Fish Out of Water! Southwest Promotes Shark Week

For the first time since late 2015, Southwest Airlines is flying a Boeing 737 featuring sea creatures, by partnering with the Discovery Channel to promote Shark Week. The 737-700, registered N422WN will fly for Southwest until August 31st this year.

Southwest Shark Week 2

“Now more than ever, brands have to be creative and unique in their approach to reach new Customers,” said Linda Rutherford, Chief Communication Officer for Southwest Airlines. “Partnering with Discovery’s Shark Week allows Southwest to connect with our Customers in a fun and memorable way. Only on Southwest can you enjoy this Shark Week experience, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Shark Week will air on Discovery Channel from June 26 – July 3rd. Southwest’s passengers will be able to view a Shark Week episode on Southwest’s flights for the whole month of June. Passengers and aviation geeks who see the Shark Week plane are encouraged to share photos with @SouthwestAir and @SharkWeek on Twitter, using the hashtag #sharkstakeflight and may receive special Shark Week gifts for doing so.

Enter the Dare to Dive Sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (PVR), including roundtrip air travel for four on Southwest, a $2,000 hotel gift card, and a $1,000 Visa gift card to put toward an aquatic excursion for the entire family. For full rules and to enter for a chance to win, visit Southwest.com/SharkWeek.

For nearly thirty years, Southwest flew 737s painted with Sea World’s famous “Shamu” Orca, and more recently, one with penguins as well. However, those aircraft were all repainted near the end of 2015, when Southwest discontinued its partnership with Sea World, following backlash over a documentary film about Orcas living in captivity.

New Delta Interior is Attractive, Roomy, and Confusing

Immediately upon boarding my Delta Air Lines flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Denver, I noticed some very different and appealing changes. First, I noticed the 12-year old Airbus A319 had new overhead stow bins, hanging down low and allowing far more capacity than I’ve seen on a narrow-body airliner before. Inside each bin, there is an instructive graphic, telling passengers to turn their bags onto their sides, allowing optimal room for up to sixty percent more bags, according to Delta. Not everyone got the message, however, as many bags were still placed in the bins width-wise. And although the Delta gate agent had advertised the fact that the flight was full and solicited volunteers for complimentary gate checks, there was still ample storage in several bins for additional bags.

New passenger service unit (PSU) on Delta's A319
New passenger service unit (PSU) on Delta’s A319

The Passenger Service Unit is a big improvement, aesthetically. With cabin lights on, the portion of the PSU against the ceiling glows a pleasant blue, thanks to its surrounding LED lights. But unfortunately, the new design is proving challenging. After the cabin lights were dimmed, there were at least a dozen inadvertent presses of the Flight Attendant call light, as passengers searched for the buttons to turn on their reading lights. The reading lights have a lightbulb icon, just above the black button which turns the light on. The button is quite difficult to see in an otherwise dark cabin. When the call button is pressed, the surrounding LED glows orange. The PSU also features a blue glowing Wi-Fi icon that appears above 10,000 feet. 

New overhead bins in Delta's A319 are HUGE! (Image via Delta)
New overhead bins in Delta’s A319 are HUGE! (Image via Delta)

The cabin is configured with 132 total seats, including 12 first class, 18 Comfort Plus, and 102 slimline main cabin seats. Each seat has Panasonic In-flight Entertainment, including movies (priced from free to $6), TV shows ($1), music, games, fleet information and flight tracking. Each row also has two power outlets. Kids’ movies are free, which is a huge plus for parents. Headsets can be purchased for $2. Inflight Wi-Fi is provided by Gogo and can be purchased.

Panasonic IFE screen on Delta's refurbished A319
Panasonic IFE screen on Delta’s refurbished A319

Zodiac Aerospace designed the updated new galleys, seats and PSU. The first A319 to receive the upgrade rolled out in late July. Retrofit of the A319 and A320 fleet is expected to continue until summer, 2017.

Avgeek DREAM Come True — My First Boeing 787 Flight

I finally took my very first flight on board a Boeing 787 Dreamliner! I’ve been following this aircraft since it was on the drawing board, and still called the 7E7. I joined the World Design Team and participated in the naming contest, though “Dreamliner” did not get my vote. In 2008. my wife and I even made a special Seattle detour prior to an Alaskan cruise, just to see the first 787 (ZA001) on the assembly line in Everett.

I had toured a couple of 787s in the past, including test aircraft ZA003 during Boeing’s World Dream Tour at DFW, and British Airways’ first 787-8, G-ZBJA, but I had yet to fly on one until this week. My inaugural flight was aboard British Airways’ first 787-9 Dreamliner, G-ZBKA.

My trip was part of a media assignment for AirwaysNews, and my full trip report will be on that site very soon. But here, I just wanted to share my experience in a more personal way, and reflect on some notes that I found interesting.

Before my flight, I had always made the assumption that the dimmable, electromagnetic window shades were more of a gimmick than something that was really necessary. This flight completely changed my mind! Leaving Heathrow, I sat in seat 1A, which had the sun on my side during the first half of the flight. I dimmed my window shortly after takeoff. The first couple of steps still allow you to see outside with a lot of detail, but without being blinded by direct sun. It became pleasant to look outside. With the window completely darkened, it wasn’t a full blackout, but the sunlight now appeared as moonlight, making the cloud tops glow beneath us as we soared over the North Atlantic.

British Airways' 787-9 First Class. Photo by Paul Thompson.
British Airways’ 787-9 First Class. Photo by Paul Thompson.

Everything about the flight was excellent, from the quiet cabin to the service by the flight attendants, the seat comfort, and entertainment options. As you’ll see in the photo above, the seat area is spacious, and appointed with high-end materials and features. Once again, there will be many more details about the trip on AirwaysNews, so please check it out.

I’ll have more 787 experience in the weeks to come, including a trip to the other side of the world, so stay tuned for that!

Airbus Looks to Introduce “I Just Want to Sleep” Class

Beds on planes are not a new concept, with airlines such as Etihad and Singapore offering lavish accommodations in their first class suites. But with a new patent application filed yesterday, Airbus is now looking to develop a new, stacked, pod-like arrangement, similar to those seen in some international airports.

Airbus Pod 2

In the drawings, we see a 3-3-3 economy seating configuration, which is common to the A380 and A350 – both of which are used for long haul international flights, where people would like to get some quality sleep. The application says these beds would be safe to occupy during taxi, takeoff, and landing. Therefore, the passenger would not need to purchase or occupy an additional seat. With a cross section of just over 31 by 31 inches, the pods would be arranged so that the passenger would lay perpendicular to the direction of flight, with their head toward the outer wall of the aircraft. The box would be made of plastic or fiber-reinforced plastic, keeping the weight of the equipment relatively light.

For safety purposes, the pod would be equipped with an inflatable air bag system to protect the passenger in the event of a crash, but would only be 5-10cm thick, so as not to impede evacuation of the aircraft. The inflation would be triggered automatically by sensors. The space would also be void of any edges and corners on which passengers could potentially injure themselves. A passenger service unit (PSU) would be installed, and would include an emergency oxygen mask, a speaker, an air conditioning vent, and a lamp. A flat-screened video monitor could be provided for in-flight entertainment and safety videos, which would drop down from the ceiling. These would of course need to be stowed during takeoff and landing. Speaking of video, Airbus also recommends a small camera be installed so that flight attendants can monitor the passenger during the flight.

Airbus Pods 3

Even in the most comfortable lie-flat business class seats, you can still be disturbed by conversation, galley preparation, light from windows, and even the footsteps of people in the aisle. The notion of being surrounded by four walls does have its appeal, not only for privacy, but for quality of sleep. So, what do you think? I think it’s a great concept, and I would imagine it could be pretty comfortable, except for perhaps taking your meals. And for someone who has never gotten a good night’s sleep on a plane, I think this concept would finally provide a way for that to be achieved.

Watch Air France install their new La Premiere cabin

AF Premiere 2

Air France began installing these gorgeous new private La Premiere Business Class suites on their Boeing 777 fleet last summer. Notice the privacy curtains on each side… I think this is great, and adds a touch of elegance over the bulky, motorized partitions we usually see with seats similar to this.

Each 777 will get four La Premiere suites. Each suite features a 30-inch wide seat that folds out into a 6′ 5″ long bed. While the seat is upright, you can be joined by a guest in your suite, who can sit on an ottoman, and even join you for a meal at a table which can be installed.

AF Premiere 3

For entertainment, hundreds of on-demand video and music choices are at your fingertips, which you’ll enjoy on a 24-inch screen.

I’m a big fan of the lighter color motif. The light grey fabric and light tan leather accents make the space feel more vibrant in comparison to the standard dark wood and brushed nickel accents we are used to seeing lately.

Photos courtesy Air France

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)