Thursday, May 19, 2011

Flying United's Friendly Skies

So you all know i fly a lot.  I mean, 80,000 butt-in-seat miles all around the world in a year is a lot, I dare say.  So when I tell you I have just deplaned from one of my more enjoyable flights, and it's a domestic one, I'm really talking about something special here.

On my way from Boston Logan to Washington Dulles, I was treated to Captain Ed's Talk Show in the Skies.   For a scant 10-15 minutes, Capt. Ed gave all sorts of fascinating tidbits of information about our flight, about the Boeing 757 with a price tag of $80M we were flying in, about what it's like to be a pilot and just how useful is auto-pilot, anyway?
Entertaining and educational, a great combination, similar to peanut butter and chocolate, I learned these little gems:
  • We were cruising at 30k feet, which is 5 miles above sea level.  At that kind of atmosphere, the plane can overcome friction and drag to fly efficiently.  Any lower, and we would have required twice the amount of fuel to slice our way through the thick air.
  • Speaking of fuel, 10,000 pounds of fuel was being spent on the short flight.  But those who are concerned about their carbon footprint need to know that the flight was burning the equivalent of 8 gallons of fuel per passenger.  If one were to drive from Boston to Wash Dulles, they would need to beat 65 mpg.  Now, I just bought a new car.  Even the Toyota Prius driving only in the city can't reach that metric.  Granted, this assumes that there are no other factors that feed into the carbon footprint.  Those who know better can school me on this, please.
  • Cruise speed was at 540 mph.  That's 9 miles per minute.  That's as fast as a bullet shot from a handgun.  
  • The pressurized cabin is equivalent to being 5,000 feet above sea level, which would be like being at the Denver airport.  Why not sea level period?  Because they would have to build the airplanes as if they were airtight tanks, and that just gets a little too heavy and expensive to fly around.  
  • Touchdown occurs at 150+ mph.  Gives me a whole new appreciation for a smooth landing and all the tire marks on the runway, which are not unlike the rubber marks I left on my driveway with my Big Wheel as a kid.
Winding down, Capt. Ed invited folks to say hello and visit his "office" up front.  Conveniently, I was sitting in the first row, so I had quick access.  I sat in his chair and touched "stuff" whatever button or gauge they might have been. 

As I exited the aircraft, I heard others tell him how much they enjoyed his audio tour.  In a time when it seems that all airlines are interested in is saving money and nickel and diming passengers to death, i was surprised and delighted by the fact that there was a little something given back.  It wasn't expensive, but it was meaningful and differentiated from just about any other flight I've taken recently (okay except for the first class flight with Singapore Airlines.  Thats hard to beat).  It was engaging enough that I took notes as I listened and laughed out loud when he challenged those who thought pilots were unnecessary because of the auto-pilot function with, "someone has to turn the seatbelt light on and off..."

Thank you Capt. Ed and crew.  You were pleasant, entertaining, and got us to IAD early.    It makes me actually look forward to my next flight to see whether any other surprising adventure lays in wait for me.

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