Around the World

Miles flown for stories
2014: 201,532
2013: 330,818

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The World of Flying Standby

Slow morning at Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) in upstate New York - Photo Steven Paduchak

Slow morning at Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) in upstate New York – Photo: Steven Paduchak

Ever wonder what it’s like to be “that guy?” Specifically, when trying to get on a particular flight, standing up at the kiosk as the gate agent scans everyone’s boarding pass?  Well people, I had the distinct opportunity to be “that guy.”  Welcome to the world of flying via standby.

What is “standby” flying?  Well, I’ll tell you.  People who are on a standby list for a particular flight have the option to snag any available seats left over once the boarding process is complete.  By “standard passengers,” I, of course, mean people who actually paid money (or miles) for their ticket.  Flying standby is most commonly a result of a friend or relative working for that specific airline, or regional affiliate. My first week being a part of this kind of travel was entertaining, exciting, nerve-wrecking, aggravating, and unorthodox, to say the least.  Here’s how it all got started.

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My First Flight on the Airbus A350 XWB

The Airbus A350 waiting to be boarded - Photo: Owen Zupp

The Airbus A350 (MSN002) waiting to be boarded – Photo: Owen Zupp

A flight test program is a finely-tuned schedule, down to the most detailed demonstration, with every minute of flight time accounted for. The deadlines of certification and delivery loom ever-closer as the engineers and pilots continue to put the aircraft through its paces. Still, recently, Airbus was able to somehow wedge a 60-minute flight into their A350 XWB timeline to showcase their newest family member to a media contingent visiting Toulouse for their ‘Airbus Innovations 2014′. I was fortunate to be one of those that flew aboard that flight.

The A350 wingtip with special escort - Photo: Owen Zupp

The A350 wingtip with special escort – Photo: Owen Zupp

The fact that Airbus was prepared to conduct the flight reflects two rather key points. Firstly, that their flight test program is on track and secondly, that they are confident enough in their product to take a load of media scribes aloft. Furthermore, Airbus created specific social media channels for the journalists to share the flight with the world. Consequently, there was a buzz of texting and tweeting as 200 passengers cleared a security channel and filed down the aero-bridge.

The aircraft’s cabin was still in flight test mode, so interspersed amongst the passenger seats were stations of data-gathering equipment, computer screens, and cables taped to the floor. Even so, as one walked through business class and into the economy cabin, there was still that new airplane smell. The interior boasted all of the mod-cons of inflight entertainment systems and even the fasten belt sign was a scrolling digital display. As we all settled in, there was no mistaking that this was a new generation of passenger jet and we were very privileged to take flight.

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Being a Youngster Working as a Travelers Aid

A Travelers Aid desk at DCA

A Travelers Aid desk at DCA – Photo: Ryan Ewing

I love airplanes and sometimes I think airplanes love me. It is hard to fathom that these beautiful, curiosity-instilling works-of-art can fly. Throughout my life, I have always had a strong interest in aviation. My parents tell me that I would always ask a family friend, a pilot for a major carrier, questions about airplanes. I never caught the aviation bug – I was just born with it.

It was a summer day in May of 2013 when I came to the realization that I needed to find something to do during the summer besides sitting on the computer or watching TV. I talked to some people and found an organization called Travelers Aid International. Initially, I didn’t know Travelers Aid even existed, but I knew this would be a perfect place for me. I contacted the organization at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and they sent me a very kind response telling me where to meet for the interview. There, during the interview, was where I would start something that I would never be able to end.

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AvGeek Tale: Taking My First Flying Lesson

Coming in for a landing - Photo Gr

Coming in for a landing – Photo: Graeme J W Smith

Lunchtime – I arrive at Airport Road in Warwick, having driven past the usual airport entrance and around the end of the field. There are hangars behind the fence, a big “Learn to Fly Here” sign on the end of the large hangar. A trail of little yellow airplanes painted on the sidewalk leads to the school door in the old control tower building. I go through the door. A counter – I’m immediately greeted by a young guy whose name badge said Chris. There are aviation prints, flags from around the world from people who learned at the school, a case with headsets and aircraft models, some seats, and magazines.

We do some paperwork. Chris detects my Scottish accent. He will need to perform a background check on me before I am ever able to solo. A legacy from 9/11. I explain I’m actually an American and produce a US Passport. Clearly this has just saved a ton of extra paperwork. Big smile from Chris. We talk about – what else – flying. My instructor is finishing up with the last student – he will be right with me.

Someone appears through a door telling the person who is clearly a student what they will do next time. I’m introduced to Greg. He snags me a guest headset from the school’s loaner pile, grabs a flight box for an aircraft, and takes me down to the classrooms on the side of the hangar. Each desk has a computer, books, and some aviation print or similar. We sit down at his and go over what is about to happen. We are cautiously sounding each other out. We turn to the computer and get a volume of information from it (don’t worry, it gets easier with time) weather, standard briefing, radar picture, METARS, TAF’s, TFR’s and NOTAMS all written in code and requiring interpretation. I note the website we are using for later study. We do this before EVERY flight. Especially TFR’s – Temporary Flight Restrictions – they can pop up at a moment’s notice and leave you grounded or in big trouble if you fly.

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Review of Business Class on American Airlines’ Transcon A321

Business Class on the American A321. Image: Eric

Business Class on the American A321 – Photo: SouthpawCapture

I live in the Dallas area, and don’t often fly transcon flights. However, I recently needed to go to both LA and New York close to the same time, and I thought it would be fun to try American’s new Airbus A321”T” they are flying between JFK and both LAX and San Francisco.

I am an Executive Platinum AAdvantage member (American’s top-tier elite for the unitiated) so I can often, but not always, upgrade on a regular coach fare. I looked for the flight with the most available seats in business class, reasonably figuring that this would give me the best chance of upgrading. It was a midweek flight leaving LAX at 1 PM, arriving at JFK at around 10 PM local time.

If it’s not obvious, I am a typical top-tier elite member – very spoiled. Sitting in the back of the bus is for the great unwashed, not I. Seriously, no, I am not above sitting back there, and as I make lots of last-minute changes, I often wind up squashed in with everybody else. Plus since I own my business, travel costs come out of my pocket. No high-end business class fares for me.

American's A321 in flight. Image; Eric.

American’s A321 in flight – Photo: SouthpawCapture

So when you have the opportunity to take “AAdvantage” of the few perks you get with business travel these days, you grab it. Considering this was a five-hour flight and I was already very tired, I was REALLY hoping for the upgrade, to say the least.

When I got to LAX, the upgrade still wasn’t there, and I was pouting. To make things worse, the flight was listed an hour late due to weather in JFK. But about 45 minutes before the flight left the gate, the clouds parted, the sun shone, and the upgrade gods smiled on me. Business class it was, Seat 8F on the new A321.

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