Inversion Layer

Morning takeoff from SNA, after a few weeks’ respite from the polar vortex.  From 2009-2011, the Los Angeles region exceeded federal ozone standards on 120 annual weighted average days.

Continue reading ‘Inversion Layer’

Heathrow Expansion

Lufthansa 747-400 on approach to LAX

Lufthansa 747-400 on approach to LAX

Despite their environmental harms, I tend to think airports are a pretty good idea.  The Great Park is okay, but building a small airport at the former MCAS El Toro for general aviation traffic would have been preferable and would have reduced the number of runway incursions at John Wayne.  Administrators at John Wayne tend to  blame the small planes but ignore the larger structural problem of combining heavy commercial and general aviation traffic at a tiny airport.  Instead of building a bunch of soccer fields and a giant balloon, it would have made sense to move general aviation traffic to El Toro, safely out of the way of the commercial flights at John Wayne.  Small recreational aircraft and charter planes wouldn’t have to deal with the constant “Caution wake turbulence” advisories from John Wayne Tower, and they would be able to clear the foothills that El Toro airport opponents claimed would doom any takeoffs.  The larger planes at John Wayne would have been safer without all the runway incursions.

While I tend to argue in favor of additional runway capacity, I do have to appreciate some of the tactics being used against Heathrow’s proposed third runway.  One of the more creative ones:

Greenpeace has quietly bought a field close to the site of the third runway, right in the middle of what would be the expanded airport.

The plan is to parcel it up into tiny squares, and sell them online to people across the world.

“The airport will have to buy the land back from Eskimos and people living on remote islands,” said one Greenpeace activist.  [BBC]


Traveling Home

While I managed to make it home to Southern California before the airline system got majorly screwed up, my journey  was not without complications.  Before getting on my bus to the Philadelphia Airport, I received an automated call notifying me that my flight on Delta from PHL to ATL would be 30 minutes late.  “No problem,” I thought, “On the scale of things, that’s nothing, and I’ll still have plenty of time to make my connection to Orange County.”  Of course, once I arrived at the airport for my 4:55 scheduled departure, they announced it would be delayed 30 minutes further.  As I started to investigate alternate flights to Southern California, since I would now likely miss my connection, they moved my flight’s gate.

Our old gate was to be occupied by the 5:55 scheduled Delta departure to Atlanta.  I figured that flight would be delayed too, but no.  The flight that was scheduled to leave for Atlanta an hour after ours started boarding before ours.  I found this bearable only because of the mild irony.  The major irony came in the fact that the concourse only had one tow bar for MD-88s, so the other flight’s earlier push-back meant that we had to sit and wait even longer as it pushed back and taxied behind us, on its way to a much earlier takeoff.

With such shenanigans in Philadelphia, I was sure I would miss my connecting flight in Atlanta.  I really didn’t want to spend the night in the Atlanta hotel, so when we pulled into gate B3 at 9:00 PM, I was determined to make it to a flight to Southern California.  The monitors at the gate showed a 9:15 PM flight to LAX at gate A26 and a 9:15 PM flight to San Diego at gate B32.  I figured that these flights had already boarded, but I sprinted the length of the B concourse to get to the San Diego flight (I didn’t want to have run people over on the underground moving walkways to concourse A).  The gate agent somehow interpreted my breathless rants about missing my connection, and I got on the plane to San Diego.  Altogether, the evening was an appropriately hectic end to a very hectic semester.

Saturday was my last airline flight of 2008.  I ended up making 21 takeoffs and landings this year, including my first trips through San Diego, Chicago Midway, Salt Lake City, Raleigh-Durham, and Managua.  I used to love flying and airports, but the airlines and, to an even greater extent, the TSA, have destroyed every last bit of enjoyment I used to derive from them.  Maybe some carbon offsets will make me feel better about all the flying.

Thanksgiving Travels

Out of service restroom at PHL

Out of service restroom at PHL

Unlike the many travellers who faced delays into the Philadelphia airport yesterday, my Thanksgiving travels went quite smoothly.   I rode the R3 from Swarthmore to 30th Street to catch an Amtrak train to Washington, DC on Thanksgiving morning.  After spending Thanksgiving at my cousins’ house, I drove down to Chapel Hill on Friday afternoon.  Other than some minor traffic congestion and an extended break (including stops at Wendy’s, Sonic, and Wawa) at I-95’s exit 61B south of Richmond, the trip was expedient.

My flight from Raleigh Durham to Philadelphia on Southwest was a piece of cake (and I used one of my stockpiled ATT Wi-Fi cards that PHL gives out to college students for internet at RDU), though taking the 37 to the 109 bus to get back to campus took a while.  The only hiccup I could find the whole weekend was a closed bathroom at PHL.

I had some great food over the weekend: the traditional Thanksgiving fare, Raclette, and my first tastes of pecan pie and Allen & Son’s Barbecue (the Ducks Unlimited stickers on the front window and the taxodermied mallard above my table completed this lovely North Carolina cultural experience).  And, in what has become a Thanksgiving tradition for me at my cousin’s house, I helped make (and devour) four trays of apple crisp.  I may be able to work off the calories by Christmas…

Fix the TSA

Airline travel used to be one of my favorite adventures.  Now I hate it, thanks largely to the TSA.  So in honor of the eight flights myself and members of my family have taken in the last five days, a rant about the TSA.

You would think, nearly seven years after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, that TSA would have gotten its act together. Not just tactically, but functionally. Take a look at the typical checkpoint. There are people yelling, bags falling, trash bins overflowing with water bottles. There’s nowhere to stand, nowhere to move. It’s a jury-rigged circus.

But we should hardly be surprised, perhaps, at the Frankenstein monster now before us. Propped up by a culture of fear, TSA has become a bureaucracy with too much power and little accountability. It almost makes you wonder if the Department of Homeland Security made a conscious decision to present bureaucratic incompetence and arrogance as the public face of TSA, hoping that people would then raise enough of a fuss that it could be turned over to the likes of Halliburton. (Funny, how despite this administration’s eagerness to outsource anything and everything, it’s kept its governmental talons wrapped snugly around TSA.)

Mitt Romney – Just What Southern California Needs

The AP reports that Mitt Romney just bought a house in Southern California.  My mom snapped this picture of him as he was passing through security at Logan on Thursday, probably on his way to go finalize the sale.