ASK THE CAPTAIN: New Pilot Crew Rest Rules. Will It Make Flying Safer?


Do you have a question about airline safety, flight etiquette, jet lag, or air travel in general? Submit your question and look for answers in a future column.

by W. M. Wiggins

" I am curious about those DOT/FAA Improved Pilot Crew Rest Rules. Can you tell me what they are?"   

I see you are wondering what’s different, so here are the main Federal Aviation Administration changes: 

  • ON DUTY HOURS: 9 to 14 per day

Will these rules help?

And, if they do, will the flying public be willing to pay for the extra costs that will be added to their airline tickets?  

Before answering you,  here is a little background on just some problems associated with pilots flying in a diminished capacity….like ah….”sleep flying”.

You laugh?

If only it were funny. 

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How Anne Frank Eased My Travel Frustrations

by Gillian Kendall


If I’d gotten a fortune cookie yesterday, it would have read: ‘Overconfidence brings misfortune.’ Or maybe, ‘Stay close to home today.’ 

Lacking such foresight, I was feeling cheerful about the two little flights – each less than 4 hours – that would take me from Florida to Arizona. This trip was trivial compared to the one from LAX to Melbourne: 16 hours in the air, which I do several times a year.

I barely even packed. In my carryon, I had just a computer, wallet, and paperback – Anne Frank’s Diary of A Young Girl, which I was reading for the first time.

A friend dropped me at sweet little Sarasota/Bradenton airport exactly 90 minutes before my 1.34 p.m. flight. But at the Delta counter, I heard a staff member apologizing to another customer: our flight was delayed at least an hour.

Over the PA, an agent made the unsmiling declaration that that Atlanta airport was opening and closing all day, due to “weather,” and that if we made it there during a brief open period, we’d probably be spending the night there, not getting on to our final destinations. That, or we could go home and start again tomorrow.

I had booked a “calming facial” the next morning at the Royal Palms Spa, and I needed it. My pores were clogged from months in the sun, and relaxing in the hands of a competent, smooth-skinned aesthetician would make this trip worthwhile.

The flight to Atlanta kept being further delayed, in maddening, twenty-minute increments, which meant there wasn’t time to go to Starbucks or watch the soothing tropical fish display. We finally boarded about 3.30 p.m., and I strapped myself in and sat reading Anne Frank’s Diary. Having never read the book before, I’d assumed it would be horrifically depressing, but in fact her journal was amusing and the narrator almost incredibly cheerful, as in this observation shortly after her family went into hiding.

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Leonardo's Vision

by Pete Thompson


The richness of human imagination has rarely been more realized than in the day/night dreams of Leonardo da Vinci which have deeply impacted modern humankind. Although his fantasy images were limited to the available technologies of the day, he nonetheless, envisioned each as real and probable in time. His fifteenth century vision of a machine capable of leaping into the air under the control of humans in flight has come to pass in the helicopter. I can imagine him watching birds doing these things and actually, in his mind, performing them, himself.  When I was a child, people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. As serious as a monk in prayer, I answered, "A bird!" I have experienced, in every human sense possible, the thrill of flight that Leonardo envisioned as the nearest humans could initiate actual bird flight. 

I AM a helicopter pilot therefore I AM a helicopter.  The integration between a human and a machine is complete when the former is strapped into the latter becoming one and the same. Every human sense becomes ten-fold more sensitive to the machine, and each vibration, sound, smell, sight, and touch becomes acute. When you break friction with the earth, you are no longer in the human world but in the world where the inhabitants are naturally equipped to fly.  You may dance upon the air through every landscape that exists. Leonardo's vision inhabited many inventors, but one, in the twentieth century, made it real….Igor Sikorsky.  Others followed in his footsteps, making the machine better and more friendly to those who have the lust to be a bird. One of those who believed in the machine enough to make it better and safer, my hero, Howard Hughes.

Through odd circumstances, I became a helicopter pilot, and no matter how odd, I have benefited beyond my wildest dreams. It is my goal to share the most wondrous of human experiences by leaping into the air and flying like a bird.

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Icarus and The Iceland Volcano: A Pilot’s Inside Scoop

by W.M. Wiggins

Do you remember Icarus from Greek Mythology? Well, he may have been the first and original flyboy……… you see, piloting goes w-a-a-a-y back.

Icarus and his father, Daedalus, were being held captive in a sky-high tower of that nasty King Minos of Crete… and it was a far piece to the ground, let me tell you….even by Texas standards.

Icarus’ father, Daedalus, who was widely recognized as the master of ingenuity, concocted flyable wings from bee’s wax and feathers. That was just about all the material to be found in that high, old tower. Once those bird-like wings were securely mounted on Icarus and Daedalus, they were almost ready to take flight…but first, that obligatory pre departure briefing.

“Son”, says Icarus’ father, “Don’t fly too close to the Sun or too close to the water.” “If you do, son, you will be in a h-e-a-p of trouble.”

Well, we know the rest of the story. Icarus, flying in a loose formation behind his father, became bored. He zoom-climbed high toward that hot, hot, sun…melting the wax that held the feathers in place. Ploop! Into the sea he went and drowned.

Fast forward. That was then, this is now.

Iceland’s EYJAFJALLAJOKULL volcano (that’s easy for you to say) goes Ka Boom!

In this explosive eruption, volcanic ash is taken tens of thousands of feet into the air….and that’s the rub. Jet airliners need to fly in this airspace.

So, what’s the Big Deal? Ash, that’s just like dirtier dirt…right?


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Step Back from the Baggage Claim

Change the World, Start at the Airport

by Jason Barger


It’s funny what a glass of wine can lead to. My wife and I had just put our two young boys to bed when the words “I think I may write a book” leaped from my mouth. The words almost surprised me and my wife had no idea where this was leading. The next thing I knew, the traveling adventure had begun.

My family dropped me off at the airport in our hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Over the next seven days I traveled from Columbus to Boston to Miami to Chicago to Minneapolis to Seattle to San Diego - 7 cities in 7 days without leaving the airport the entire time. I was sleeping on floors, eating rubbery chicken nuggets, and yes, watching people. I soaked in nearly 10,000 minutes of observations of humanity at all four corners of the United States. Yes, I’m strange - but, Life is a trip!

With over 87,000 planes in the skies over the United States on any given day, airports are one of the most unique spaces in our mobile world today. So many different people going different directions with different agendas. The airports are a place filled with great excitement, frustration, sadness and anxiety. In order for us to get from point A to point B, we must navigate our way through the obstacles, delays and cancellations that show up along our path. As a metaphor for the rest of our lives away from the airport, how do we choose to travel through daily life in our world? So, I needed to go and see what I would observe.

Oddly, the baggage claim was calling me.

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Ask the Captain: Jamaica Airplane Crash

Plane Talk: Got a question? Ask the Captain!

Do you have a question about airline safety, flight etiquette, jet lag, or air travel in general? Submit your question and look for answers in a future column.

by W. M. Wiggins

What did you see as the problem in the American Airlines Jamaica runway accident? 


First, I saw the problem, landing with a tailwind (possibly) out of limits. Then I see what appears to be some of the best publications relations in the realm of corporate aviation.

 The following is my opinion:

Basic airplane 101 says, point that little puppy (the jet or “de plane”, “de plane” ) into the wind for all takeoffs and landings.

The “Specs” or specifications for the Boeing 737-800 say max takeoff / landing tailwind component is 10 knots. Please note, it does NOT say About, Sorta’or Kinda’10 kts. It says 10 kts. This will be important later.

Then the  “Specs” goes on to say…There “May” be 15kts ( tailwind) as customer option. Hmmm? Seems just a tad contradictory, yes?

Uh, NO, not really.

What that means, basically, is that Boeing is “on the hook legally” for that 10 kt tailwind number.

Now, but, but, but what about that 15 kts?

Well, that’s “Show me the $$ money $$ time.

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Air Travel Madness

We have rules, people.

Sure, I feel sorry for those 47 passengers stuck on a Continental Express plane for nine hours at the Rochester airport, but just because they’re trapped in a device where excess flatulence violates EPA standards doesn’t mean they should be allowed outside the jet.

photo via Flickr by Kevin Boydsto

We can’t let people wander willy-nilly at our airports late at night because, heaven knows, even a blue-haired grandma or a nearsighted professor or a Nintendo-crazed kid might actually be a world-class terrorist who is going to hide in a broom closet until dawn, headlock the pilot of a 747 who’s having a triple latte, put on his uniform and commandeer the plane, take off, fly the jet into the command center at ESPN over in Connecticut, bring down sports broadcasting and cause widespread panic, tempting Vlad Putin to lob a few SS9s our way, starting World War III and causing the collapse of civilization and, not incidentally, indefinitely postponing the start of the NFL season.

Can’t have that. Right?

Wrong. Wrong, that is, on the whole paradigm in which we Americans frame air travel these days—security threats lurk under every bush and babushka; and yet the best commerce is utterly unfettered. In fact, we kind of have those two upside down.

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Flying High

by Jessica Lynn

The other day, as I was gearing up for yet another flight, someone at my office asked me why I fly, when flying is such a hassle. GOOD question. EASY answer...

I fly to travel the world. I fly to see Buckingham Palace from the top of a double-decker bus in London, ride a bike in Amsterdam, take the slanted elevator ride up the Eiffel Tower, roam the imperial forum in of Rome, and enjoy a river cruise along the Great Mississippi River.

I fly to taste the world. I fly so I can devour an all-American hotdog in New York, discover a traditional English breakfast in Great Britain, eat authentic menudo in Mexico, taste the decadent crepes and cheese in France, and sip sangria in Spain.

I fly to meet people. I fly for the joy of visiting with old friends who have moved away, to strike up a conversation with the person sitting in the seat next to me, and the prospect of meeting someone new and hearing their story.

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Dead And Dragged Out On The Throughway: Is this really a better way to go than by air?

by Sallie Bingham

Santa Fe to Tucson in a one-day mad dash

Jack the Pup is riding shotgun on the roommate’s lap as we head west on I-40 at nine AM, planning to reach my sister’s house in Tucson in time for dinner. The first miles across the desert, numbingly familiar by now, yield as this time we’d planned a back roads excursion south, just across the Arizona border. The map shows one of those intriguing dotted lines, a scenic highway, just what we need after hours of rumbling 18-wheelers…

To ready ourselves for adventure, we stop in Gallup at what is now our favorite eatery: Earl’s Family Restaurant. Here in Navajo Country Earl’s is shopping center, family reunion, and good staple New Mexico food: guacamole, burritos and so forth. Outside, Navajo craftspeople jam the sidewalk with their tables; inside, they patrol the aisles, silently holding out pins, bracelets, necklaces, and, in a departure from the usual, a pair of weird lamps, the ceramic bases coated with sand and then painted with iconic motifs. I’m charmed, I must buy at twenty dollars each, then wonder, too late, where in the world I’m going to put them….

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The Theory of Flight

by Susan McKee

One advantage of travel writing is the opportunity to travel. Of course, that's one of the disadvantages as well. When you're traveling, you're not where you're going, and you've left where you've been. Transit time is a state of suspended animation.

Take getting to Malaysia, for example. It's on the other side of the earth from the American heartland. No matter whether you go east or west, it's still 23 hours of time in the air. I flew from Newark to Kuala Lumpur, so the plane stopped for refueling in Dubai.

An hour or so in that international airport terminal is just about enough time to ogle the jewelry and designer clothes for sale and send off a postcard. Then it's back on board, trying to endure the tedium – dropping off to sleep, waking and reading for a bit, then dozing off again.

Stuck in steerage, there's not much to do. Most long distance overseas flights these days have individual television screens – even in coach. But, the movie choices are inane, and how many times can you watch the same episodes of popular TV sitcoms? I find myself tuning into the map charting the plane's progress.

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