Flying to down town Seattle in an R44

I am flying to downtown Seattle in an R44 – Photo: Kassy Coan

A few years ago, during my transition between software engineering at Google and program management at Microsoft, I took an intro flight in a Robinson 22 helicopter, simply because there was a good deal going, and it sounded like an adventure. I instantly fell in love with the challenge of flying, was mesmerized by the aerodynamics of it all, and was enthralled by the thought of how to improve the user experience of the pilot and optimize the process of flight.

Here I am, many years later, thinking that was the most expensive $70 Groupon I’ve ever come across! However, I’m now an FAA-rated private helicopter pilot, with 150+ total flight hours between the S300, R22, and R44, and have started working on my fixed wing add-on.

I’m often asked if I’ll ever take up piloting as a career. When I say this isn’t likely, but I plan to invest in it further as a hobby, the looks I get vary from “why are you wasting your time” to “how is it worth it financially?” The same goes for anyone looking at my resume (or that of other aviators); those who haven’t experienced aviation training don’t immediately see how the skills it takes to fly an aircraft apply to improving various aspects of life and other non-aviation-related career skills.

Here are a few of the skills I gained while getting my private pilot license, which help me every day in my personal and professional life:

Main business cabin on Swiss's 777-300ER.

Main business cabin on the Swiss 777-300ER

On June 10, Swiss International Air Lines officially inaugurated its new Boeing 777-300ER (77W) on its first regularly scheduled daily service to the United States. The debut flight took off from Zürich/Kloten Airport (ZRH) and arrived at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The 77W is the first Boeing product in Swiss’s mainly-Airbus fleet, and carries 55% more passengers than the Airbus A340-300 (343) it replaces on the ZRH-LAX route. Its first 77W, HB-JNA (delivered on January 29) with its special “Faces of SWISS” livery, made the flight.

A Swiss 777-300ER (HB-JNA) in special "Faces of SWISS" livery. Photo: Swiss

A Swiss 777-300ER (HB-JNA) in special “Faces of SWISS” livery – Photo: Swiss

Swiss gave the public a CGI-based video preview of the all-new aircraft and completely redesigned interior, and AirlineReporter was the first to confirm the delivery date of HB-JNA. We were also one of the few media to be invited to LAX for the inaugural events to take a look with our own eyes. Were we disappointed?

The first thing you see when boarding a Turkish 777

The first thing you see when boarding a Turkish 777

Turkish Airlines is, or should be, well known amongst AvGeeks for their hospitality and commitment to passenger experience. The airline has positioned itself as a “European carrier” which might raise eyebrows to those in the West. Most would reasonably assume Turkey to be a resident of an ambiguous neighborhood we Westerners label as the “Middle East.” For what it’s worth, about half of Istanbul, including the airport, the airline’s headquarters, and various operations are indeed on the European continent. Turkey, as it turns out, is a country divided between two continents, giving real meaning to the phrase “East meets West.” The European side is separated from the majority of the country (the Asian side) by a naturally occurring strait referred to as the Bosporus.

My 777-300ER for the ride from Chicago to Istanbul.

My 777-300ER for the ride from Chicago to Istanbul

Why does all of this matter? Because it gives Turkish Airlines a competitive advantage. It’s easier to go after the European carriers than try to compete in terms of obscenely lavish passenger experience offered by the big three Middle East airlines (ME3). And, let’s be honest. When we think of European carriers, is an overwhelming commitment to passenger experience something that comes to mind? Likely not. It is no wonder then that Turkish Airlines maintains the title of Best Airline in Europe, according to Skytrax.

So how does Turkish differentiate itself from the pack? By offering reasonably priced fares bundled with excellent service and gourmet food. Gourmet food on a plane? Some might think those concepts are mutually exclusive. I beg to differ…

A Japan Airlines 777 taking off from Haneda - Photo Wilco737

A Japan Airlines 777 taking off from Haneda – Photo Wilco737 | FlickrCC

Japan Airlines (JAL) announced last week that its newly-revamped Boeing 777-200ERs (772s) dubbed “JAL SKY SUITE 777” or “SS2” will debut on June 18 from Tokyo Haneda (HND) to Bangkok (BKK). Designated for regional flying, the SS2 will feature now-industry standard lie-flat seating in business class, a roomy premium economy section, and best-in-class nine-abreast seating in economy, going against the grain during a time when virtually every new refurbishment of 777s calls for ten-abreast seating.

An illustration of the new economy seating configuration on JAL's

An illustration of the new economy seating configuration on JAL’s “SS2” Boeing 777-200ER – Image: Japan Airlines

What’s even more eye catching is JAL’s choice to go with an asymmetric 3-4-2 arrangement, while every other carrier uses 3-3-3 (well, when they do have nine across on their older planes). Where new premium seating is all the rage nowadays, JAL manages to remember the little people, and the economy cabin steals the spotlight…