A Special Moment

On Monday it became official that I had won a competition. Even though I found out last friday and now posting to you all a week later I figured it was about time to spread the word. A few months back Condor Airlines (part of the Thomas Cook Group of airlines and based in Frankfurt) put out a competition. Submit a photo of one of their aircraft in the new heart livery, or one of their special schemes and you could win $1000 travel voucher.

I had totally forgotten about this competition between when I entered and when I got advised I had made the finals. I am pretty sure I saw this come out on twitter and though, hey I have some photos of condor, why not. I was lucky enough to have gotten one of the special schemes while up in Anchorage back in May. I had a wide range of photos and figured I would enter the one that screams Anchorage. A Take off shot with mountains in the background. It wasn’t my best work but hey, I didn’t expect to win.

I submitted the photo and then totally forgot about it. All the way up till about 2 weeks ago when I got a twitter DM asking me for a copy of the high res version for the finals. I was pretty happy about that, but then last Friday morning I am sitting and work and here twitter go off. I loaded up tweetdeck (since I was at my pc) and see a direct message from Condor saying “Congratulations”. I was shocked, utterly shocked. I had not ever thought I would win and really only submitted that photo because I figured I had nothing better to do. There are far better aviation photographers out there, way better than I am, I have also taken much better photos in my life, but damn was I over the moon. Here is the photo that I submitted

From Anchorage Spotting

Fast forward to Monday and it becomes official. The All Stars page shows my photo and then last night I recieved my voucher in the mail. What prompted this photo was actually another tweet this morning. Condor gave a Friday shout out to everyone and then also changed around there Twitter header to my photo:

Condors Twitter Header

Condors Twitter Header

That to me is a huge honor. Not only did my photo win, but it is now being seen by anyone world wide! The whole thing makes me smile, just looking at that tweet that says they have my photo up. I feel like my hobby actually has a point now. Everyone has always asked why I do it? To be honest I can’t really give an answer that makes people go “wow that is so true”. I do it because I like doing it. I take the photos for me, not really for anyone else. If other people get to enjoy it, great. But this kind of makes me feel special that other people do enjoy my photos, that maybe I am not doing this just for myself but for all the other Avgeeks out there.

This isn’t a “hey i just won $1000 travel voucher” kind of big head post but more of a “hey, I didn’t really realise until now that other people enjoy what I do”. If other people in the world can enjoy my photos, and who knows maybe some of my photos are plastered all up over peoples offices or something, then that makes me feel special because I know that my hobby is more than just a time waster, it is a real hobby. So to all of those Avgeeks out there who wonder if it is worth it, I say to you. It sure is!

LAX Spotting

Last Saturday was awesome for the spotting. I got some amazing shots that I am really happy with. Apart from the car issues it was a good time with friends. But this is what you really want right?

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My first shot of a jetblue Mint A321 in the wild.

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The same for American.

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A British Airways A380

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Continuing the all Airbus Post with a Hawaiian A330.

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Finishing off the Airbus run with the Emirates A380.

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Starting off the Boeing side with some freighter action. ABX Air 767 with a DHL nose.

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Lufthansa 747-8I

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Transaero 767-300ER heading back to Russia.

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Etihad 777-200LR heading back on the long flight to the middle east.

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Southwest’s New Mexico One.

But the piece d’resistance Hello Kitty Sanrio Family arriving from Taipei.

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Drama!

I was going to spare my readers on another trip report down to LAX for a same day turn. I mean how boring could it be considering all I went down for was to take photos of planes, hang out with friends and eat some In n Out. I will still post the plane photos when I get around to doing them (there are lots of them, and I am still working on Dallas photos yet). However Saturday didn’t go entirely as planned with my rental car, so let me explain.

I like renting from National Car Rental. They have good service, they allow me to pick and choose whatever car I want from the lot and the rates are pretty good. My rental in LAX for the day is usually $30 all in (the taxes in LAX are beyond stupid) and I usually get a full size car, of very good quality. In the past I have had Challengers, Maximas, Chrysler 300Cs, GMC Terrain, Chevy Equinox, Mustangs, Camaros and also a Hyundai Genesis that had all of 20 miles on the clock (i put it to 28 by the end of my day with it). I have only once had a problem with a car with them and that was a Chevy Equinox that had a tyre pressure sensor issue, but that was also probably due to the humidity in Wisconsin in the summer. They gladly swapped it out for me without a hassle.

So fast forward to Saturday. Looking forward to what is on the line in LAX when I roll up and there is a lot of Full Size Sedans to choose from. There was the occasional Tahoe, Yukon and Arcadia, but mostly it was Impalas. Both the LT & the fancier LTZ version. I went with a California Plated LTZ (I thought I grabbed the Texas plated one, I was wrong). It was a pretty nice ride. Leather seats, power everything, even a GPS sat nav that was disabled. Pretty damn good looking to:

From Dorkfest 2014

It handled the morning pretty well. After picking it up, I rolled back over to LAX and picked up Jason, then we headed off to Proud Bird for some spotting before heading over to the Ralph’s (aka Safeway)/CVS before heading over to In n Out. Parked up at In N Out (after stopping to get some water at CVS) around 11am and it was in a prime spot, right out front. From that moment on, we didn’t touch it for several hours. Here it is sitting on the street outside In n Out

From Dorkfest 2014

After scoffing down a burger around 130pm in between plane arrivals. We were betting on what was going to happen with the All Blacks 777 due to come in. It normally goes to the South Runway but a lot of the heavies were coming north that day. It was all over the place craziness and Jason, John & I flipped a coin (well Lens Cap really) to see if we would stay or head off to Proud Bird to grab the photos. It ended up saying we had to move, so off to the car I went with the boys in tow. Since I was the one who knew where to go, I was driving. Get in the Impala (and this is a version with the touch to start button), push start and expect to start driving away. Nope! Car wouldn’t start at all. It just would not turn over. Tried to get it to fully shut off (but of course being that there is no where to actually put the key it is a bit difficult) and I couldn’t. No matter what I tried it just wouldn’t kick over.

I told Jason & John to head off and I would catch up when I could. I called National and they said that they would have to come tow my car. No way to send someone to just come fix it, it would have to be towed back to the depot and replace it. The stupid thing is, I was barely a mile from the depot! I could freaking run there! (I did consider it). The kicker of the whole thing was that the National Car Rental staff told me it would take 90 minutes for a tow truck. ARE YOU KIDDING ME! An hour and a half to wait for a tow truck. When I could run to the damn depot and get a new car faster than that. I tried a few more times to get it started and it wouldn’t work, so I succumbed to the pressure. I called National back and tried to work out if there was a better way for me to get a new car faster. They told me that since I was so close to the depot. If I went back with the keys, I could swap it out for a new car and they would send someone out to get it later. Awesome! Pulled up Uber and they had cars 3 minutes away! So as I requested the car and hurridly packed all my crap up, things went from bad to worse. The Uber driver called and told me that unless I was in the terminal, he wasn’t going to come get me. Which was stupid because I was right next to the airport! So i cancelled the Uber order and re requested, got him again! Tried an UberX this time and the app kept locking up,so just as I was about to try restarting my phone, a friend came over. He saw me having problems and then right about that second the Tow Truck shows up. SAVED!

By this time I was way frustrated, had enough. Jason & John decided they would come get me and then another friend was calling me to find out where I was. It meant that I didn’t really need a car now and after a total of 5 miles this morning in the new car, and by this stage, barely 3 more hours with it before I had to go back to the terminal, I just wanted to get rid of it.

From Dorkfest 2014
From Dorkfest 2014

More fun times back at the National lot as the Tow Truck driver had no idea where to take it, and to be honest, neither did I. It was just a comedy of errors! I was so over it, so by the time I got back to the lot, the first staff member who was getting me a receipt, well I said “I’d like a full refund please” To which I got “I can’t process that, you will need to go upstairs. So off I went, but the lines were huge. REALLY huge. Wouldn’t stand that, considering they would ask for a Duty Manager anyway so that’s what I did. Pointed out into the parking lot to get the duty manager, to which he promptly gave me his card, took my rental receipt and details and said he would get it fixed.

So now the waiting game begins to see if this gets fixed and refunded. Will I stop booking with National? Nope probably not. Will I drive a Chevy Impala again, not unless I am forced to! I guess it happens to everyone eventually. In the end of the day I still got some pretty awesome photos, had a blast with my friends in LAX and came home to Seattle, sunburnt with 1200 photos and super tired. All in all a pretty decent day, Drama non withstanding.

Trip Report: Drinking the Southwest Koolaid – Dallas to Seattle

Tuesday 9th September 2014

After taking the employee shuttle from the HQ building through the back parking lots of the facilities and around the outside perimeter of the airport, we arrived over at the new Love Field terminal. Dallas’s closer airport to downtown is Love Field and it was old. But with the massive upcoming changes to the Wright Amendment coming up in October the whole airport was upgraded. The terminal feels fresh and new and not at all outdated.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As I headed over towards the ticket counters I grabbed a few snaps of the new branding that was installed on Sunday night while no one was around. The entire airport was redone so that there was at least one terminal done. Check in took a while as only one counter was open for those of us who couldn’t use the self tagging kiosks (wish I could as I was travelling on an old school paper ticket). The paper ticket issue was resolved swiftly and quickly when I got a chance and I was shortly headed off to security. Having to sit in normal security lines for once was a bit of a change as normally I could use a premium lane with a card from another airline or something like that. Not here in Dallas, since the only airline in the terminal at the moment is southwest, and I dont’t have southwest status.. that aint gonna happen. But the TSA stuff at Love Field were great, friendly across the board and that surprised me. There was even one staff member walking through the lines wishing everyone a good day, at least you know some TSA employees can be nice.

From Southwest Heart

As I cleared security I had just walked past a gate Flight Information Display Screen and low and behold…. delay. This was not good. My flights today would take me from Dallas to San Diego with a brief stop in Albuquerque where I would not get off the aircraft. After a 39 minute connection in San Diego I was to fly home to Seattle. My flights were now screwed essentially. I headed off to find the customer service desk near my gate (Southwest generally have a counter that serves multiple gates at once). After speaking with a gate agent who informed me I would not have a problem and that my flight will connect as they would hold the plane for me, I was skeptical, very very skeptical. I headed off into the terminal and since I was still on my work “Vacation time” and off the clock for the blog for the trip home… I took it upon myself to enjoy a donut, A Dunkin Donut no less! Since not having the chance to see a Dunkin since I was in New York last year and not getting the chance to have one then, I figured I might as well. I felt like a treat as my entire day could possibly turn to shit.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

I also took a brief walk around the terminal, scoping things out and checking out all the goodies. The place was pretty amazing, fresh, modern, plenty of places to sit (since Southwest doesn’t have a lounge) and socialize. Plenty of food outlets especially local options like BBQ or Whataburger (which I am not quite sure how good that is, but apparently the amount of people who had some would have to mean something right?). I headed over to the gate area, found a spot and sat down to wait, tweet, and enjoy my pumpkin pie donut. After a while of tweeting and worrying a plane pulled up to our gate. At least I know I would be getting out of there. However luck was holding out as there had been an equipment swap to a 700 series which meant WIFI!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Southwest Airlines – WN802
Dallas Love Field to Albuquerque
1610-1650
Boeing 737-700 (N752SW)
Economy – Seat 16F (Seq B36)

Boarding: 1630 (Gate 6)
Push Back: 1700
Take Off Roll: 1707 (Runway 13L)
Top of Descent: 1705
Touch Down: 1731 (Runway 26)
Shut Down: 1735 (Gate A7)

While waiting for the passengers to deboard, I moved myself over closer to the windows where the side I needed to be on when my group was called to line up and took some photos of the plane, wrote a couple of notes, sent a few texts home. Everyone was lined up quickly ready to go. They all knew they had to get onboard quickly to make up some of the time. The best part was watching people organise themselves into the right order. No one was fighting, everyone just got in line like they should. There is something to the way Southwest’s boarding system works and although some people may not like it, you have to give them props for it.

From Southwest Heart

My turn was called and I lined up and once let onboard I headed on down to the plane. Seeing the WiFi logo by the door was great as it meant that an $8 investment could give me a good afternoon of WiFi and productiveness onboard. It would also mean that i could stay connected while the flight was going so i could keep abreast of the situation at hand. I could research gate positions, maps of the terminals, times anything needed to get me between planes quickly.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

I found a window seat towards the back but first I had to ask someone to step out of the aisle first. He was taking the aisle seat in the hopes that he could get a full row. Nice try buddy. As I settled in and the plane filled up. Someone asked if he would mind moving to the middle at all so he could sit down (this guy was not small but not overly large but obviously could do with some space into the aisle) and the guy on the end of the row rudely said “I ain’t sitting in the middle for no one, go somewhere else”. Not the best way to start a flight. It did mean in the end that the middle seat stayed open next to me for the first leg through to ABQ.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

We pushed back and headed for the runway which was as far away from the southwest headquarters as we could possibly go. I was hoping to get one last photo but sadly that was not to be the case. We took off very quickly without much of a hold and I was pleasantly surprised by that. The climb out was pretty standard with a good right turn over downtown Dallas so I got to see everything I saw on the way in but from a different angle.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we climbed out and passed 10,000ft my laptop came out and so did my wallet to process the $8 fee and that bought me WiFi for the next several hours. It wasn’t just $8 per session but $8 per day on a single device. So although I was now only stuck using it on my laptop I was still ok with that. As we climbed out I kind of tuned out to the flight and didn’t even put any music in or anything while we were flying. The first couple of flights were about 90 minutes each so I was more interested in getting work done than doing anything else. When the beverage service came around I tried out what I had found out on the way into Dallas. If you ask for a “Can of Water” you literally get a can filled with water. I had not seen that before the flight and wasn’t sure if it would work. I gave it a shot and it worked! I had a whole can to myself.

From Southwest Heart

I worked away and then as we dipped towards New Mexico and the ABQ Sunport i put away the laptop and out came the camera. I was enjoying it as we came in closer and closer. I had no idea where I was at all but the surroundings were great. I had not been in ABQ since I had passed through quite a long time ago. As we approached ABQ on finals I noticed a couple of C130 hulks sitting in some grassy area so figured that there must have been a national guard base around. Wrong!! As we landed I passed about a dozen more Hercs then about a good 30 or so Blackhawks. Then I saw it, a building that said “Kirtland Air Force Base” and sitting in front of that was an Osprey. It could only mean one thing was stationed there Air Force Spec Ops but really because of the Helicopters it was the rescue squadrons that were present.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we taxiied to the gate I flicked my phone back out of Airplane mode in the hopes of getting an update on the flight connection and giving one to home as well. The time was spent trying to get a connection and waiting for everyone to get off the flight.

Southwest Airlines – WN802
Albuquerque to San Diego
1730-1820
Boeing 737-700 (N752SW)
Economy – Seat 6A

Boarding: 1742 (Gate A7)
Push Back: 1759
Take Off Roll: 1807 (Runway 21)
Top of Descent: 1805
Touch Down: 1836 (Runway 27)
Shut Down: 1838 (Gate A7)

Once everyone was off that was meant to get off, they counted the people up and gave the go ahead to move about the cabin. I quickly got up and grabbed my bag heading for the front to try and snag a window seat as close to the door as possible. I wanted to make sure that when I got to San Diego I could get through as quickly as possible. I got the gate updates come through on my phone through Tripit (thanks for the flight delay information guys… ) and then heard someone say “We will have to go through security again… I panicked. Please don’t do this to me!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

We had a fairly quick turn in Albuquerque and as we pushed back and taxiied out I got a good couple of shots of a Delta 757 landing and taxiing up right next to us. We headed over to a different runway from the one we used on arrival and that had me puzzling. Then we stopped and waited. This was weird because I heard the double chime for the flight attendants telling them to take a seat, and there was no one else ahead of us on the taxiway and I couldn’t see anyone at all. What the hell were we waiting for. Turns out a tiny small cessna was landing on a small cross runway so when he passed us the pilots gave the plane the boot and off we went!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we climbed out I looked down and saw a familiar looking river. One that I had floated over a number of years ago in a hot air balloon. That made me think back to some good times on my first real overseas adventure on my own. Memories! We shortly passed 10,000ft and i went back to work on the laptop. As I worked away the service came around and I got a can of water again. Deciding to focus more on working out this connection. It was true what I had heard, we were going to have to reclear security and I was frantically trying to work out what to do. Without really realising just how long we were in the air, the plane made it’s top of descent dip and next thing I know we get the initial descent greeting by the pilots.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we headed into San Diego I was looking around for familiar landmarks. I had only ever flown into San Diego once before and was not sure what I would see from this direction. I think I saw MCAS Miramar off in the distance, but I wasn’t sure but then as we started to turn and descend further the Navy Facilities came into view. Seeing the Amphibs come in to view then the big white ship standing out put things down for sure. We were coming in over the city on the 27 approach and that white ship (which is the US Navy’s Hospital Ship USNS Mercy) meant that the Naval Station San Diego was in sight and that we would be on the ground in minutes.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we came in to San Diego I could see plenty of Southwest Aircraft on the ground and numerous lined up for take off. For me it meant that I didn’t have long as the taxi times at Southwest for landing can be quite short. We were not on the taxi way long at all after landing and in the gate moments are pulling off the runway and as we pulled in I noticed that there was a special over near the gate area we were going to. I couldn’t see a gate number at that point but I was fairly certain that it was on our gate. Which special? Nevada One painted to pay tribute to the State of Nevada.

From Southwest Heart

Once they pulled into the gate there was a mad scramble for bags and then they made a blessing of an announcement. “Would all the passengers travelling to Seattle, please make themselves known to the two staff waiting at the end of the Air bridge. You will be escorted to your gate so that you do not need to reclear security”. That sentence was probably one of the best I had heard all night. I made it off the plane quickly and identified myself and then we had to wait a few minutes to collect a few more people (as they wanted to move us in two groups).

From Southwest Heart

When we left the gate area heading towards the exits right before heading out of the secure area they moved us left towards an exit door and that meant one thing. A Tarmac walk. They told us “No cameras” to which I promptly ignored and off we went outside across the tarmac from one secure area to another. It was then that I saw that Nevada One was most certainly sitting on our gate. As we walked into the secure area again I saw a whole heap of people sitting around and thinking they hadn’t boarded yet that was good, then I saw they were gate 2 not 1 and had to quickly run off towards our gate.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Southwest Airlines – WN238
San Diego to Seattle Tacoma
1905-2155
Boeing 737-700 (N727SW – Nevada One)
Economy Seat – 4A

Boarding: 1855 (Gate A1)
Push Back: 1907
Take Off Roll: 1910 (Runway 27)
Top of Descent: 2120
Touch Down: 2145 (Runway 16R)
Shut Down: 2150 (Gate B6)

I made it to gate 1 and there was still people standing there. Not quite sure what was going on I asked the first person I saw if they had boarded the Seattle flight to which the gentleman said that since there was only 50 people on the flight they were going to wait for a bit to since they couldn’t depart early. THANK GOD!! I had made my flight and when I looked at my watch it meant we may not be delayed all that much. This made me a very very happy man.

I had a chance to take a deep breath and take my space in line. I headed over to the boarding lanes and got myself in the right spot. Asking someone who was standing there already what his number was so that I could work out if i was in front or behind of him and he said that he didn’t care he would board whenever he wanted. That is so not how things are done buddy and I would have been extremely unhappy if I had the ability to care right that moment. But I didn’t so I just waited to board. When it was time to get on I was giddy, I had never flown a special livery before.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Boarding Nevada One was like any other flight, except the plane was just painted differently. We boarded very quickly and since the load was so we could have all had rows to ourselves. As it was I had a row of 3 in row 4 to myself and I was a happy chappy. Quick chat to the young lady in the row in front of me and demonstrating my muscles as I helped her with her carry on. When we pushed back I checked my watch to enter the data in my log book and it turns out we were departing ON TIME! I had gone from 50 minutes late departing Dallas to making up all that lost time in San Diego. Sure I didn’t get a chance to grab any food so since having that donut in Dallas all i had was a cookie i had stashed in my bag and forgotten about and that was all I was going to get till I got home.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

We headed for a taxi to the end of the runway and the sun was setting fast. The light was getting amazing but it was making it tough for the camera to focus and that meant I missed a fantastic avgeek shot of a 737 making a right turn in sunset. A brilliant composition missed by seconds. When it was our turn to hit the sky, we leapt off the pavement and made a right turn out over North Island Naval Air Station and out over the coastline. The sun kept fading and the photos were just being snapped continuously. Once clear of 10,000ft I pulled the laptop out for the final time and got to work.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

This sector was going to be boring. I was going to work, and just work. The drink service got me a full can of Diet Dr Pepper (as shock as water in a can was to me, Diet Dr Pepper onboard a flight had me flawed) and some wifi and a small pack of peanuts had me going to a happy place. We cruised up the coast and I flicked between my work and twitter most of the way and just relaxed, something I had not fully done since leaving Dallas. It was a good feeling. We passed the coastal parts of Southern California at first, then flew straight north as we flicked over the inland of Northern California. At one point I saw Reno off our right side on the map.

From Southwest Heart

We started descent roughly over Portland and I slowly packed up my stuff, not before informing my ride that she should head towards the airport to pick me up, sure was going to be happy to be home for once and not have to spend another hour in the truck getting home. I was coming home to someone that was as happy to see me as I was to see her. We got our descent briefing from the cockpit and he said we would be down on the ground in ten minutes and had to take a northerly pattern to come in towards the south. I just laughed inside at that, no way we were landing in 10 minutes, we were no where near seattle at that point, 20 minutes at least. As we descended towards the city I was struggling to keep my eyes open at this point.

Right turn over Freemont & Ballard and tracking for a 16R arrival all while not being able to get a great shot of the Space Needle due to being in the dark. We landed right as another 737 was taking off (not that i could tell who from in the dark, but probably Alaska and we started taxiing over towards the terminals. We had to hold at 16C for another aircraft taxiing infront of us and then at 16L for a departure. We taxiied quickly around to the B gates and pulled up pretty much right where I had left a couple of days earlier.

Through the terminal, down to get my bags and my bag spat out around #5 in the queue. I was extremely happy to find out that it had made it as it was full of all the airline swag I had managed to gather. Heading up to the departures level to be picked up (always a smarter idea at night when there is barely anyone using it) and it was off home. From touch down to home in 20 minutes…. can’t beat that!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Trip Report: Drinking the Southwest Koolaid – Dallas

My time in Dallas wasn’t going to be long but I was here for a good reason. I was here as a guest of Southwest Airlines for their 2014 media day. The whole event was organised to be non stop start to finish. I was here for two nights and it was certainly not going to be over quickly. The airline covered my accomodation, my flights and my transportation (and everything here is my own opinion of course). The driver who was meeting me was waiting at the arrivals area of the car park so I knew eventually where I was headed. As I exited off the aircraft and into the terminal it was a shock as to how nice the new Dallas Love Field terminal would be. I was blown away by just how modern and smart it looked. I didn’t have much time to explore but felt that I should definitely stop by here on the way out for a better look.

As I headed for baggage claim I waited for my bag (which was one of the first few out) then headed over to the arrivals area to meet the driver. After waiting a bit for a couple of other people who were set to join us (and they were not able to unfortunately due to flight delays), we headed off to the hotel. Dropped off at the Warwick Melrose Hotel it was in a very affluent area not to far from the Love Field airport but close enough to the city. It was a historic hotel that had a lot of history and it wasn’t too bad. Probably not somewhere I would have chosen for myself, but hey, its free!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to fix my fitbit which had decided to crap out on me, catch up on life, emails, writing etc and get myself prepared for the big day ahead tomorrow. Media guests were invited to a happy hour function at a local bar (and apparently a dallas institution) and it was great to meet some people I had conversed with on twitter for a while. After a quick detour to a local market to pick up some breakfast for the next day I hit the sack after an extremely long day.

From Southwest Heart

Monday 8th September 2014

Waking up and going for a morning run as per my normal routine made this feel kind of like any other monday morning. Apart from the fact that I was no where near my work. I was all the way over in Texas. I scoffed down my breakfast moments before having to be in the lobby for our early morning pick up. It was going to be a busy day as a small part of the morning had already been leaked Saturday night with a new livery for Southwest going to be revealed. Even though they were not saying anything, we all knew it, and the airlines knew that we knew, but it was a big deal.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The morning went off like a giant party. Lots of excitement, buzz and an almost party like atmosphere. The livery was pretty great and I had a fantastic time just getting up close and personal with the aircraft and also seeing some of the staffs and employees reactions to the changes. The livery reveal was not the only thing we were doing that day. We had a full day of meetings with the executives at Southwest so as we moved from meeting to meeting, I learnt a lot not only about the new livery and branding (sorry, not a rebranding, a bold new change to the look of the airline) but also about the airline in General. Unlike some of the people who where at the media day, the history of Southwest was not something I was totally familiar with.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The day went by almost so fast and with a bit of free time to be able to work on my story, we headed off to the weekly Monday “Deck” party. This time though the party was held on the ramp at the Tech Ops building. They had the two aircraft with the new livery nose to nose (although some people think I should say “Heart to Heart” on display. This was a party like I had not seen before. It was a huge event with hundreds of people in attendance, all of them out for a great time. No one was worried at all and they had plenty of wine, beer & other drinks (plus all the airline snacks you could think of) for everyone. With freedom to have a bit of fun and not be on the Media clock for a little bit, I could relax, chat with some of the other media and also get some personal photos (I may have gotten myself a heart selfie).

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

After the party it was off to dinner with the executives and after breakfast at 730am, lunch at 11 it was time for dinner around 8pm. It was a good night anyway and after that broke up and we could return to the hotel, I still had some story work to do to make sure that the piece went out on time. By the time I made it to sleep around 1115pm, it sure had been a really long day.

Tuesday 9th Septmeber 2014

The fun of the day began after a run in the morning and packing up to check out. We were back to the airport and the Southwest training center (called TOPS). The morning was going to be a bit of a tour around the facilities, some “Heart racing” activities and then a tour of the Network Operations Center. The few things that were interesting me were the NOC and getting a few extra pictures of another area.

From Southwest Heart

The Heart racing activities though were pretty fun. We got taken into the full mock up area where they train employees in check in and gate area activities. These mock ups replicate fully the area in which the employees will do their job. They have full check in kiosks and even boarding podiums, even an old Love Field air bridge! So we boarded our flight to “Aruba” and headed on down the airbridge. Our flight wasn’t going anywhere though, we were boarding the Emergency Operations trainer. It was a full airline cabin mock up that could simulate movements and emergency prodcedures like smoke evacuation, fire drills etc. It was a blast.

From Southwest Heart

We went through the full evac demonstration as though we were going to have an emergency landing. A small tip though. If you are onboard a flight and hear 4 chimes in a row (usually 2 or 3 is the norm) then you know something is going to go down. 4 chimes is emergency time. I got a video of us going through the emergency and it sure was an experience. Hearing the yells of “Heads Down Stay Down” continuously certainly was a start to get the adrenaline pumping. Then as they cleared the front of the plane we heard it out the back. The next thing we heard from the front was the emergency slide being activated. O yes… I got to go down the slide. It was fun! My heart was racing like crazy by the time we got the bottom and had i known we were doing something like that, I would have worn my heart rate monitor.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The tour continued onto the NOC (which I am going to write about for AirlineReporter) and then after that we went back to the main headquarters building for a tour through and then some lunch. The tour through the headquarters building was an experience all on its own as the building was like a living museum. The staff have the most amazing work areas with heaps of shared work stations and environments where you could go to get away from your desk or have a meeting without feeling trapped in a room. The conference rooms were all named and were also themed. So if there was a break area (called a Culture Center) that had an awards theme, all the conference rooms around it were generally of a similar theme.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The whole time in Southwest Country was amazing and as i caught up on life before my shuttle back to the airport, I had to think to myself just how great the experience was. So many people love working for the airline and fight hand over fist to get in there. I can now see why.

Trip Report: Drinking the Southwest Koolaid – Seattle to Dallas

Sunday September 7th 2014

I had to get up super early this morning for this trip. My flight was due to depart around 530am and i was living closer to the airport now, but it meant that I could justify a work out in the morning. It would save me having to go for one when I reached my destination. But it ate into my sleep. But I would live. Heidi dropped me at the airport around 345am and I walked straight inside into the line full of people.

Check in apparently doesn’t open until 4am and since I had a paper ticket (yes an actual paper ticket), I couldn’t just use my phone or anything. I had to drop a bag off anyway but it meant waiting in line. Which wasn’t all that bad. When check in opened I was helped fairly quickly but it was still a bit of a wait. When I got to the front of the queue, I told the agent directing traffic that I had a “4 Pack” to which she corrected me and told me in Southwest Terms it is a “4 Part” and sent me on my way saying it will be fine.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

I checked my bag through to Dallas and rather than stand in the normal security queue, I tried an old trick. Flash the Gold Card and see if it works, well it did. Premium Security for me! Through security and spat out airside. Awesome! It was a short walk from security to the start of the B concourse then it was out in search of coffee and a power point. Why a power point? I didn’t charge my phone properly before leaving the house and was hovering in the teens on my phone. Not a good thing for a day full of flying on planes without power.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

I got a coffee and some water and then when and stuck it out by the gate with some power, catching up on my life for the morning. I was waiting for them to start the boarding line up calls and was close enough to hear the gate calls, but far enough away I wasn’t caught in the masses. O how much I would love an airline lounge right now!

Southwest Airlines – WN1632
Seattle Tacoma to Denver
0535-0915
Boeing 737-800 (N8616C)
Economy – Seat 19F (Seq B11)

Boarding: 0505 (Gate B8)
Push Back: 0536
Take Off Roll: 0546 (Runway 34R)
Top of Descent: 0830
Touch Down: 0901 (Runway 16R)
Shut Down: 0906 (Gate C30)

Boarding was called for the A Group and then once they were set free, they allowed the start of the B group to line up. So being B11 I had a good chance of a half decent seat. When they called down the B group I waited my turn, got scanned and headed on down the bridge. Down to our shiny new BSI 737-800. At least I could get some stuff done on the flight now that I was awake thanks to the coffee!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The flight boarded as expected and I got myself settled in. The usual process and right on time we pushed back. No real funny stuff this morning, nothing over the top at all, but then half the plane probably was not awake. The guy in the seat next to me had two pillows. One for his neck and one for his face. We had a quick taxi to the runway as they were using 16R and since the B gates are practically on the Taxiway, we were 2nd in line behind a United 737 and then we were off into the morning sky. I picked wisely as the sun was rising out the left side and I was seated on the right. So i could still see things out my window and not be blinded. Smart!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The guy next to me decided that as soon as we got the right altitude he would recline his seat back with a slam and then off to sleep he went. Although 10 minutes later he decided to tray table sleep. So why he needed full recline I don’t know. I was really waiting for the person behind him to get angry so they would start a fight. Then i could video tape it and sell it to CNN. Sadly that didn’t happen and I am still poor.

From Southwest Heart

The flight went by pretty simply and I had a cup of coffee from the service and stashed the snack they offered. I had thought Southwest only served peanuts on their flights, but I was a little bit wrong. They also serve mini graham crackers. Which was new to me! But they got stashed for later on. I worked away on the WiFi which was an ok speed and nothing to complain about. The price was ok for a 2.5 hour flight at $8 but it is a day pass. Although this first flight would be the only one with WiFi.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Top of Descent came and I started to pack up my stuff. This first leg would be the only one where I had to plane change. The next two flights would be the same plane and same crew. Southwest do things a little differently, that is for sure. I saw nothing on the approach into Denver as I was sitting on the wrong side of the plane. I had wanted to be able to see something but I guess I can’t complain. We landed easily and on time and taxiied straight to the gate. We pulled into our assigned gate and within seconds the engines were off, seat belt signs dinged and everyone was getting up!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

My job now once I could get off the plane was to get out into the terminal and find a bathroom, some liquids, the gate and some power. That is generally the order that is preferable, as the bathroom was required, but I passed the gate first and decided to scope out the terminal as much as I could.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

I found the gate area and went for a stroll around the shops after finding the nearest bathroom. I grabbed some water and then headed back to the gate for a power outlet and some more relaxing. I didn’t really have all that much to do till tonight, but I was going to enjoy myself for the mean time. Once the inbound came in, I packed up my stuff and went over to a more reasonable spot to jump into the lines once they formed. I had an A group this time so that made me happy :D

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Southwest Airlines – WN4376
Denver to Kansas City
1020-1255
Boeing 737-300 (N619SW)
Economy – Seat 11A (Seq A43)
Boarding: 0950 (Gate C46)
Push Back: 1021
Take Off Roll: 1036 (Runway 17L)
Top of Descent: 1220
Touch Down: 1245 (Runway 19R)
Shut Down: 1248 (Gate B41)

Boarding was called and they pre warned us this was going to be a full flight. They were actively selling the first 15 a spaces for $40 so that people could get overhead bin space. I couldn’t care less as with an A space anyway i would get bin space and a decent seat. The funny thing for it all was that half the flight looked to be filled with one group heading back to Kansas City. Fun for them! I found a decent seat once it was my turn to get onboard but it was non reclining. It didn’t matter to me all that much as for the next 3 hours of flying it was two short hops. I was joined within 5 minutes by a nice older couple and I settled in for the flight.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Looking around as the boarding countinued it was all young, college age girls, all athletes (as they had school sporting gear on) but I wasn’t sure what sport. That was fixed as they came on to announce that the team onboard had just won their competition. YAY THEM! Me all I cared about was getting more power into my phone. I had resorted to using my portable battery pack, even though I wasn’t sure how much power was on it. We pushed back from the gate on time (who says that Southwest are never on time!) and started a long slow taxi, way off into the middle of no where.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

We took off without stopping as we turned onto the active and headed up into the skies. More seat miles, same old thing. Relax, coffee, this time eat my breakfast that I had brought with me from home (bagel and banana, my on the road fuel) and relax. Relax I certainly did, with my music and nothing much else other than the window to look out of. I didn’t want to touch the laptop for this flight (to be honest there wasn’t really all that much room for it) and I stayed away from it.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

By the time we got to top of descent, I had kind of drifted off into my own little world and then as we were turning towards finals for the airport, the battery in my camera died. I had drained it all the way intentionally as I was using my new camera that I got for my birthday. We landed at Kansas City and it looked deserted. There was one lonely United 757 and then one other Southwest 737 which seemed to push back not long after we landed. As we taxiied to the gate they told those of us staying on board we could not stand up until instructed and to let all the people getting off to get off.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Once they were all off, they counted up the people onboard (46!) and let us loose in the cabin. This is what I like to call Southwest Roulette. Once you’re onboard waiting for people you never know what other people are going to do about their seats. Me, well I had eyed off the unlimited legroom seat in the exit row, so as soon as they let me loose, I saw no one was in it, turned around and swung my bag into the seat. Score!

Southwest Airlines – WN4376
Kansas City to Dallas Love Field
1325-1450
Boeing 737-300 (N619SW)
Economy – Seat 13A

Boarding: 1300 (Gate B41)
Push Back: 1320
Take Off Roll: 1327 (Runway 19R)
Top of Descent: 1405
Touch Down: 1435 (Runway 31R)
Shut Down: 1440 (Gate 5)

I got settled into the new seat as the boarding announcement was made to let the crew know that new passengers were coming on and then I waited for the cabin to fill back up again. I did more of the usual as I waited for push back and tweeted away with all the people who were waking up from their slow sunday mornings out west…. Bastards.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

We pushed back from the gate this time early by a few minutes, and headed back off to the runway. We climbed out 2 minutes after scheduled departure so we made some good headway. It was only a short hop up into the Sky and just over an hour to Dallas. It seems that any time I head to Texas I end up with 3 flights. Last time it was in the middle of winter and I barely made it. This time, I did pretty well in the summer with all on time flights.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

The flight went along pretty boring, third flight of the day and it should be boring by now. I was getting tired and fading a little bit at the same time. So I stuck it out by reading my book and just looking out the window. No WiFi or Entertainment is that big of a deal these days, I can survive either way. The unlimited legroom didn’t hurt either.

From Southwest Heart

We began descent above a giant bank of clouds so the weather in Texas was definitely not as good as what I had been through most of the day. Both Denver and Kansas were blue as far as the eye could see, however in Dallas it looked to be grey all the way.

We started approaching Dallas and again, I couldn’t see anything of the airport but I did get a decent look at the downtown area as we turned for finals and it is surprising to see just how close to the city that the airport is. Coming into Love Field is so much better than into DFW. We touched down a little bit early, not by much though. The airport was very small so it didn’t take long to taxi to the gate. As we pulled up I was called by the driver who was picking me up to check on me and i told him i wouldn’t be long. Off the plane and into one of the nicest terminals I have seen.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Back in Seattle

Just a quick post to let you all know i am back in Seattle. It was a great trip to Dallas to do some work with Southwest Airlines for AirlineReporter.com  and I had a blast.

Got to do some amazing things as well, all of which you can read about in either my trip report or the pieces I am putting together for AR.  At the moment as I try to get back to life after two days off work (with them not able to do a single thing once I leave for even two days), probably won’t be that active around twitter etc.

The trip report is pretty much written so once I get most of the photos fixed up I can get the rest of it finished and online. I want to get all that done so that I can get the story requirements for AR out of the way while still relevant. Once that is all done I can refocus on the next thing.

It isn’t the end of my travels this week either. The annual trip to LAX is this Saturday for an #avgeek meet up. Looking forward to that (at least only one flight each direction and I’ll be back Saturday, night, so a same day turn. Either way it is going to be a busy few days now that I am back to reality.. *sigh*

Going to the Fair

Yesterday Heidi and I headed off to the Washington State Fair. This was my first trip to the fair and I had a pretty decent time. Back when I lived in Brisbane, one of my favourite times of the year was the first few weeks of August. Yes it was cold, yes it was windy but it was also my birthday. My Birthday also coincided with the Ekka. The Ekka is the more common name for the Royal Queensland Show. Australians like to shorten everything. The name Barry becomes “Bazza”, Afternoon becomes “Arvo”, Breakfast becomes “Breakie”. Since the Show was held at the Exhibition grounds it just becomes “Ekka” naturally. But because the Ekka was around my birthday, I always loved it as a kid as I always had money to spend. I wasn’t really a ride person, my big thing was showbags. But it was also the animals, the shows, the exhibits, so it always felt great for me to go.

In the USA they don’t call it a “show” they all it “The Fair”. The biggest fairs are always the “State Fair” and it was only last year that the Puyallup Show became the Washington State Fair. Puyallup is about 45 minutes south of Downtown Seattle, so for me and Heidi it is about 25 minutes or so (even though we both were betting different times how long it would take to get there) from our place in Renton. Unlike back home at the Ekka where every year I took the train to the show and got off right in the middle of things, that wasn’t going to happen for us. The easiest way to get there was to drive. It meant dealing with parking crowds but, you do what you have to do.

The drive down was nice and easy and because we had planned to be there when the buildings and everything opened, we got there in good time and got to park in a decent spot. All around the actual official car park, people were selling their front lawn space for parking. $12 was the official parking cost from the show, but all around there was $10 options, $12 options for some places, even a $5 every now and then. However later on as we left, some of these $10 places became $20 as people got desperate.

From Washington State Fair 2014
From Washington State Fair 2014

What was suprising to me was as we entered the grounds, just how small it was. It felt a lot smaller than the Ekka but maybe it was meant to. I had always pictured state fairs to be huge. I guess I had always seen the stories of the big Fairs in the Midwest and in Texas. Huge State Fairs with every deep fried thing under the sun. That wasn’t what was in front of me, and I am actually kind of glad of that. Getting in was pretty decent as if you bought online ahead of time it was only $10 per person. We had picked up a deal for 2 Gate Admissions and 6 rides (so 3 each) for $30. Rides generally go for a good $4-5 each so we had decent value there, with 3 rides for the price of 1. The line to wait to pick up our ride passes though was pretty large.

From Washington State Fair 2014

You are thinking right now to yourself, “Why is he waiting in line for rides if he doesn’t like rides?” Well the thing is, Heidi does and you know, Happy Wife (well Girlfriend in this case), Happy Life. But truly it was more that there was one ride Heidi wanted to introduce me to. The Puyallup Fair ground has one of the oldest Wooden Roller-coasters still operating. This old thing had just gone through some major refurbishment so it is looking pretty decent, but looks can be deceiving. The cars themselves are originals and just as we were getting on, they had to do a quick bit of a touch up.

From Washington State Fair 2014
From Washington State Fair 2014
From Washington State Fair 2014

I am not one for roller coasters but this was ok. There was no loops (thank god) and there wasn’t much of a lap bar to hold you in. I was launched off my seat close to a dozen times and Heidi loved the whole thing. I was just trying not to get shot off the ride! I was happier to get off at the end of it of course. But we still had two more ride vouchers each and decided that we each got our choice. There was a couple of rides I wanted to give a try out, like the Matterhorn, which was always a child favourite. I let Heidi take her first pick with two stipulations. First no Gravitron, I like my breakfast inside my my stomach thank you very much. Second it was to be nothing with loops as the Fair also has another Rollercoaster that is of course much more modern and has several loops in it. Heidi however decided to go with one of the tall chair swings. I was reluctant but hey, can’t dissapoint the lady right?

From Washington State Fair 2014

I was a bit scared, but i sucked it up, focused on the chair in front, didn’t look down and it was over fairly quickly. After that ride it was my choice, I wanted something I had not done in a while, DODGEMS!!! Or as they call them over here in the USA, Bumper Cars. It was wierd that they had a lap bar as well as the usual straps (not that the lap bar locked into anything).

From Washington State Fair 2014

Rides over it was time for a snack (since we had been at the fair almost an hour and a half by this stage and had not yet consumed any crappy, fatty food. First snack today was going to be what is known as the official food item of the Washington State Fair, The “Fisher Fair Scone”. I think of it as the “Strawberry Sundae” of the Washington State Fair. At the Ekka they have the famous Strawberry Sundae Ice Cream which is everywhere throughout the Grounds. Same with the Scone. To be honest this was the first scone I had actually eaten (and I had not made) that actually resembled a proper scone. It was tasty and filled with Whipped Butter and Rasberry Jam. I would have preferred Strawberry Jam and Whipped cream but hey, what can you do!

From Washington State Fair 2014

What was scary was actually being sold not to far away from the Fisher Fair Scone stand, Deep Fried Butter. Yes you read that right, Butter, battered then deep fried. Dear god in heaven, the stories they say are real, but this was actually the only wierd deep fried thing that I saw through the grounds. Sure thee was heaps of deep fried stuff like Corn Dogs, Elephant Ears (it is a kind of big flat pastry) and Fries, but nothing weird apart from the butter.

From Washington State Fair 2014

The decent thing was that there was a pretty good variety of food. From Salads and the usual fair staples of burgers, fries, hot dogs etc. But there was Teriyaki, Noodles, Burritos and even Gyros. The prices though were pretty high with our Corn dog at lunch costing $11. But it was a foot long so that wasn’t all that bad and it easily fed both me and Heidi.

After the snack we headed off to the Animals. Heidi was dying to get her hands on some baby farm animals and of course get in among the cats. Like The Ekka the animals play a big part of the fair, just on a smaller scale. There was all the usual staples, like Cows, Ducks, Pigs, Horses and of course Dogs & Cats. We went through the ducks and geese and I had a great conversation with one goose (he told me that he thought I looked pretty tall and that my Girlfriend was very beautiful). Then it was off to the cats, for Heidi to be in her element. I never really went into the Cat pavilion back home as it never really interested me. But boy was it different. I never expected that all the cages were themed for when the cats are not on show. Lordy there are some weird people in life. I can’t judge as I had a different hobby as well, but I can so imagine Heidi being one of these cat people. She is the self titled crazy cat lazy.

From Washington State Fair 2014
From Washington State Fair 2014
From Washington State Fair 2014

We found the International Animal exhibit and I was looking and hoping for one thing, A Kangaroo. After the Animals we did lots of wandering through the usual shopping pieces that you find at shows, all the random crap you don’t need. I found a couple of Emus but that was about it, then right at the end, Heidi says “hey look a wallaby”. It wasn’t a Wallaby, it was a “Big Red” but only a fairly young one. I was all over it!

From Washington State Fair 2014
From Washington State Fair 2014

We headed off after the animals to scope out all the crappy shopping that is always on at a show. All the things you don’t want and then some. But hey who am I to complain, I might score some freebies (we did). Then it was time for lunch (which was the before mentioned giant Corn dog… which mind you was pretty tasty). We went in hunt of the Cookery & Fine Arts section. I wanted to see some old school baking (it didn’t feel as good as back home with the CWA ladies all fighting for best scone or sponge cake) and there was some tasty looking items. The photography on show was pretty good as well.

From Washington State Fair 2014
From Washington State Fair 2014
From Washington State Fair 2014

After all was said and done I had a great time. We walked back to the truck sad to be leaving, but Heidi had to get to work and I had to get myself prepped for my coming trip. I am off to Dallas and some time with Southwest Airlines. I miss the Ekka, but “The Fair” can fill that gap for the moment!

Can’t we all just get along…

Ok so I am sure many people as of late have heard about the recent increase in Seat Recline incidents. After the first such incident, I didn’t want to really say anything. My friend David Parker Brown, put out his piece on the brouhaha that occured and I figured that was as good as it would get. Boy o Boy was I wrong!

A bit of Back Story for those who have been living under a rock. Early last week a United flight from Newark to Denver was diverted to an onboard incident. The whole thing went down because a passenger was using a Knee Defender and the passenger in front of him did not like the fact that she could not recline. What is a knee defender? Well it is a device that attaches onto the Tray Table of your economy seat and stops the seat in front from reclining, as though it was broken. These devices are not illegal and the federal authorities couldn’t care if you used it. However the airlines do not allow it, and because you are captive onboard that aircraft, what they say, goes.

So how did this cause an altercation. Well two things happened, but the best way is to read this article about the piece from the AP. Pretty much this guy is now either the most hated man in America or he is the Bravest man in America, it all depends on who you ask.

Now I am not going to weigh in on the whole seat recline issue. What I am going to do is tell people to CALM THE HELL DOWN! Ever since this incident occurred there have been 2 more diversions due to “onboard incidents” with reclining of a seat back being the reason. I mean seriously people! Can’t we just calm the hell down please. If someone wants to recline, be polite about the situation, don’t go getting yourself kicked off the aircraft. People are blaming other passengers, people are blaming the airlines. No one is directly at fault here apart from the people causing these incidents. You can’t blame the person who designed the knee defender, you can’t blame the airlines for reducing seat pitch etc. The only people you can blame is yourself. If you are going to be childish about an incident, and doing it bad enough to get a flight diverted, you have no one to blame but yourself. Your behavior is unacceptable and you are now making it hard for everyone onboard that flight. Why should the rest of the flight suffer because someone reclined!

This is pretty much just me ranting for people to wisen the hell up and act like decent human beings. If you want to play the whole “recline blame game” go fly Ryanair, or Spirit