You’re sitting by the gate at the airport, watching the clock tick closer to your flight’s boarding time. Suddenly, there’s a *ding* overhead as the PA system comes on. Your stress levels rise. You know what’s coming. “Sorry folks, but departure has been delayed by an hour due to [insert any one of a million reasons / excuses here].”

In the airline world, on-time performance is hard. Airplanes are complex, ground operations are a logistical nightmare, and weather can wreak havoc on even the best-managed carriers. Given all those factors, it’s sometimes surprising how many flights still do leave on time. Most airlines rise and fall in the Department of Transportation’s on-time performance rankings. But over the past fifteen years, one U.S. carrier has kept an iron grip on the top position: Hawaiian Airlines.

We just wrote about our flight from Oakland to Maui on one of the airline’s new Airbus A321neos. After landing, we sat down with Hawaiian’s Head of Neighbor Island Operations Pat Rosa, who discussed what goes into Hawaiian’s on-time performance. Sure, Hawaii’s lack of snowstorms helps (though the islands still deal with their share of bad weather). But there’s plenty more ingredients that go into Hawaiian’s secret sauce for punctuality. Pat also talked about the unique culture within the islands’ home airline, his love for the new A321neo fleet, and his excitement for the airline’s Boeing 787 order.

If you love behind-the-scenes looks at airlines you definitely don’t want to miss this one, so read on!

That's us, coming in to land at BFI following my first training flight with Galvin Flying. Photo credit: Huy Do

That’s us, coming in to land at BFI following my first training flight with Galvin Flying – Photo: Huy Do

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the introduction here.

As of now, I’ve completed the stage one and two ground-school exams. These exams are administered by the ground-school instructor at Galvin Flying and serve as checkpoints; they don’t count toward the FAA exam.

I’ve passed them both, which is encouraging (a passing grade is 70% – I did quite a bit better than that).

We’ve already covered basic aerodynamics, powerplants, flight instruments, airspace, airports, communications, and flight safety. We just wrapped up the comprehensive weather and FAA regulation sections; now it’s on to flight planning, which is where the math starts. We’ll learn to compute things like fuel consumption rates, time/speed/distance, endurance, airspeed, density altitude, and wind correction angles.

Believe it or not, this weather stuff is starting to make sense

Believe it or not, this weather stuff is starting to make sense

Ground school wraps up on May 25th with a comprehensive knowledge test, which is basically a full-on practice version of the proper FAA exam.

Theoretically, if we’ve successfully completed the course, we’ll then be prepared to plunk down the roughly $165 to take the FAA written test; a grade of at least 70% is required to pass.

I’ve also started flight training. I didn’t mention before, but basically my butt is a bit too heavy for the Cessna 152, which is the aircraft I’d originally planned to train in, primarily for the $60/hour cost savings over the larger C172. Putting two 200 lb. adult males (my CFI isn’t a small guy, either) in a C152 means no cross-country flights, as the aircraft’s maximum payload limit leaves room for no more than 1/2 tank of fuel. I won’t lie, though, I do like the larger plane.

Late last year we spent a fun couple of days flying long-haul with Finnair and interviewing the head of their flagship Airbus A350 fleet. But we never actually flew the A350 ourselves, since Finnair’s US routes were all handled by their older A330s. That changed a month ago, when Finnair re-launched flights to LAX after a long hiatus and gave the honor to the A350. Obviously we weren’t going to miss the chance to cover the inaugural, and the folks at Finnair gave us the chance.

The onboard product lived up to the hype, with universal aisle access, lie-flat seats, Nordic style, and even a northern lights simulation on the ceiling. And it was just as fun covering Finnair’s pre-flight festivities on the ground. Clearly this route was a big deal for the Finnair team, getting the honorific flight numbers AY01 and AY02.

Read on for the full scoop on Finnair’s (re)inaugural celebration of its service from Los Angeles to Helsinki.

A French Bee A359 on the taxiway at Orly Airport in Paris. It's a very lovely livery, IMHO

A French Bee A359 on the taxiway at Orly Airport in Paris. It’s a very lovely livery, IMHO.

Can you have low-cost airfare and elegant service? French Bee definitely wants you to think so.

French Bee is a relatively new low-cost carrier, having begun operations in September of 2016. They’re based at Paris Orly Airport (ORY).

With a current fleet of three Airbus aircraft (one A330-300 and two A350-900s) flying to five destinations, they’re a relatively small player, and they’re France’s first LCC. They also have one A350-1000 on order, currently slated for delivery later this year.

From their ORY hub, they fly to San Francisco, Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, Papeete, Tahiti, and Saint Denis, Reunion, all of which are vacation destinations for French travelers.

French Bee's A350-900 seat map

French Bee’s A350-900 seat map

French Bee is part of the Dubreuil group, which also owns Air Caraïbes, a somewhat larger airline which primarily serves Caribbean holiday destinations from the same ORY base.

Interestingly, French Bee started out being named French Blue. When the airline applied for a U.S. air carrier permit in November 2017, JetBlue objected to the idea of allowing another airline to operate in the United States that had the word “blue” in its name. That eventually led to a rebrand as French Bee in January 2018.

With a target audience of budget-minded holidaymakers, the airline’s pricing is very competitive; fares typically run less than $700 return between SFO and ORY. An additional $250-ish buys you a premium-class seat (more on that later).

There are 411 seats on a French Bee A359: 35 Premium, 50 Cosy, and 326 in Eco Blue.

I flew with French Bee on their SFO-ORY-SFO route the first week of April, traveling in 10-abreast Smart Economy/Eco Blue on the outbound leg and in their Premium cabin on the return flight.