Thirteen years ago today, at this very moment, I was about to walk into the middle of something that there was no training and no playbook for. A lot has changed about flying in those 13 years, but we still travel. I’m traveling today, and will be headed for the airport when you read this. I’ve made it a point to fly on this day. And I’ve also made it a point to never forget it.

This Blog was Originally posted September 11, 2009

Thirteen years ago today, my morning began much like any other early fall day.  I was roaming the airport in search of coffee and a bagel, mentally celebrating a successful morning launch of kick-off flights at Washington National Airport (DCA) on September 11, 2001.  I was one of the Customer Service Managers at DCA on duty for American Airlines that day.

During a visit with our operations agent, I heard a radio call from our first inbound flight of the day.  The crew had a question, “had we heard anything about an incident in New York involving a United flight?”  The operations agent and I both looked at each other in agreement that we had not, but I immediately got on the nearest computer to find cnn.com.  I’ll never forget the picture of smoke billowing from the first tower, and the caption “Aircraft Hits World Trade Center.  Details to Follow.”  I immediately went to our conference room where I knew I would find access to a television.  By the time I arrived there, the second tower had been struck, and the newscasters were spinning replays of the aircraft striking each tower.

By this time phones were ringing and my boss, the station general manager had arrived in the conference room.  He took a call, while other managers from flight, flight service and maintenance began to gather.  Upon hanging up the phone, he stated that they think 77 from Dulles is involved.  And with that, things got real.  I immediately returned to operations where our ops agent informed me that two flights that had just pushed were returning to the gate.  He’d just gotten off the phone with dispatch, and learned that American was grounding all of its flights and that we may have had an airplane involved in New York.

I proceeded out to the gates to assist as our flights returned.  The first passengers were coming off and I was immediately stopped by one of them who wanted to know about the possibility of getting rebooked on another airline.  No, I’m not making that up!  She was nice enough about it, but wasn’t interested in giving me a minute to figure out what was going on.  As we stood there discussing the situation at DCA’s gate 28, she happened to glance out towards the north, and immediately asked “what’s that?”  I turned to see the strangest color of smoke rising just above the tree line in the direction of the Pentagon.  I responded that I wasn’t sure, but that I thought that it might be a good idea to leave.  Within seconds, an announcement was made throughout the terminal to evacuate the building.  I didn’t know it at the time, but our flight 77 had just crashed into the Pentagon.

I could tell you a lot more about that day, and the weeks that followed.  The mass exodus from the airport on foot as F-16s criss-crossed the skies above, and the sick smell of burning jet fuel wafting through the air.  I was certain more aircraft would follow at this point, and half expected to see one plow into the Washington Monument, the Capitol or for that matter, our airport at any minute.  I could tell you about taking a team of airport agents to Dulles to stand in while the folks at Dulles grieved for the loss of one of their beloved colleagues, a 45 year AA employee, not to mention the shock of being the origin of flight 77.  I could also talk about walking through an empty National Airport terminal at 5:30am a few weeks later.  It was an eerie place with most of the lights turned off and none of the escalators running, the silence only broken by the sound of my shoes hitting the floor as I walked through on my way to pick up the lay off packages I would have to deliver to people that didn’t deserve it.  I could say a lot, but I won’t.  I think I’ve made my point.

I remember.

Quantum of the Seas is nearing completion at the Meyer-Werft yards in Papenburg, Germany. She’s really coming together, and seeing the ship so near complete really has me excited for my upcoming cruise in December!!! Royal Caribbean has shared a new video of the ship with some never before seen details of Quantum. Look for:

00:52 - Robotic screens installed and getting tested on the ship
01:08 - Virtual balcony stateroom installed and ready for guests
01:10 - State-of-the-art floating DJ booth installed in Seaplex
01:17 - State-of-the-art floating DJ booth installed in Seaplex

Quantum of the Seas is looking good!

Sunday’s ATL-LAX transcon on Delta Air Lines offered a great opportunity to try out Delta’s new entertainment options with Delta Studio™. For this flight, I was working on my laptop, so I decided to try the service on that. I downloaded the plugin, and then went to video.gogoinflight.com. I searched for movies, and clicked on the one I wanted, Lone Survivor. It said “rent for $6″ or something like that, but just below that was a link for First Class passengers. I clicked on that, entered my name and seat number, and I was on my way.

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Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines.

After a few cache building moments at the beginning of the movie, I was worried the experience might not be that great. However, those couple of fits and starts at the beginning were the last, and the movie played through perfectly with no interruptions. I was able to remain online to occasionally glance at emails, and watch what turned out to be a really good movie. My first Delta Studio™ was a big win. Have you tried the new entertainment options? How was your experience?

-MJ, September 10, 2014

…but it is cool.

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I’m continuously amazed at the progress of technology. Now I just want a cruise line to come up with an iWatch app. Royal Caribbean, are you listening? Seems like you have an ideal opportunity with Quantum of the Seas.

I’m on my first business trip since Delta dismissed ExpertFlyer as an option for me….. and I’m annoyed. I’m at the point where I start researching options and opportunities to get home earlier (or later), and I can no longer just look at which flights are available and best for me. Picking through delta.com is not that useful. Frankly, it would seem, that’s more of a pain for Delta than me looking at data directly from a GDS via ExpertFlyer and making the call to Delta for what I want.

Now, about the best I can do is look at Delta.com, and wonder. In fairness, I can see they’re still selling seats, and look at seat maps to make a judgement on whether or not I want to call and try for a flight, but it just isn’t the same….and sometimes I want more. You can put me in the camp of being solidly annoyed at this —–

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I don’t think I’m one who believes himself to be more valuable as a customer than he really is. I don’t think I’m an unreasonable guy. Most of all, I’m a solid fan of the widget. But I have to wonder what is really behind this decision? I’m pretty sure the PowerPoint slide that led to it wasn’t prepared by anyone that spends much time with customers.

-MJ, September 9, 2014

I think a basic fact of flying life is that most travelers really don’t care where what color the airplane wears. They want reliable transportation between points on a map, their bag to get there when they do, and for the experience in between to not be torturous. On the other hand, I’m a bit of an airplane junkie, have been a lifelong student of the airline industry, and well….while I’d never book an airline based on their paint job, I do care. The colors and branding an airline chooses represents something….its core….its people…..its product.

I’ve posted, Tweeted, and Facebooked my feelings about airline liveries, most notably that of American Airlines, which I did not love at first. In truth, I still don’t love the tail art, but it has grown on me. With rumors of a new branding at Southwest hitting the wires over the last several days, I eagerly anticipated a look at the new branding. When pictures began to surface over the weekend, I thought it looked OK, but now that I’ve gotten a good look at it, I really am kind of partial to it. I like the way it looks. I like the brightness. I like the big “Southwest” on the fuselage. Most of all, I like the heart.

Heart One. Stephen M. Keller

 

Image courtesy of Southwest Airlines

-MJ, September 8, 2014

File this under “life on the road.” I’m traveling on business this week with two colleagues. We’re in the Los Angeles area, arriving on Sunday so we can get in a full week of work. One of the guys I’m traveling with took care of renting the car. My first mistake was not looking at the rental car provider when I approved his travel. I found out walking to the shuttle bus pickup at LAX yesterday that the answer to that question - Thrifty. :( Thrifty and I just never have gotten along. Signing up for BlueChip has helped deal with lines in some locations, but I usually return a Thrifty car with a grateful heart that the whole thing is over. Another colleague of mine and I came up with some sayings during a particularly intensive travel period a few years ago: “Thrifty, where the bus is not swifty.” There was also “Dollar, where the wait will make you holler.” I digress.

Back to the rental car shuttle pickup at LAX. We waited…and waited. Then we waited some more. A perplexed looking fellow traveler looks at us and asks if we’re waiting for the Thrifty bus? We waited. My colleague called Thrifty to complain…and we waited. After 5 or 6 Hertz buses (not lost on me that Hertz now owns Thrifty), the same number of Avis and National…. and at least 2 of every other brand X rental car agency on the airport, the Thrifty bus appeared in the distance….and then skipped the rental car pickup outside the Delta terminal. I’d had enough.

I reached into my pocket for my iPhone and tapped the Hertz app. In the space of about 2 minutes I had researched options, and confirmed a reservation for a car at a quite reasonable rate just as the Hertz bus was parking in front of us. By the time we were turning onto the street heading to the Hertz facility, I had received a text with our car type and space number. We walked to the car, packed the trunk, and left. End of story. One could be forgiven for wondering if we’d still have been waiting for the Thrifty shuttle. Ironically, we passed the Thrifty office on our way to the 405, and it looked like a large crowd was just standing around trying to rent a car….or get to the airport.

Moral of the story – time is money, and Thrifty at LAX is firmly implanted on my no-drive list.

-MJ, September 8, 2014

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I’m a day late on the weekly recap, but other than that, all’s well in Long Beach. :) Working on the west coast is always fun. I usually wake up at 3am (local) for the first day or so no matter how late I go to sleep. This trip is no different. I’ll also be on the same time zone as Apple for tomorrow’s iPhone launch. Life is really good. OK, I’ll shut up. Here’s a look at the week in review -

And this week at MJ on Travel -

  • On Cruise Line Loyalty

These travel topics and more, this week at MJ on Travel.

-MJ, September 8, 2014

Life on the road can be entertaining at times. When you fly an airline like Delta, which I’ve found to be extremely well-run and operationally sound, it’s notable when things go wrong. Flight 110, from ATL to LAX on September 7, started out well enough. I was number 9 for the upgrade with 18 empty seats up front on this 767-300 domestic bird. I cleared into 1C. Bulkheads aren’t ideal, but no one is reclining into my lap here. Life was good, and for the record, it still is as I wing my way to LAX.

Things got a little weird when my 8:10AM flight suddenly became an 8:05AM flight while I was sitting in the Sky Club. No worries, I had plenty of time, but did make my way to the gate a little earlier. I arrived just in time to hear the announcement that boarding was delayed while the aircraft was cleaned. Delayed boarding vs. earlier departure? Things that make you go hmmm. Eventually, we boarded, and I took my seat. Boarding was progressing nicely, and I was certain we would make our (original) departure. Things were getting buttoned up, and the first officer came on the P/A to welcome everyone, pausing in mid announcement. He came back to say that he’d stopped to let the ground know that they should not remove the ground power, then continued with his welcome. And then the airplane went dark. :)

It seems we were without an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), which explains the original good intent of buttoning up the airplane 5 minutes ahead of schedule. Having a little airline time in my book, there’s nothing unusual about that. You use ground power until the engines are started, which takes about 5 minutes on a good day. End of story. Except for today. From my vantage point of 1C, I could hear a good bit of the chatter between our pilots, operations, and the ground crew. Our pilots deserve a medal for keeping their cool, because I would probably have been chewing someone’s hind quarters after about 2 minutes.

To make a long story longer, we sat at the gate, unpowered for about 20 minutes until the ramp crew was able to get the ground power functioning again. This resulted in a reboot of not only the inflight entertainment, but the cockpit instrumentation and navigational systems as well. Once we got an engine started, we had to sit a little longer for the navigation systems to reset themselves. No sweat….until the airplane went dark again. You guessed it….another reboot of everything. Somehow, we managed to block out with only a 37 minute delay from our original 8:10am departure.

The cabin crew is stellar, and the pilots did a good job of keeping everyone informed while everything got worked out. Boo to whomever dropped the ball on getting the ramp crew informed that the airplane was without a functional APU. Really not a big deal in the scheme of things, but certainly a reminder of just how many things have to happen behind the scenes to get to this -

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-MJ, September 7, 2014

I covered the float out of Quantum of the Seas previously, including a great photo of the ship from Royal Caribbean. In some of my surfing about the web, I discovered a great video of the process from Quantum’s builder, the Meyer Werft yards in Papenburg, Germany. The large blocks floating about are what will be the next ship in the Quantum Class fleet, Anthem of the Seas. The yard had to move her blocks out of the way in order to float Quantum out of the building hall. I can’t wait until December! Happy Saturday!

 

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