May 122007

Tim pointed me at the video of the test run for evacuating the A-380 – it’s worth a look. I noticed, however, that it wasn’t exactly a very realistic test. If you read the page rather than just leaping to the video, you’ll see the discussion of an earlier MD-11 test where a woman over the age of 45 tripped and fell; bear that in mind when you watch the A-380 evacuation video.

What struck me about the video was that the evacuation was not only carried out in ideal conditions, but the participants were also all ideal. All between the ages of roughly 20 and 45, all wearing comfortable trousers, none of them overweight, none of them carrying or cajoling children or babies, none of them in wheelchairs or connected to oxygen supplies, none of them in high heels or flimsy dresses (or good suits, come to that). All were fit and able to jump on the slide without hesitation. In a plane carrying over 850 people, what proportion will be in some way encumbered, and how big a difference does that make to the evacuation?

In a lot of ways the video reminded me of the films that are always being shot around Vancouver. One I saw being shot at Vancouver airport had lots of extras towing bags around pretending to go somewhere and looked unrealistic for the same reasons — no-one was overweight, or elderly, or had babies or children, unlike every airport I’ve been to recently.

Oct 032006

I see from the TSA website that we’re now allowed small quantities of liquids on board flights in the U.S.A., and I assume other countries will also start allowing these items. And knitting needles and books are still allowed, so we’ll have something to do on the flights. The thought of a long flight to Australia or Europe with nothing to do was not pleasant…

And you can now buy cans of drink again in the secure boarding areas. I never understood that particular ban, I must admit. If you think about it, whoever decided on that ban ascribed an ability to plan and execute that far exceeds anything anyone is likely to pull off without being found out somewhere along the way. To get some sort of liquid explosive into a can of soft drink (pop) in a vending machine in the secure area would be hard enough, but then making sure the right person gets to that particular can without anybody else accidentally getting in first seems impossible to me, if you postulate that the person who is meant to get the can has to act normal so as not to attract attention. And then making sure the can doesn’t leak at any stage, particularly when it goes thump into the tray… Overall I think the risk of someone making a bomb out of ingredients passed along in that way is infinitesimal. Anyone that organized would choose other, easier methods. Bruce Schneier calls this security theater; his blog should be required reading for whomever sets the rules as well as those having to carry them out. For the rest of us, particularly those subject to the rules, his articles show clear thinking. For example, this piece discussing the airplane security measures and how the London terrorists who started the liquids scare were apprehended. Highly recommended reading.

Aug 242006

We had a family trip to Hawaii (the Big Island) in the last week where I could reasonably fly before I got too big. Mind you, I was still big and bulky and quite glad of being able to float along in the water. I took quite a few photos, but these two are the only ones I deemed worthy of publishing. They’re from the “saddle road” between the volcanoes on the Big Island.

I found the contrast between the new lava, the old lava, and the no-longer-visible lava on this photo to be the interesting part: View from Saddle Road on Hawaii

and the contrast of the new lava with the tree, the grass, and the mountains was what made this photo interesting: tree on Saddle Road on Hawaii

Aug 122006

I’ve been a bit concerned about the idea of flying in one of the Airbus A380 jets (assuming they ever actually deliver one to an airline I fly on, that is). I haven’t been concerned about the safety of the big plane, but rather the logistics and comfort. Although, with the latest terrorist scares, I’m beginning to wonder about the safety of flying on these big planes.

Although in theory a double-decker plane has room for a fitness centre, spa, and cocktail lounge, most airlines will take the opportunity to cram as many passengers in as they can. How many that is will depend on the airline, just the same as it does today for other planes.

So, what does a plane holding 550 people imply? It implies the same problems as with a Boeing 747 that holds around 450 people, only more so. Let’s assume the airlines in general keep the same seat pitch, seat widths, and legroom as for the 747 or Airbus A340, so the comfort level on board is roughly the same. Then there are two sets of problems I see. One is the logistical one of coping with getting that many people on and off the plane, and the other pre- and post-flight handling. Boarding time and disembarkment time will depend on whether airports have the multiple jetways to service the multiple doors; some already do for the 747 but it’s a good question as to how many airports will make the investment early on or whether they’ll wait until there are lots of A380 planes flying to incur the cost. Baggage handling and customs and immigration formalities are already pain points when 747 planes from multiple destinations land close together; they will likely get worse with the bigger planes as they’re cost centres for airports, not revenue generators.

And then there’s the security angle. Will the bigger planes be bigger targets for terrorists? They’re not that much bigger than a 747, but it seems likely to me that under the “maximum bang” theory, terrorists would aim for the largest number of people they can get at once. To minimise this danger, security checks at the gate are likely, which will further increase the boarding time, assuming that some amount of cabin baggage containing books, knitting etc will be allowed on board to try to keep the passenger boredom level reasonable. As an aside, if the passengers are not going to be allowed to bring along means of entertaining themselves, and the airlines aren’t going to widely implement individual in-flight video systems, I hope the flight attendants are prepared to cope with more cases of air rage.

So what’s the answer? Apart from avoiding travel completely, that is, which isn’t always possible. Avoiding large hubs isn’t possible for many trans-oceanic journeys, avoiding the large planes for these journeys also won’t be possible in many cases. It looks like the cost of air travel is just going to increase, in money, time, and irritation. The biggest winners are probably going to be the pharmaceutical companies that make the remedies to help passengers sleep, or to calm them down. I can just see it now, flight attendants asking “Would you like some melatonin with your ginger ale to help you sleep?”.

Aug 112006

In the aftermath of the latest round of air travel restrictions, it seems to me there will be quite a few ramifications for the travel industry, if these restrictions stay in place for any length of time. Here are some of the ones I see, in no particular order.

  • Full-service airlines will have a fighting chance again, as long as they actually provide the amenities that used to be expected for travel, such as food, drink (even if non-alcoholic), pillows, blankets, in-flight video systems, and magazines.
  • Flights will be full of tetchy bored people whose electronic toys were taken away from them cursing the noisy bored children whose toys were taken away from them.
  • Boeing’s decision to create a plane for point-to-point travel rather than hub and spoke looks like the right one. Flights from Heathrow and Gatwick (the big airports) were the target points rather than those from smaller airports; flights from smaller airports may be used as a way to get materials onto other flights (if there are no security checks between landing from one flight and getting on the next) but are less likely to be targets themselves. Taking flights from small airport to small airport will also avoid the longer security-checking delays at larger airports.
  • Security screening of bags as you get on the plane is likely to start, to enable people to take some cabin baggage.
  • Cheap airlines which have been trying to stop people checking luggage and only take on hand luggage are going to have a hard time.
  • Companies that sell really good padded bags so you can check your laptop without worries will find a lot of customers. People should also give more thought to securing the data on their laptops when they check them, but most probably won’t bother. Insurance companies will have to cope with a lot of claims for lost and damaged laptops, iPods, etc.
  • The mid-80s fashion for see-through briefcases and purses will be reinvigorated. I had one of these purses, it was actually quite handy being able to find things quickly in it.
  • Air taxis will start to become popular as people try to avoid the increasing unpleasantness of commercial air travel.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, and whether the various Air Transport authorities manage to come up with real, effective security measures that don’t inconvenience the innocent too much. I’m just glad I don’t need to travel anywhere much in the near future.

Dec 052005

I had to laugh at Eve’s link to the story of the weenie who was scared of knitting needles (while admitting I first saw the link at whump dot com from following XML 2005 Aggregator links). I have a better story than mere knitting needles or even needlework needles, since all of those have really blunt ends.

When the TSA directives first came out after September 11, banning knitting needles, I, along with a lot of other people, was struck by the arbitrariness of the bans. No knives, but forks were still allowed, and so were glasses made of glass. Personally I’d rather have someone come at me with a blunt knife that’s not capable of cutting anything than a broken glass. So I read the list of banned items and noticed that crochet hooks weren’t on the list. Given that in terms of crafts I bounce between knitting, needlework, crochet, and lots of others, I have a good supply of crochet hooks. I picked one out to take on my next set of flights. Not just any crochet hook though, one of my fine 1.25 mm crochet hooks that at the time I was using for filet crochet. So this is a hook, with what can only be described as a barb on one end, with a total diameter of 1.25 mm (I have smaller, but had two of the 1.25 mm hooks so could easily risk losing one).

The first security person checked the hook, looked worried, asked her supervisor, the supervisor said “crochet hooks are allowed”. And that was it. On board I went, with my filet crochet and my crochet hook. These days knitting needles are expressly allowed, as are crochet hooks (although the TSA calls them “crochet needles”) so I will still be able to carry around my filet crochet hooks and scare unsuspecting knitting needle phobics (yes, there is such a thing as a needle phobia; most people who suffer from it have phobias about vaccination and blood test-type needles, not knitting needles, although the phobia is apparently bad enough in some people to be set off by any needle-type object).

So if you see someone with what looks like a viciously thin, barbed object and thin yarn, just remember the TSA permits it. Mind you, reading that list does raise other questions, such as “if you can’t smoke on board, why do you need a cigar cutter?” and “why are toy transformer robots expressly permitted but not other toys?” but that’s just me being picky.

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