Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Some scolds have flamed me for writing about the super-jumbo A380 being marketed as a private and/or business jet.

Kindly do not shoot the piano player ... uh, messenger.

Here are some representations of what a private A380 will look like, by way of Lufthansa Technik, the aircraft maintenance and overhaul company. The A380 costs about $310 million without cabin necessities like seats and bulkheads. For the whole nine yards of plush interior design, figure on another $100 million.

And here's another designer's rendition of space on a private A380, via

Meanwhile, I'm headed out west, and scrambling to try to change from a middle coach seat to an aisle.


Saturday, March 24, 2007


As I write this, it is (according to the countdown clock on the Major League Baseball home page) 8 days, 8 hours, 7 minutes and 10 seconds away from Opening Day-- yet the sports pages are still full of pictures of basketball players jumping up in the air.

And I'm still fuming over an article yesterday on the op-ed page of the Times, in which one Shashi Tharoor, a United Nations official, sneered that cricket --cricket -- is that most sublime of sports, one well beyond the grasp of crass baseball-loving Americans. "Nothing about cricket seems suited to the American national character: its rich complexity, the infinite possibilities that could occur with each delivery of the ball, the dozen different ways of getting out, are all patterned for a society of endless forms and varieties, not of a homogenized McWorld," this poet panjandrum wrote.

Oh, that cricket, that interminable game, famously capable of being played at a competitive level even after slugging a half-dozen pink gins in the scorching sun of the old Raj?

But hold on one minute now, Shashi.

Lookit today's paper with that front-page story about the murder in Jamaica of Pakistan's cricket team coach, one Bob Woolmer, found strangled and presumed to have been whacked. Coach Woolmer is thought to have been a victim of what is described as the "dark side" of world cricket, where "huge sums of money are offered to players to throw matches."

According to the Times story by Marc Lacey, Coach Woolmer -- in the accompanying photo he is in a cricket shirt with a "Pepsi" ad splashed across his chest -- held a press conference the day before he turned up dead, at which he was asked "how his team, a perennial power that was a contender for this year's cup, managed to lose two consecutive matches, one to a weak Irish squad."

To which Coach Woolmer replied mysteriously, "I'll sleep on it and tell you tomorrow."

Tomorrow came, but the coach wasn't talking, having been found strangled in his boxer shorts.

So much for Shashi Tharoor's "rich complexity."

As to the ambassador's swooning over the "dozen different ways of getting out" in cricket, we owe a tip of the hat and a big fat stadium-organ fanfare to one Paul Sussman, of Rye Brook, N.Y., whose letter to the editor in reply to Ambassador Tharoor appears on today's Times editorial page.

Mr. Sussman writes:

"By the way, there are more than 12 ways to get out in baseball: fly out; force out with fielder tagging the base while holding the ball in advance of the runner; a strikeout (looking or swinging); on a swinging third strike, a dropped ball is thrown to first base and bag is tagged; a foul ball on a two-strike bunt; the infield fly rule; a double play; a triple play; one runner passing another runner on the base path; running outside the base path; interference with the ball while in the base path; the runner is picked off by the pitcher; the runner is cut down by the catcher while trying to steal; a caught foul tip with two strikes; the appeal play." And, the learned Mr. Sussman adds, "There are more."

In his op-ed article on Friday, Shashi Tharoor had declared of the wondrous complexity of cricket and the American disinclination to grasp it: "I have tried to explain the allure of the sport to a skeptical Yankees fan by sketching a cricket pitch on a napkin in a sports bar during World Series commercial breaks."

The fact that he wasn't found strangled in his boxer shorts out back of the bar the next day tells you all you need to know about the culture of baseball versus that of cricket.

Beneath his op-ed article, Shashi Tharoor is described as a "departing under secretary general of the United Nations."

Someone in the stands ought to holler: "See ya later, Chump! Don't let the door hit you in second base on your way out!"


Thursday, March 22, 2007


Very large. Two decks. Surprisingly quiet at takeoff and in flight. Did I say very large?

How about eight stories high, wingspan almost the length of a football field, and capable of holding 853 passengers in all-coach layout, though none of the airlines that have ordered the A380 so far are planning to configure at more than about 550, in three classes.

I was frankly surprised by the number of people who have asked me in the last few days what I thought of the first A380 overseas flight on Monday with a full planeload of passengers, on a trial run in partnership with Airbus, the manufacturer, and Lufthansa, the airline that accounts for 15 of the 156 orders for the super-jumbo plane.

Lufthansa doesn't even get its first A380 till August 2009 (Singapore Airlines will be the first airline to put one in commercial service, late this year).

So Monday's flight from Frankfurt to New York, in a plane configured with about 550 seats, was basically a dress rehearsal. The passengers included Lufthansa and Airbus employees, about 60 reporters, photographers and video people, and a handful of specially invited members of Lufthansa's top-echelon frequent-flier elite program, called Hon Circle. I talked to an Englishman on board who was a member of that select elite.

"Huns Circle?" I asked in blank astonishment when he told me about the super-elite-status program.

"No, it's Hon Circle. H-O-N, for 'honors,' " he said.

Still, you'd think the Germans would have given some thought to how that sounds in English.

Whew, O.K. then. To belong to Hon, you have to fly 600,000 miles in each two-year period. That's real flying, hon, not collecting miles by shopping with your branded credit card at Costco.

Anyway, the trip was fine. The airplane itself was, as I said, notably quiet. And big. When we were over the North Sea, a pilot came on the speaker and pointed out a 747 headed westward about a half mile off our wing. "On the left side, look at the little 747," he said.

It was hard to usefully evaluate the cabin amenities, since the plane used on Monday was outfitted with a generic design. Great first-class and business-class seats, and coach was a little above average. But the flight was a demo and usual conditions did not prevail. I mean, people from every class were wandering all over, upstairs and downstairs, often with drinks in hand. Each airline that flies an A380 will have its own new cabin design, including Lufthansa, and none of them has yet showed their plans.

I was aware of one hitch on the so-called "proving flight," and that stems from the American aviation authorities being their usual humps.

Technically, the flight was operated by Airbus, with Lufthansa along as a partner. Lufthansa pilots, with Airbus pilots in the cockpit, have flown the same A380 into other countries (on test flights without passengers) without problems. And up until Sunday, they expected to do the same on the grand entrance into the United States.

Then the F.A.A. said no, claiming the Lufthansa pilots didn't meet qualifications, apparently because Lufthansa doesn't yet have title to an A380.

Lufthansa Captain Juergen Raps was at the controls for takeoff at Frankfurt and for much of the trans-Atlantic trip. But as we approached American air space, he was required to hand the JFK -landing honors over to a veteran Airbus test pilot, Wolfgang Absmeier, who brought the beast in just in time for the second half of the noon news.

Mr. Absmeier, a former airline and military pilot, told me he thought the blocking of the Lufthansa pilot from the landing was a case of "discrimination against European pilots in the U.S." Mr. Absmeier seemed to overlook the fact that he, himself, is a European pilot, but you get the picture.

"Usually on new routes like this, one of the ideas is to get feedback from the customer pilots [in this case the Lufthansa pilots], who are fully trained on the aircraft, very experienced on the aircraft, and still the FAA did not allow them to do any takeoffs or landings in the U.S. We tried everything to get the restriction lifted," he said.

Flights on the same plane this week to Hong Kong and Europe "will be conducted with Lufthansa pilots, takeoff to landing, without any problems,” he said.

Why the refusal to let Lufthansa land the plane on U.S. soil? “I cannot say any more. You can read between the lines. Think of the letter B,” he said portentously.

Oh, right. That would be B-for-Boeing, Airbus's American nemesis, which right now is eating Airbus's lunch as A380 production continues to be plagued with wiring problems and with excess weight. Boeing is making hay selling stretched versions of its workhorse 747s (which were first introduced in 1970), and racking up orders for its long-haul 777s and to-be-delivered-late-in-2007 787 Dreamliners.

I'm not sure if protecting Boeing's interest was the reason the Lufthansa pilots couldn't land in New York, but I do think the letter B was involved. Bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, last week, you might recall, I wrote about how Los Angeles International Airport and the L.A. Mayor's office pulled a slick one, pressuring Airbus at the last minute to send an A380 (this one with a nominal Qantas crew aboard) to land at LAX at the same time as the Frankfurt-JFK flight -- in what L.A. hailed as a simultaneous bi-coastal grand reception for the super-jumbos.

The press releases they pumped out in L.A. were drafted to suggest that the west coast reception -- 100,000 people would show up, they claimed -- would be the main event, not the JFK reception. These press releases conspicuously failed to note that the LAX-bound A380 was a stripped-down plane without seats or other cabin amenities, even the more basic amenities like finished bulkheads and ceilings (I know they are properly called overheads). Not a single passenger. All it carried was a small crew.

Even though some roads near LAX were shut for the anticipated crowds, and a vast viewing area set aside (none of which occurred in New York), fewer than 1,000 people actually did show. Since LAX has no gate ready to handle the double-decker plane, it was to have sat on a taxiway for days for photo ops and "tests." Evidently the "tests" were quick, as the plane was gone almost as soon as it landed.


I have to get this off my chest. There is a provocative story in today's Times headlined, "The Year Without Toilet Paper."

The story features a New York couple -- both journalists, and he's got a book deal for the stunt, natch -- so determined to have "No Impact" on the environment that they've turned off most electrical appliances, eschewn even buses and subways (the poor woman is shown in a photograph forlornly pushing a scooter through snow) and -- get this -- sworn off the use of toilet paper for a year.

Now, I am all for reducing energy waste and coming up with sensible solutions for alternative energy sources. But there comes a point when the nuts grab the mics and it is incumbent for someone to heckle from the audience.

Hey, smug No-Toilet-Paper couple! Here's a really effective way to totally zero-out your impact on the environment: Kill yourselves!

Yeah, I know. Be nice. I'll try. I'll try.


Thursday, March 15, 2007


Stand by for the Invasion of the A380s. And for some hype that's so masterful and that it could only have originated in Los Angeles.

Some background:

Next Monday, what had started as a plan to fly one new Airbus A380 superjumbo jet from Frankfurt to New York with more than 500 passengers on board, will instead become a full-blown national flyover extravaganza to publicize the airplane, which won't enter commercial service till 2008.

As you may know, the dozen or so airlines that have ordered A380s have said they plan to fly them with between 450 and about 550 seats, typically in three cabin-class configurations. But the Airbus A380, configured in a single all-coach class, is certified to hold 853 passengers. (And no doubt the day will come when some airline will run A380s with nearly 900 passengers on board. Big leisure-travel routes between Tokyo or London and Orlando are one logical use, for example).

On the Frankfurt-Kennedy International demonstration flight Monday, most of the more than 500 passengers will be employees of Airbus and Lufthansa, the German airline that will provide a crew to operate the flight. Some reporters also will be on board. Lufthansa has ordered 15 A380s, and when Lufthansa begins commercial A380 service in 2009, Kennedy airport will be its most important U.S. hub.

Kennedy has long since completed necessary expensive renovations -- widening taxiways and building new two-story terminal gates, for example -- to accommodate the A380. So bada-bing, Airbus and Lufthansa wisely decided to fly a fully loaded A380, with meal service and all the bells and whistles, into Kennedy to show it off on a real long-haul flight in the media capital of the world. Big publicity.

Over on the West Coast, meanwhile, Los Angeles International Airport, which would logically be the key West Coast hub for airlines flying the A380 to and from Asia, has been criticized severely for not making the necessary renovations in a timely manner. LAX only recently broke ground on a $723 million modernization of its shabby international terminal. Two A380-ready gates will be part of that project. San Francisco International, LAX's rival for trans-Pacific flying, already has six.

In other words, an A380 with passengers on board cannot now use LAX, and won't be able to for some time.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I got a press release from Los Angeles two weeks ago that stated: "Simultaneously on March 19, two separate A380 aircraft will land at LAX and New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport, allowing both coasts to catch a glimpse of the future of commercial aviation."

To quote Jon Stewart, "Whaaaat?"

I was confused till I sorted it out, with no help from the Los Angeles media, which has consistently parroted the "two A380s arriving on each coast" theme.

Turns out the Los Angeles A380, operated by a Qantas crew, won't actually have any passengers. In act, it won't even have seats or interior finishings inside. Nor will it be flying Qantas livery. "The aircraft is NOT configured or equipped for commercial passenger seating," a press release jointly issued Tuesday by Qantas, LAX and Airbus finally 'fessed up inside, way down in the text.

Here is what happened. Some time ago, Airbus said it would have liked to have brought its first long-haul, fully loaded A380 demonstration flight to LAX. But LAX lagged on getting its act together, and only managed to come up with what the Los Angeles Times described on March 1 as a "parking spot" on a ramp where the empty plane could pose for pictures after landing.

The airport, the Los Angeles mayor's office, and Qantas all sprang into action, pressuring Airbus to send a second plane out on the same day -- this one operated by Qantas and departing Airbus's manufacturing plant in Toulouse, France, for arrival at LAX at the same time as the Lufthansa-operated A380 lands at Kennedy.

Airbus -- quite reasonably -- complied. Publicity city!

Grandiose press releases followed from L.A. This now was a bi-coastal event! In Los Angeles, 100,000 people are expected to be on hand to watch the plane land, and roll over t0 its parking spot, where it will be available for photo ops.

"Being part of the A380's inaugural visit to the U.S. is a clear indication that Los Angeles is a leading international gateway and that our airport is a world-class facility," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa. "The A380 is at the leading edge of the future of aviation, and Los Angeles is proud to be a part of this historic moment."

The Los Angeles Times proudly noted on March 1: "Officials announced that airplane maker Airbus has changed its mind and will bring the first U.S. test flight of the world's largest plane to Los Angeles and New York on the same day this month."

Not a word, though, about the fact that, while the plane touching down at JFK will be full of passengers, the one coming to LAX will be empty.

Oh well, what the hell. Strike up the bi-coastal bands because the A380 really does constitute a new landmark in aviation.

The A380s has its critics, of course. It's years behind schedule. But all of the airlines that have made orders so far are premium international carriers with top-notch reputations for in-flight service. (No carrier in the United States has ordered an A380).

Airbus -- which has been beat up pretty badly over manufacturing delays -- has obviously been persuaded that there is an awful lot of public interest in the U.S. this new double-decker super-jumbo. So Airbus has scheduled a subsequent demonstration flight of the Lufthansa-operated A380 from Kennedy to Chicago, from where it, and another 500-plus passengers, will board for a third demonstration flight to Washington-Dulles.

A lot of people have never heard of the A380.

That changes next week. News at 6.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007


I pick on Vice President Deferral Dick Cheney sometimes for being another White House warrior eager to send other people to do the fighting, while he himself wangled five deferments to avoid Vietnam service. ("I had other priorities," he was famously quoted as explaining).

But I'm sorry to hear the vice president has developed a blog clot in his lower left leg, a problem specifically known as deep-vein thrombosis. This can be a very dangerous condition, especially if a piece of the clot breaks away and migrates to the lungs, where death can be almost instantaneous through a pulmonary embolism.

Travelers, especially those middle-aged and older, should be aware of the condition, because deep vein thrombosis (called DVT) is often associated with the relative immobility imposed on the body and especially the legs by long-distance travel.

It has also been called Economy Class Syndrome because of the cramped conditions that tight seating on long-haul flights puts on the legs.

But DVD isn't associated only with coach travel.

A couple of years ago, I interviewed a former vice president, Dan Quayle, who suffers from the condition and was promoting awareness as a paid spokesman for a company that sells medication to treat it. Like a lot of people, Mr. Quayle travels in first class when he isn't flying in private jets -- and he still suffers from the condition.

Mr. Cheney, of course, travels in the splendor of a private government 747 with a bed and plenty of room to spread out. Yet he was diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis shortly after his return recently from a grueling nine-day world trip.

Various travel sites give good advice on trying to avoid DVT problems while flying on long trips. Basically, you should get up and move around a bit from time to time (which obviously is a major challenge when you're wedged in a middle seat in coach). The primary symptoms are pain and swelling in the calf or ankle. Some travel-gear companies sell tight-fitting "flight socks" designed to keep blood from pooling in the lower leg during long flights. is one of the many Web sites with good advice and links.

It isn't something to fool around with, and it's very painful. We can only wish the vice president a speedy recovery.

--And note that with all those deferrals, he's luckily not a veteran, where he might have to worry about being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.