Friday, October 8, 2010

United Express operation at DCA is less reliable?

Disclaimer: This post shall dive rather unabashedly into speculation and extrapolation from anecdotal evidence. In addition, the author harbours personal displeasure towards the "Express creep" into what until recently was an all-mainline United Airlines operation at DCA, the reasons being at least three-fold: 1) compromised service offerings of the regional operators v/v mainline service, e.g. a lack of live air traffic control audio (Channel 9), or any other audio options for that matter; reduced overhead bin space; reduced offerings in the forward cabin; 2) a perception of diminished reliability, as regionals operate with thinner scheduling buffers and reduced availability of spare (i.e. potential substitute) aircraft; and 3) a perception that reduced crew hiring requirements and comparatively Lilliputian pay negatively affect safety.


In checking the status of today's DCA-ORD flights on, your fearlessly inquisitive author discovered a 55 minute departure delay on today's UA 7670, the scheduled 6am operation on DCA-ORD (which used to be UA 601 with mainline service...). In seeking to understand the operational implications, consider the following four facts: 1) yesterday evening's sole United Express (UAX) operation into DCA, UA 7669 (ORD-DCA, scheduled 7:05p-9:55p), was cancelled; 2) the aircraft operating UA 7669 makes a RON (remains overnight) at DCA and operates UA 7670 the following morning; 3) Shuttle America, operator of the UAX service at DCA (and owned by parent company Chautauqua Airlines), ferried an Embraer E70 aircraft this morning from CMH (Columbus, OH), which arrived at DCA at 6:08am and, by logical argument, must have provided the aircraft for this morning's delayed UA 7670; and 4) upon arriving at DCA on UA 600 earlier this week (at approximately 9am), I noticed that UA 7670 was cancelled (the E70 was still parked at a gate adjacent to that which my B757 would occupy), while the morning's mainline service to ORD all seemed to operate.

With apologies about the non- reader friendly format of the extended argumentation above, that is to say, about the decided lack of conventional punctuation, some closing points: 1) The above evidence is, admittedly, anecdotal and non-rigorous, particularly in regards to point 4, where I didn't even provide the superficial context that I at least afford to consideration of today's flight in points 1-3; 2) Cancelled flights and empty aircraft ferries are a normal occurrence in this industry; 3) That UA / UAX would ferry an E70 on CMH-DCA, instead of simply cancelling DCA-ORD and revenue-flying the aircraft on CMH-ORD, hints at concern about minimizing passenger disruption, which is laudable.

That said, the complexities of reliable United-branded operations on DCA-ORD and v/v would be minimized with all-mainline operation. To say nothing of my objections to outsourced "Express" operations a priori.

So go out, loyal constituents, and write the Customer Relations department at your preferred airline, demanding maximization of mainline service and minimization of the ironically-labeled "Express" variety! Don't pay any heed to how deceptively attractive the little bundle of aluminum, scrubbed all nice and clean, might look!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Scatter-brained, high-flying story-telling

Dear foolish readers, er, reader: (for you could be consuming something worth your time)

What follows is a true story, in the full spirit of the word 'true.' It not only truly happened, but the chronicle was truly written but minutes after the event, taking the form of an email that was instantly dispatched from the wireless device it was crafted upon, just as the wireless device encountered (naturally enough) a wireless signal, upon its carrier's reaching the terra firma of a runway at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. I risk a lawsuit -- just as I had with the previous post; what lengths I go for my readership of no one! -- with what follows, as it was intended as privileged communication to the message's original recipient, not for posting upon every iPhone from Dakar to Dolny Slask, every LCD from Virgin America's seat-back variety to, well, the point is made.

Date: Unification day (no, not October 3, but the First of this month, when CO and UA, having said "I do," giddily stole away into the Red Carpet -clad Presidential Club suite for, well, I might have some youngin' readers here. No, of course I don't, who am I kidding.) Airbus even celebrated with a full-page advert in the Financial Times: (apologies for the poor readability; blame the iPhone camera)

Place: the District

Time: early afternoon

The deets --


Man oh man, today's airport arrival experience was among my most dramatic ever! Read on; I write from aboard UA 621, presently some 24 minutes into the DCA-ORD sector.

I arrived in Rosslyn at 1:30p as expected, and I was descending the long elevator shaft for the Metro moments thereafter, in possession of Peugeot road bike, Samsonite roll-aboard, and Briggs and Riley backpack. (The bike would serve as my get-away vehicle upon returning to DCA a few mornings later, thereby beating the gridlock automobile traffic on the roads and bridges into central DC.) And then the fun started.

Sure enough, the blue line departed just as I arrived on the platform via elevator, and the next would come only after the obligatory and interminable (and unacceptable) midday wait. The next DCA-bound subway rolled into Rosslyn around 1:50p.

Once on the Metro platform at DCA, a sprint to the elevator proceeded, followed by discovery of a new route to my usual Peugeot lock-up spot, adjacent to the US Airways hangar. I kissed the maddog (my term of endearment for the fine wheels) good-bye, and continued to run (and sweat - yes, it's unpleasant but true!) into the terminal and up to the terminus of a shockingly lengthy queue for priority security screening. The time was 2:15p. My scheduled departure time was 2:35p; hence, doors would close in ten minutes. The wait to get to the ID checker appeared to be a good 15 minutes. That would not do.

Eschewing all semblance of elegance, I got the attention of a non-TSA line attendant and pressed my case, underscoring that my qualifications for the premium lane were not only elite status, but F-class (achieved through upgrade) to boot. :) And it worked! I was escorted about two-thirds of the way forward, and I furthermore "pardoned" my way past another 10% of the line. My wait thereby reduced to three or four minutes, I was through the checkpoint by 2:21. What good fortune!

I decided to double my bet. I could have easily walked to the gate - I was in possession of a luxurious quantity of 4 whole minutes, after all! - but decided to hit the restroom and change into some fresh clothing. Bear in mind that, at this time (and pardon the directness), sweat was beading down my neck, and I was feeling positively disgusting. No sooner than I'd entered the restroom, I heard "final boarding call, United 621!". But it was only 2:22, and I was determined to take full advantage of my remaining 180 seconds.

I finished my sartorial task most expeditiously and emerged into the male-female-combined world at 2:23p. I was at Gate 31 while my phone still displayed 2:23 (it would tick to 2:24 a few seconds later). The door to the jetbridge was open, the jetbridge was still attached to the New Colours A319, but there were no agents in sight! Finally, just over a minute later, after waiting patiently (what else could I do?!), I saw the jetbridge begin to detach. And an agent made an appearance. "Excuse me," in said. No response, not even a turn of the agent's head or eyeballs, despite being about two feet away from me. "Excuse me," I tried again, and still no acknowledgement. I could already see the angry email to United's Customer Relations that I would subsequently compose. But then, unexpectedly, a helpful query: "oh, are you on this flight?" Why, yes. Why else would I be standing at the jetway? I show my boarding pass and the demeanor improves further. I'm invited down the jetway in no time.

Now firmly ensconced within the aluminum skeleton of the jetliner, one further adventure awaited that momentous half-hour. I saw someone occupying my 2D. And I was told to gate-check my Samsonite. I do not admit this with pride, but the seasoned traveller within suddenly made a full-on appearance. I stubbornly began checking all the overhead bins in F, and finding only meager space for my backpack and maddogging helmet, proceeded to investigate bins in the forward part of Economy Plus. I was determined, even though the gate agent was already in the process of writing out a gate-check tag and affixing it to my bag, and suddenly - yes, some elusive space! Again with some dissatisfaction, I admit to having forcefully and clumsily rearranged the contents of that overhead bin and then expertly shoving my over-sized Samsonite into the created space. And I then took 1D, without so much as an evil-eye to the occupant of *MY* 2D! :)

Fondly from flight, now 0:56 past wheels up, and above western Ohio, (though, obviously, my note will be dispatched only upon making contact with one of ORD's fine runways)


Awaiting a barrage of criticism from non-existent readership, pertaining to all the explicit and tacit haughtiness that, it might be imagined, oozed forth from me...

Post script: For the sake of posterity, here's what the blurry text in the Airbus advert above really says: Read Ad Astra It's the Best Read Ad Astra (et cetera). Ok, here's what it really says:

Congratulations to everyone at Continental and United on the merger creating the new United, a truly world-class global airline. Your partners at Airbus, the world's leading aircraft manufacturer, wish you all the best. October 1, 2010 was a big day for the world of aviation, and for everyone that wants to fly.

07/10: Big-picture musings

I will not commence this post with a renewed vows of frequent and substantive posting. I'll let the following (true) statistic speak of the volume of readers that have been begging, badgering, and downright being belligerent about the dearth of content: Google currently owes me less than the typical price of a cup o' Joe in advertising fees for the past few months. Hopefully that statement is sufficiently vague to dodge those highly-paid Silicon Valley lawyers, who are just itching to sue the latest dirt-poor blogger for untold damages at having revealed their precise remuneration from Google Adwords. Based on my earnings, I can't even afford the Metro fare to the courtroom, to say nothing of needing to hitchhike my way back.

Those pleasantries aside, I have navigated a transition into new professional endeavors over the past few weeks, and the upheaval having passed, I trust that there's at least somewhat of a chance for sustained value generation on these pages over the weeks ahead. And the impetus for the vagueness is an omnipotent, oddly mysterious, 'just because', its being one of the few perks (ok, the only one) of being Founder, Chairman and CEO of Ad Astra Publishing and Pontificating, NLC (like an LLC, but better, with no liability whatsoever!) And yes, dear reader, the way this writing is flowing, I too identify this post as being at risk of speedy revision.

In just-breaking news, markets have not stood still since I last scratched the virtual chalkboard that is this blog. September spawned a sustained and, so far, unbroken move towards the upside, with the broad-market /ES contract now looking over-extended, though not necessarily without potential for one last pop, before the inescapable tendency towards mean-reversion says hello. In any event, 1175 looms as important forthcoming horizontal resistance, as do 1200 and 1210 further up the chart.

A 180d/4h /ES chart follows. From here on, such notation will convey the following: first, the time period of the chart (here, 180 days); second, the time period of each bar (here, 4 hours). /ES is, of course, a 24/5 contract (meaning that it trades for approximately 120 hours per week); hence, a 180-day chart of /ES will contain far more data that, say, a 180-d depiction of SPY, its corresponding exchange-traded fund, which trades for but 32.5 hours per half-fortnight. And I trust, reader, that you'll somehow forgive the quality of this late hour's missive, and return for more dreary punishment tomorrow. Yes, I did say tomorrow.