My Avgeek Bucket List

I admit it. Sometimes, okay, frequently, I scroll through the updates of friends and colleagues I follow on Twitter & Facebook and I come down with a case of “Avgeek Envy.” Those who get to frequently fly to far-off places just to sample and write about the latest aircraft seating innovation or aircraft introduction. I often read these posts and think “gosh, why can’t that be me?”

But then, I remind myself that in most cases, these are just examples of passengers being along for the ride. I’m fortunate enough to be involved in the day to day operation of a major commercial airline. Very few of these people I envy have ever marshaled a 120,000 pound plane to its stop mark on arrival. They haven’t had to plan how to load an aircraft, or be accountable for its on-time departure, while protecting the aircraft, customers and coworkers from damage and harm.

I’d like to think that some of the people I envy also envy some of the cool things I get to do daily. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of aviation-related things I’d like to do in the near future – so I present my Avgeek Bucket List:

(In no Particular order)

Ride in a B-17 Bomber
Ride in a P-51 Mustang
Ride in a modern military jet
Skydive (planning for my 40th birthday)
Ride in a private jet (any private jet will suffice)
Ride in a hot air balloon
Ride in a zero gravity plane (weightless simulation)
Fly over the International Date Line
Fly over the Equator
Barrel roll – preferably in the P-51 mentioned above
Tour other commercial assembly lines – Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier
Attend a major international air show as a writer (Farnborough, Dubai or Paris)
Participate in a commercial aircraft delivery flight
Fly a plane, including takeoff & landing
Circumnavigate the globe, starting and ending at the same point
Fly over 100,000 miles in a year
Hang gliding
Fly to every continent. So far I’ve only flown within the U.S. and Europe.
Fly on the following aircraft types I have yet to fly: 747-8i, 787, 737-900, A318, A321, A330, A340, [any and all regional planes except the Embraer 190 and ATR-72]
Avgeek accomplishments

Tour Boeing aircraft factories in Everett & Renton Washington
Attend Space Shuttle Launch (Atlantis STS-129 Nov 16, 2009)
Witnessed the landing of the Solar Impulse at DFW Airport
Flew on Lufthansa inaugural A380 flight from Frankfurt to JFK
Attended British Airways A380 & 787 introduction ceremony
Flew on a sea plane (1950 Grumman Albatross)
Photo-documented the final landing and museum installation of the very first Boeing 737-300 (N300SW)
Landed (as a passenger) on the USS George H.W. Bush while it was at sea. Spent 24 hours on board as a “Distinguished Visitor,” and departed the next morning via catapult launch.
Over 490 flights and 285,000 miles flown since 2001 (when I began recording trips)

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the NEW Dallas Love Field

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The security checkpoint at Dallas Love Field features a gorgeous ceramic tile mosaic mural called North Texas Sunrise by artist Dixie Friend Gay

DALLAS – On Tuesday, April 16th, the City of Dallas will open the second phase of the modernized Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL).

Phase One was completed in November, 2012 with the opening of the new ticket counter, curbside arrival/dropoff area, and security checkpoint.

Phase Two will open with the addition of the new passenger terminal, which will feature new gates and passenger lounges, shops and restaurants. Below is a series of photos (shot by myself) to provide a peek at the marvelous modern terminal.

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The escalator will take passengers up to their gates once they have passed through the security checkpoint.

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“Blueprint of Flight” greets passengers after coming off the escalator into the new main terminal at DAL. The art is by Martin Dolan.

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A typical gate area in the new terminal at DAL. This is one of 16 that will be used by Southwest Airlines. The floor-to-ceiling windows will provide great views of arriving and departing flights on runways 13L/31R.

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Panoramic shot of Gates 1-5 inside the new Dallas Love Field passenger terminal.

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Wonderful news – the chairs feature LOTS of electric outlets! Almost one per seat!

An up-close look at the new Customer Service desks you’ll see Southwest Airlines using at Love Field.

Restroom fixtures and decor inside one of the restrooms at the new Dallas Love Field passenger terminal.

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“One Riot, One Ranger” is a bronze statue by Waldine Amanda Tauch that has made its home at Love Field since 1960. He was removed during construction of the new facilities, but returned to the airport in March, 2013.

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This wire sculpture full of planes and birds encircles the food court in the new Dallas Love Field passenger terminal.

The terminal will also feature several shops and restaurants that are new to the airport or moving to the new facility. Among them: Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Whataburger, Manchu Wok, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Dickey’s BBQ, Cool River Cafe, La Madeline, and Sky Canyon by Stephan Pyles

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The NEW American Airlines

At 9:00 this morning in Dallas, and all over the Internet, American Airlines unveiled its first branding change in four decades. The airline began early in the morning by posting a countdown clock, teasing its social media followers into a frenzy of conversation and speculation.

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About an hour before the official unveiling, an image of the logo was leaked online via Twitter user @gatsby:

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Personally, I think the logo is pretty smart! It’s a modern interpretation of their logo, evoking a half “A” with what is presumably the head of an eagle. It also brought the Texas flag to my mind.  Regarding the tail, it’s a bold statement that says “American” – loud and clear! One person I follow mentioned that it really seems to convey a message of power.

You may click here to view video from American regarding the changes made to the brand:

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Image provided by American Airlines

Throughout the morning, I followed tweets about how various people were receiving the new branding message. Generally it seemed that most people like the new logo over the tail design. I viewed CEO Tom Horton’s press conference online, and the 737-800 they had on display looks even better than in some of the early images I had seen. The paint wasn’t light gray we many originally thought – but in the hangar, under lights, I noticed a pleasing pearl-like sheen to the paint – like that which you’d find on a luxury car. At that point, I felt a suggestion of class and power. American has come a long way since going into bankruptcy, and this clean image will help take into the decades to come.

There are some noticeable similarities in the tail areas between this and US Airways’ current livery – and as rumors continue to swirl around a potential merger with US Airways, I think this livery would tie into the US Airways brand as well.

A Winter’s Night at the Four Seasons of Seattle

My first overnight stay at a Four Seasons hotel was by far the most memorable and luxurious hotel experience in my 30-plus years of travel.

After having walked a few blocks from the nearby Westlake train station, I was greeted by a valet at the front door of the Four Seasons Hotel of Seattle. I entered the lobby, which is designed to echo a riverbank. It features walls constructed of basalt, which reminds visitors of the region’s volcanic landmarks – Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens.

I found the check-in desk, where again I was greeted warmly. My reservation said I was confirmed for a Deluxe Bay View room, and the employee at the desk informed me that I had been upgraded to a corner room. This being my first stay at the hotel, I wasn’t aware of the awesomeness that I was about to experience.

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My room featured a panoramic western-facing view of Elliott Bay and Puget Sound! I arrived about an hour before sunset, which gave me time to check out the room and get settled in. See that big TV there? I found the room so restful, I never even turned it on!

Before heading out for the evening with friends, we stopped by the fourth floor pool deck to view the sunset. The pool deck has Seattle’s only outdoor infinity-edge swimming pool, which appears to empty directly into the Bay. The rooftop terrace bar also has a fireplace and whirlpool. This is the view of the sunset which we were treated to from the Pool Deck that evening:

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As you visit the pool, you’ll see the 24-hour Fitness Center, which offers a variety of cardio and weight training options. Guests can even choose to work out with an on-site personal trainer. For the ultimate relaxation experience, guests can visit the 6,000 square foot Spa at Four Seasons, which offers a host of treatments while overlooking the bay.

The bathroom offered luxuries not often seen in my travel, which is usually on a fairly tight budget governed by expense reports. It featured a deep soaking tub and a separate walk-in shower that had a detachable head and a rain shower head . I took advantage of both tun and shower, and enjoyed watching the TV which was built into the bathroom mirror. I found the fragrant L’occitane bath products to be invigorating.

Perhaps because I’m a native Texan, when I stay in hotels, I usually find the bedding too heavy or cumbersome. So, what I like to do is crank the air conditioner way down to about 62 degrees, pull the covers over me and just hibernate in my downy cave of pillows and blankets. The soft yet supportive bed gave me one of my best night’s sleep in recent memory – but that may also have something to do with the luxury of the bathroom.

This room was seriously plush, and if I had to suggest one improvement, it would be for the one thing that should always be plush – the toilet paper. It was thin and fragile, like you’d find in a public restroom.

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Just off the downstairs lobby you’ll find ART Restaurant. I had the pleasure of dining here last summer, and I must say the combination of attentive service, food quality and ambiance made it one of my top dining experiences. I highly recommend this restaurant whether you are a hotel guest or just visiting the area.

In addition to the incredible service and upscale luxury at the Four Seasons of Seattle, one of the greatest features of the property is its location adjacent to Seattle’s waterfront, a block over from the famous Pike Place Market. It is easily accessible from local freeways. If you’re arriving at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, the best option to get downtown from the airport is Sound Transit’s Central Link Light Rail. For under $3.00 per person, you can ride from the airport downtown in 39 minutes – saving you the cost of a rental car and pricey downtown parking. The hotel is about a 10 minute walk from the Westlake rail station. Across the street from the Four Seasons, you will find the Seattle Art Museum, which was hosting a Paul Gaugin exhibit during my stay. Within a 5-minute walk of the hotel, you can also find Benaroya Hall – home of the Seattle Symphony and the Seattle Aquarium.

Four Seasons Seattle |  99 Union Street, Seattle, WA 98101

Telephone: 1 (206) 749-7000

http://www.fourseasons.com

*note:  My accommodations were provided by the Four Seasons of Seattle, but all thoughts, opinions and photographs are by this author.

Southwest Airlines Unveils Evolution of its Aircraft Interior

DALLAS, TX – Southwest Airlines has unveiled a refresh of the cabin interior for its Boeing 737 fleet, that the airline is calling “Evolve.” The make-over includes a number of changes, including new seats, carpet and bulkhead decor. (pictured below)

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When walking on board, customers will notice changes to the seats, in particular. First, the “saddle tan” leather of the older seats has been exchanged for a lighter, sand-colored tan. The seat covers are made from “E-Leather” which has been tested for over two years on Southwest’s flying “Green Plane” testbed. Travelers will also notice the shape of the new head rest is contoured for more rest and comfort. Southwest Marketing Manager Angela Vargo mentioned that the new seats are slightly thinner (in depth not width) and lower to the floor, noting “Depending how you sit in your seat, you’ll have up to an extra inch of personal space.” As we all know, every inch matters when it comes to personal comfort on a plane. The thinner seat profile has also allowed Southwest to add 6 seats to the 737-300 and 737-700 aircraft configurations. They will be upgraded from 137 to 143 seats, without any sacrifices in leg room. In addition, the capacity adjustment will help Southwest’s bottom line in the form of potential extra revenue and reduced operating cost per seat mile, along with a weight savings of over 600 pounds per aircraft.

The cabin’s former blue carpeting has been replaced by patterned grey recyclable InterfaceFLOR carpet. This new carpet has also been tested since 2009 while flying around on the “Green Plane.” It is interesting to note that this carpet is installed in squares of two sizes, versus the custom cut sections formerly used on the 737. This saves on having to replace large sections when a small area is worn out or stained, and can be done with the seats still installed, which in turn saves on labor costs for the airline, and reduces out of service time for the aircraft. When a section of the new carpet needs replacement, it is returned to the manufacturer, where it is re-engineered is a process that is completely carbon neutral.

Once seated, customers will notice a few other aesthetic changes, such as new brushed aluminum tray table locks that now click into place, and should help prevent the unwelcome tray collapse into your lap. The seatback pockets are now a mesh, allowing you to see the pocket’s contents. This could be especially advantageous to those who might be prone to forgetting their phones, books, ear buds or tablet computers when getting off the plane. The forward and rear bulkheads have also received a new design, with a dark leather-like texture, highlighted by an update of Southwest’s winged heart logo.

It doesn’t take too much guessing to realize that this is how Southwest’s new 737-800s will look on the inside once they start to arrive in March, aside from the “Boeing Sky Interior” updates to the overhead bins, window bevels and lighting systems. In comparison to the Spirit interior (2001-2012), the new interior features more muted colors, giving it a more refined and business-like feel. Overall, this is a stylish and welcome update to the brand Southwest has presented to travelers for over 40 years.

This aircraft, N935WN, goes into service this month, while the airline plans to begin fitting one aircraft per night with the new interior starting in March of this year.

Cutting the Cord – How I ditched Cable TV

A couple of weeks ago, in a rare moment of budgetary clarity, I emailed my wife and suggested we cancel our AT&T U-Verse cable service and buy an AppleTV device. For the $99 price of the magic little box, we would save ourselves $86 per month in subscription and equipment rental fees. Being that we’re in the process of cutting expenses and reducing debt (thanks, Dave Ramsey) it was a no-brainer.   We’ve been AT&T customers for almost 3 years, having signed up as soon as their U-Verse service was available in our neighborhood. Before that, we had Time Warner.

For us, the decision was not about AppleTV’s capability of streaming on-demand TV shows and movies (for a rental fee). Who never actually paid to watch something downloaded from iTunes. We were using it as a digital middle-man, if you will. Paired with our iPad2, via AirtPlay Mirroring, we streamed TV shows, either from their network website, or from the network’s own apps, available in the App Store. Even for networks whose videos are Adobe Flash format (Fox), there’s an app for that! Download the Skyfire Web Brower for iPad (3.99).

Fast-forward several days, and I was becoming annoyed with having to go through the motions of just getting the TV set up to watch a non-rented show on Apple TV. It took several minutes to get everything on the right TV and stereo inputs, and to choose a show and then get it to display with sound properly on the TV. For some reason, we frequently had to re-start either the Apple TV, the iPad or back out of AirPlay mirroring just to get the sound to play with the show. And because the show was streamed over wi-fi, we were at the mercy of the network speed gods – which sometimes left the show displayed in very poor quality, or frozen on the screen for a second or two.  I began looking for other options.

I ended up going with a Roku 2 XS. Its $99.99 sticker price matches the Apple TV but the Roku box held advantages I preferred over the Apple TV after comparing them.

  1. The Roku system displays shows in full 1080 HD. Using AirPlay mirroring, the shows streamed through AppleTV only came across at 720P at best, leaving much of our 46″ screen unused.
  2. The Roku system has a native Hulu Plus app. It still requires a $7.99/month subscription, but it freed up my iPad, which I’d rather use for other functions. I was also concerned about those times when I needed to take my iPad on a business trip or when the battery might go dead, leaving us without a TV option. Using Hulu Plus, I would still have that to watch shows if and when I do take the iPad on road trips.
  3. The Roku system has an Ethernet port (on the XS model), so your data stream is more reliable than when depending on a Wi-Fi signal as with AirPlay mirroring. You can also choose to use Wi-Fi if you like.
  4. Though it wasn’t a decision-making factor, Roku’s XS model also comes with a motion-sensing remote control, and “Angry Birds” pre-installed. I’ve already been playing it for years in my iPhone, but it’s a good feature for those without smartphones, or are shy about letting the kiddos handle their fragile phones.

I’m returning the Apple TV today. The only thing I’ll really miss about it is being able to stream music from my iPhone and/or Mac desktop computer to it.  But if I want to play music from my phone on my home stereo, all I really need is a $6 audio cable from Radio Shack. Put one end in your iPhone’s headphone jack, and the other end in your stereo’s audio input.

In short, canceling our cable service and buying the Roku XS 2 as a replacement is saving us almost $1,000 a year! Sure, I’ll miss ESPN, Discovery Channel and a few others, but are they worth $1,000 a year? We could all use  more time spent exercising, reading, or playing with our kids anyway.