Flight on the 787 Dreamliner

This is the story of my first flight aboard the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, traveling on All-Nippon Airways (ANA) flight 1075 from San Jose, California to Narita airport in Tokyo, Japan. An 11-minute video version of this trip report is embedded here if you would prefer to watch instead of read.

The Dreamliner is a revolutionary wide-body aircraft. Made largely with composite materials, it is about 20% more fuel efficient than the older 767 aircraft it is designed to replace. Despite a four-month grounding earlier this year because of electrical problems, the aircraft has performed very well for its initial customers and is opening new “long and thin” routes like San Jose to Tokyo that could not previously have been served profitably.

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I arrived at the airport plenty early to watch the inbound aircraft land, which arrived about twenty minutes late. Having grown up in the San Jose area and able to remember the days when the airport was a much smaller operation, it is exciting to see this cutting-edge plane regularly scheduled to fly here.

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ANA operates from terminal A. Now nearly a quarter-century old, I still recall terminal A as the “new” terminal compared to the 1960s era terminal C that was only recently demolished. As a child, I relished the opportunity to walk across the tarmac and climb a set of stairs to board the airplane. To me, that made air travel much more exciting. These days, the two terminals at San Jose are modern and entirely enclosed. Certainly the facilities are nicer but the travel experience is also more sterile.

ANA has a small counter space but lots of employees working check-in. As a Star Alliance gold level member, there was no wait and I was efficiently checked in by a friendly agent. While the agent did not appear to be of Japanese heritage – several of the staff members were – she displayed all the appropriate cultural training such as receiving and handing documents with both hands. This was a nice touch and leads me to believe that instead of relying on contract employees, ANA is using its own staff.

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Boarding pass in hand – a window seat in the second row of economy class – I headed up the escalator to the security screening area. The terminal has a single consolidated screening point and while there weren’t that many people in line, the process took a bit of time. In particular, the crew of Mexican budget airline Volaris seemed to be holding up the line, unfamiliar with the TSA’s screening procedures. It took several of the flight attendants multiple trips through the metal detector before they finally removed all of their metal items.

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Today’s flight operated from gate 15, one of two gates connected to the International Arrivals Area. This section of the terminal is essentially the connector between terminals A and B. There are few amenities but the windows offer a good view of the tarmac. Unfortunately, the sterile corridor leading to the customs and immigration area means you look out through two sets of windows.

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I spent plenty of time taking pictures of the Dreamliner. It is a unique-looking airplane, with an asymmetrical nose. The plane’s proportions make it looks smaller than it actually is, perhaps because it looks unusually low to the ground for so large an aircraft.

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After taking plenty of pictures – something lots of other waiting passengers were also doing – I headed to The Club at SJC, a private lounge that ANA uses for its premium customers. The Club is the only lounge at SJC, where the only dominant airline is Southwest.

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Located upstairs from the departure gate, the lounge offers limited views of the tarmac but has two large seating areas, workspaces, and a decent selection of food and beverage. They also have a single shower room, so I freshened up before the flight.

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It was nearing time to board. ANA operates the San Jose service with a 787 in a very low density configuration, only 158 passengers in a plane that can easily seat more than 220. Because of this, the gate area was not crowded.

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After the highest level members of ANA’s frequent flyer program were boarded, Star Alliance Gold members were invited. A single jetway is used at this gate but with so few passengers boarding, it isn’t a problem. I was welcomed aboard warmly and directed towards my seat.

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Business class, divided into two cabins, seats 46 people in alternating rows of 1-1-1 and 1-2-1 seating. All seats have direct aisle access and a lot of privacy. The problem with this arrangement is that it isn’t very friendly for couples traveling together. I know that privacy is something that a lot of premium customers value highly, but I prefer arrangements that are a little less cubicle-like.

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A small economy class cabin of just three rows sits behind business class and the mid-cabin lavatories. In another configuration, this area has premium economy seating with 38” legroom and only seven seats across. I can understand why they made that choice: there is nearly a foot of empty floor behind the last row in this cabin. Even without installing premium economy, they could have added a few more inches to each of these three rows.

The design of the overhead bins offers plenty of room to store roll-aboard bags placed on their side. The bins also pivot into the ceiling, making for a very open cabin when they are closed. This being a low-density seating configuration, lots of storage space remained even after everyone had boarded.

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ANA uses fixed-shell seats in economy, where instead of reclining back into the row behind you, your seat slides forward. I like this arrangement because my personal space remains fixed. With 33 to 34 inches of seat pitch, ANA’s Dreamliner offers several more inches of legroom than most competitors including joint-venture partner United Airlines. My one complaint with these seats is that the headrest doesn’t move up and down and, perhaps because it is designed for Japanese customers, it manages to fall at my neck rather than the back of my head.

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The inflight entertainment system is an “on-demand” system with touch screen controls. The selection of movies, TV shows, games, and music is extensive – plenty to keep you occupied on your flight. The system was also one of the more responsive that I have used. When you touch the screen, it reacts promptly. The overhead passenger service unit features a new design and it was nice to be on a wide-body airplane with personal air vents.

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Boarding was complete in about fifteen minutes and soon enough we had pushed back and the safety demo was finished. As the engines spooled up – a higher pitch whine than I’ve heard before – the ANA ground staff lined up to send us off with a wave. Being a small airport, we reached the departure end of runway 30 R in just a few minutes. Number one for takeoff, we pulled onto the runway and launched into our roll without a stop.

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Our departure followed an interesting path, indicated in green on the map. We leveled off at 5,000 feet and maintained that altitude across the south end of the bay, towards Woodside.

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Meanwhile, aircraft were circling wide on our left (yellow on the map), cutting behind us to line up for arrival on runways 28 L and R at San Francisco. While I am confident the air traffic controllers were keeping a close watch on us, the other aircraft came a lot closer than you usually see from your window. It was nice to have such a good view! As we approached Half Moon Bay, we resumed our climb, joining the westbound route across the Pacific.

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About forty minutes after departure, inflight service began with hot towels – real cloth towels – followed by a beverage service with snacks.

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The snacks were simple – rice crackers – and the selection of beverages included complimentary wine, beer, and spirits. The crew was friendly and helpful and there were no difficulties in communicating with them in English.

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An in-seat menu card described the general service while the specific meal choices for today’s flight could be read on the inflight entertainment system and also on laminated cards the flight attendants had on their carts.

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For dinner, I chose the Japanese option – a chicken teriyaki dish served with cold soba – buckwheat noodles. The portion was generous and the food was tasty. The dinner also included miso soup served from a pitcher.

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Afterwards, flight attendants distributed Häagen-Dazs ice cream – a simple and satisfying dessert. Since the meal was served with metal cutlery, I could use an actual spoon to scoop the rock-hard ice cream instead of the flimsy plastic one contained inside the ice cream container’s lid.

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After lunch, I walked around the mostly-full cabin. You can see the windows, which are about thirty percent larger than conventional airplane windows. Truthfully, this didn’t make as big an impression on me as I thought they would. Sure, the windows were large, but the biggest effect was that it made the cabin look narrower. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but because I am used to a standard-size window, as I looked across the width of the cabin and mentally estimated the width, the wall looked closer to me than it really was. Instead of shades, the windows use LCD controls for different levels of shading. Above, you can see two of the windows at the maximum-dark setting.

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The rear cabin has eleven additional rows of economy class seats. As you can see, the cabin has a spacious feel and the 2-4-2 arrangement is quite pleasant. Unfortunately, ANA is moving towards a 3-3-3 arrangement like most operators so the comfortably wide seats will be a thing of the past. I can understand the economics but will say that as a customer, I will go out of my way to fly an 8-abreast 787 instead of a 9-abreast configuration.

The other thing I noticed is that the screens on the entertainment system are coated in such a way that they are not visible unless viewed almost straight-on. For example, I couldn’t tell if the person seated next to me had his screen on until I leaned over to look. This would seem to be a good thing, minimizing extraneous light and also giving greater (although not complete) privacy in what you are viewing.

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The galley and entrance to the crew rest area are at the rear of the cabin. This arrangement is nice because it gives the crew plenty of space to work and minimizes the number of passengers congregating in this area. Instead, the congregate mid-cabin by the lavatories.

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Three lavatories are in the middle of the economy class cabin, located by doors 3 left and 3 right. I didn’t get a picture or video of them, but the doors are hinged in an interesting way. Instead of pivoting on a hinge at one side of the door or folding in half, the door slides and pivots into the toilet, lying flat against the side wall. This improves the accessibility of the lavatory although isn’t intuitive. I noticed several people pushing and pulling the door before they figured out how it moved.

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The lavatories are high-tech on ANA featuring lots of buttons, including for the automated bidet, in case you need to wash your bum afterwards. When you press the flush button, the toilet seat cover is automatically lowered. Oddly, though, the flush happens while the cover is still lowering. Lavatories were kept clean with flight attendants tidying them throughout the flight.

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The LCD shading for the windows is interesting. Instead of having physical shades that you pull shut, there are two buttons that allow you to increase the tinting along five settings from nearly transparent to nearly opaque. It seems that the most transparent setting still seems to have a light tint to it, or at least that was my impression.

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At its darkest, you can still see through the window although little light passes through. That may not make sense when I write it, but when you look at the windows from the side, they appear to be completely opaque. When you look at the windows straight-on, you can see through them as if they were very dark sunglasses. Mid-flight, which was still full daylight outside, the cabin was dark although not as dark as with physical window shades. If I’m not mistaken, I think the flight attendants were able to master set the windows to the darkest setting although individual passengers could modify the settings for their own windows, making them more transparent as they wished.

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Snacks and beverages were available in the galley throughout the flight. The selection was basic – some crisps and crackers along with bananas.

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About two and a half hours before landing – just a little early, in my estimation – a second meal service was offered. Unlike lunch/dinner, which had clear “Japanese” and “Western” options, the choices for the breakfast were less distinct.

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I had the chicken cacciatore, which was pretty tasty. The portion size was smaller than the previous meal, but considering that we had eaten just five hours ago, that was okay.

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One feature of the Dreamliner is that its cabin is pressurized to the equivalent of a 6000 foot elevation instead of at 8000 feet, as found in most airliners. Also, humidity levels are slightly higher, about 15% versus less than 5% normally. My impression was that the cabin was a bit more comfortable than normal. I travel frequently across the Pacific and find I get very dried out. The effect could just be psychological but on this flight, I felt less dehydrated.

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The rest of the flight was smooth as we descended into an overcast northern Japan and landed on-time in Narita. As we approached the airport, there was a lot of other traffic and on our turns there was always a good view of other planes. The rice paddies were also vibrant green and just starting to turn golden yellow.

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Again, thanks to the low-density configuration, it took just a few minutes to deplane. My nine hour, forty-five minute flight aboard the ANA Dreamliner left me with a positive impression of both the airplane and the airline.

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All things considered, I would go out of my way to fly ANA in general and the Dreamliner in particular on future trips. Additionally, flying out of San Jose was a very convenient option so I will keep that in mind for future trips to and from the Bay Area.

Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur on Lufthansa

Even though the trip was several weeks ago, I’m only now getting to posting my video trip report on YouTube for the trip to Kuala Lumpur. The flight was on Lufthansa, the German airline. They fly it as a tag-on segment to the Frankfurt-Bangkok flight and it is currently the only Boeing 747 being flow between Bangkok and KL.

Here is the nine-minute video trip report for your viewing pleasure. Pictures and brief highlights of the flight are provided below.

Since I had a mid-afternoon departure and was traveling light, I decided to take the Airport Link train to the airport. Since it opened in the second half of 2010 (blog entry about it here), the service has been a money-loser. Ultimately, it isn’t very convenient and the main in-city terminal is located near a subway station but is not connected to it. (In fairness, they are a month or two away from finally opening an elevated walkway to connect the two.) The system has a notable lack of down-direction escalators, making for a lot of heavy lifting or waiting for the single elevator at each station is you have heavy bags. The State Railways promises to add escalators at key stations but no timetable has been provided.

The airport itself is a wonder of glass, steel, and concrete. In many ways, it is hard to distinguish from any other major international airport, although as you can see, some Thai touches have been snuck in. This is a Buddha image that ostensibly contains a relic from the Lord Buddha. It was set up with a large display of flowers right in the middle of the departures hall as a temporary display sponsored by some company.

Hidden upstairs, high above the ticketing counters, is an observation deck. The view is largely obstructed by roof and wall support structures and a scale model of the airport, which has seen better day, is displayed there. Looking closely, I noticed that it had suffered much damage while being moved. It seems a jumbo jet has crash landed on the entrance road to the airport connecting from the expressway!

Before the flight, I visited the Singapore Airlines Silver Kris lounge. One of the luxuries I allow myself is a Star Alliance Gold tier membership, which provides me with lounge access when flying Star Alliance carriers. Having a quiet space away from the bustle of the airport makes air travel a lot more enjoyable. This lounge, in particular, is very nice with views of a large garden area.

The beverage and food selection surprised me with its breadth. In addition to a variety of cold cuts, cheeses, and desserts, there were several different types of proper food including soups, a salad bar, Chinese steamed dumplings, and a few main courses.

I was especially impressed that they had set up a make-your-own “khao chae” bar. Khao Chae (I wrote about it here last year) is a Thai hot season treat, rice served in cool, fragrant jasmine water with a selection of condiments. Not the type of thing you would expect to find in an airline lounge and something that was not on offer over at the THAI Airways lounge! Kudos to Singapore Airlines for their attention to detail.

A small selection of desserts, including a traditional Thai dessert cooked in a pandan leaf box, served with a cappuccino. While the desserts were not breathtaking, they were tasty and a wide variety was offered.

Our bird as seen through the dirty windows of Suvarnabhumi International Airport. This Boeing 747-400 is nicknamed Duisburg after the famous steel-making city in Germany. It entered the Lufthansa fleet on June 5, 1991 but the interior was in remarkably good shape for a plane quickly approaching its 22nd birthday. 

Quick review of the safety demonstration card before departure. You can never be too careful, right?

If I had to sit in these tight economy class seats for ten or twelve hours, I would not be happy, but for the short flight to KL, it was fine. The seats have large touch-screen monitors playing an extensive selection of films and TV shows. One thing I like about these seats is that the magazines are moved to a pouch behind the tray table, freeing up a little more room for your knees. Still, seat pitch was just 31 or 32″, comparable to economy class on most US carriers. 

Our “meal service” was a snack box with a sandwich that contained the thinnest slice of chicken and the saddest looking leaf of lettuce I have ever seen. A muffin and a KitKat candy bar rounded out the meal. Beverage service was the small bottled water. I think you could go to the galley and request a juice or soft drink but no beverage cart was rolled through the aisles. While it is a short flight, this seems a pretty sad offering for an airline that claims to be full-service.

Beginning our descent into Kuala Lumpur on a beautiful late afternoon with high clouds. Closer to the ground, though, the skies were hazy and visibility was limited. Overall, the flight was smooth and reasonably comfortable. The crew, while being pretty senior, was friendly, professional, and seemed to genuinely enjoy working the flight.

 

Flying to LA on EVA

Tawn and I flew from Bangkok to Los Angeles yesterday, a journey that was about 18 hours gate-to-gate and went pretty smoothly, thanks to the good service of EVA Airways of Taiwan and an upgrade on the transpacific segment to business class. 

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In the EVA Airways lounge in Bangkok we had a bite to eat, including this passable pad thai.  Not bad for something that was prepared in advance and was sitting, covered, under the heat lamps.

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And ice cream!  Passion fruit and cookies and cream.  That was a nice treat.

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Nice view at the gate area at Bangkok Airport in the mid-afternoon sun.

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Our flight out of Bangkok was in the premium economy class, which offers about 6 more inches of legroom than regular economy and one fewer seat across the width of the cabin.  Only a little bit more expensive than economy class – and actually similar in price to what US carriers charge for their economy class – and a lot more comfortable.  The food is nicer, too.  This was the dinner served out of B angkok.

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Close up of my chicken and rice dish, which was very nice.

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Tawn’s seafood and noodles wasn’t very pretty, although it did taste okay.

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In Taipei we visited the EVA Airways lounge, which is available to even their “silver” tier fliers, which is a relatively low bar to achieve.  Two flights from Bangkok to the US is pretty much enough to keep that status.  While in the lounge, Tawn tried some of their congee (rice porridge) which he pronounced was quite tasty.

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For the Taipei to Los Angeles segment we cashed in some miles to upgrade to business class, which is a nice way to fly.  Considering I’m not at a point in my life where I would ever consider paying for business class, using miles is about the only chance I have!

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Appetizer of smoked duck breast, pate served in a plum, and shrimp.

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One of the benefits of being in business class on EVA is that you can pre-order dishes from a special menu available online.  That way you know exactly what you will have to eat.  I ordered lamb chops served with mint sauce, gratineed potatoes and mixed veggies.  Tasty.

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Tawn’s dish, which he pre-ordered.  A Chinese style sea perch with three types of sticky rice and steamed veggies.  The sauce is made of fermented soybeans.  Tasty.

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Fruit plate

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Some sort of a cake, served with chopped pistachios.

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During the flight, the window shades were closed, lights were dimmed, and in the business class cabin, there are LED “stars” in the ceiling and a cool blue glow.  The idea is that the ceiling lates can gradually change colors to simulate sunset and then sunrise in order to help you adjust your circadian rythm.  However, they change a bit too quickly for that to happen.

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Before landing, Tawn enjoyed congee (“jok” or rice porridge) with a variety of condiments.  Compared favorably with the one served in the lounge before the flight.

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Made to order latte with a crystal sugar stir stick.  Very nice.

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Special ordered “breakfast” shortly before our descent into LA: chicken noodle soup with pickles and side dishes, made by Din Tai Fung restaurant in Taipei.

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Coming in over the central coast area of California as the sun’s rays grow long on the hills, about 7:40 pm.

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Coming in over west Los Angeles, about ten minutes before landing.  We were a few minutes ahead of schedule but, even then, it still took about two hours to get through immigration and customs.  In any case, we’re here now!

 

Nasty Flight Attendant

Here in New York, arriving Monday after a annoyingly long delay at Chicago O’Hare, explained by the ill-defined reason, “air traffic control.”  There were rain showers in New York and JFK Airport’s longest runway is closed for a four-month reconstruction, so this may have caused the delay – even though we were flying into LaGuardia.

The worst of it, though, was the terrible attitude of our United flight attendants.  This was their final flight to their home base so I imagine they were as eager as the rest of us to get on the flight and depart, but never have I been talked to in so martial a tone as on this flight.  They were barking at passengers about bag storage, boarding procedures, etc. 

Tawn put his larger bag in the overhead bin and folded his trench coat to place it next to the bag.  “On top of the bag, sir!  Put your coat on top of your bag!” shouted a flight attendant from several rows away, ignoring the fact that Tawn’s bag filled the bin to its ceiling.  Finally, he just put the coat in his lap rather than receive any more verbal abuse.

Eventually the overhead bins filled and bags needed to be gate checked.  Nothing unusual about this and, I would imagine, an unsurprising consequence of the airline’s policy to charge for checked baggage.  But what shocked me was the announcement another flight attendant made:

Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the need to gate check bags.  Despite out repeated announcements, other passengers did not store their bags in the overhead bins properly so there was not room to accommodate your bags…

I cannot believe he said that.  Is there any question as to why United no longer gets my paying business?  In all my years of flying I have never heard a flight attendant use an announcement to blame passengers.

Anyhow, we’re in New York.  It was rainy last night but we had a tasty dinner at Mama’s Food Shop.  I have some pictures of this place in the East Village but they are still on the camera.  You’ll have to wait for ’em.

Cheers!

Screen Smarter, Not Harder

In the wake of the Christmas Day attempt at blowing up a Northwest Airlines flight heading from Amsterdam to Detroit, security officials have stepped up screening and other activities in an effort to increase safety and security.  Well, that’s ostensibly the reason.  One could be forgiven, though, for mistaking the increased activity as mere busyness for the sake of looking busy, rather than as rational steps that actually increase security.

tsa-flaws-web Thankfully, in the days immediately following the tightening of security measures, several of the dumber ones (requiring passengers to remain seated for the last hour of the flight, not allowing any carry-on items including blankets or pillows to be in their laps, and turning off the inflight entertainment systems so as to disable the flight tracking feature which shows where the plane is on a map) were quickly rescinded or pilots were given authority to relax the measures at their discretion.

It seems to me that if we are serious about increasing our security while flying, there are several things we need to do.  There are also things we need to stop doing as they are wasteful and do nothing to increase security.

We need to implement more thorough inspection of people and bags.  This should include the purchase and use of more full-body imaging devices, which can detect nonmetallic as well as metallic items hidden beneath clothing.  There are ways to work around privacy concerns but this is one of the most effective ways to find potentially dangerous devices that can all too easily be concealed during current screening procedures. 

The flip side of this is that we need to get smarter about whom we screen.  We spend too much energy putting grandma and grandpa through secondary screenings when they don’t seem to be a likely security threat.  Past affronts like making a mother drink her breastmilk from a bottle she was carrying on in order to prove it wasn’t harmful make a mockery of our security procedures and the freedoms we give up in order to be more secure.  Essentially, events like these and the thousands of indignities we suffer at airport security checkpoints across the nation are a sure sign the terrorists have won.

We need to start screening cargo.  While checked baggage now goes through security screening, almost all of the cargo shipped on planes (as well as all of it sent by container ship) does not undergo any inspection, relying instead on the government’s “trusted shipper” program.  Without a doubt, this is a serious gap in our security and could easily be something for a terrorist to exploit.

We need to get our intelligence services working together.  Time and again we learn (Monday morning quarterbacking, of course) that we had heaps of information about people who attempted or succeeded in hijacking or bringing down aircraft.  The relevant agencies need a better process for taking the information they have and acting on it.  The Nigerian man involved in the Christmas Day bombing attempt should never have been allowed to board the flight based on information we already had.

We need more accountability at the Transportation Security Administration about the effectiveness of security measures put into place.  Reports obtained by news sources have indicated that TSA screeners miss intentionally concealed weapons on passengers and in baggage at about the same rate screeners did prior to September 11, 2001.  This means that the massive investment and inconvenience we suffer is largely ineffective in increasing security.  The results of those tests need to be public and if improvements aren’t made, people need to lose their job.  While I can understand the security reasons for not disclosing which airports have the worst screeners, the composite scores should be available for all of us to see.

People in many countries around the world have to put up with intrusive and time-consuming security measures.  (In some countries that is because we invaded them and made the situation worse!)  That’s the price we pay for increased security.  At the same time, the price we pay should be commiserate with the security we are provided.  Right now, I don’t see that we’re getting a good return on that investment.