Monday, 9 May 2016

Better Understanding Of Air Travel

Welcome to my blog post on Air Travel! 

My photo of Seoul Incheon's departure hall (land side)


This blog post contains the following information: 
- Types of airline
- Types of cabin class
- Airports 
- Transportation from town to airport
- Fear of flying (For nervous flyers)

I will be updating this blog post on a regular basis. 

Hope you find the information useful!

*Aircraft and Airport photos are credited to the respective photographers from Airliners.net

Introduction

This idea came about when I read on the forum of incidents happening every day at the airport or on board the airplane, I decided to blog this so that the general public has a better idea of aviation. In this blog post, I will give a brief explanation on how airport and airlines work so that you have a better idea and understanding on some of the rules and regulations that the passengers have to follow. As always if there are any questions, you can contact me by visiting this page

Types of airlines

First of all, let's start off with the types of airlines we have in the aviation world. There are mainly 3 types: Low Cost, Hybrid (Between Low Cost and Premium) and Premium airline. How do you tell what airline are you flying on? Read on to find out.

Low Cost Carriers  


Low Cost Carrier is also known as no-frill air, discount or budget airline started out in 1949 with Pacific Southwest Airline, a defunct American carrier that was quite successful back then. This airline inspired some low cost set ups, as they set up in mid-60s, following the model of this carrier. First transatlantic Lost Cost Carrier goes to Laker Airways but didn't last long as British Airways and Pan Am back then priced Skytrain Laker Airways out of the market. Low Cost strategy has worked out for some of the American Airlines and it was only in 2000 when the Low Cost market started to establish for the rest of the world. The likes of Jetstar, Air Asia and the big names were formed either in late 1990s or early 2000s and they have established well, giving the legacy airlines a headache. Since then, airline alliances were formed and a number of flights mainly 5th freedom routes were cut as most of the alliance members rely on partners to carry their passengers to other destinations - this is what you called code-share. The good thing about the existence of this carriers means cheaper air fare for us, travellers. 

Here is a breakdown of what Low Cost Airlines is all about: 

Primary point to point destinations

Scoot is a Low Cost Carrier that has stop-overs to another city. For example: Singapore (home base) - Taipei - Seoul, Taipei - Tokyo, Kaohsiung - Osaka, Bangkok (DMK) - Osaka..etc  The airline has 5th freedom rights (selling ticket at Taipei and Bangkok for its journey onward to Seoul, Tokyo and Osaka.)

Short-medium haul routes 

High capacity configuration (aircraft) 

Target: Leisure and Budget Conscious travellers

To cut cost for passengers, passengers get to choose whatever add-ons they want 

One or Two class service usually with no frequent flyer program 

Seats - chargeable (The better types of seats means more money)

In-flight meals (Chargeable)

Most Low Cost Carriers charges for baggage (15kg), other options are available at a different pricing. 

Low Fares with adds-on including different types of packages for passengers' needs

Very low fare usually do not allow ticket change 

The more expensive fare usually allows changes with a fee 

High utilisation of aircraft type, short turn-around

If aircraft has issues especially at foreign airport, long delay is inevitable and most likely you won't get much compensation or transfer to other airlines 
Private sector companies

High frequency on popular leisure destinations - usually cheaper airfares

Frequent online ticket sales - better to purchase from airline directly

Some airports - Jetways are not used for Low Cost Carriers as the airport fees to use them is higher, so by parking at remote parking lot, airport fee is lower, therefore savings is also passed on to the passengers. 

Charge for all services on board: Reserved seat, In-flight meal and Extra Baggage) 

Some Low Cost Carriers offer accommodation, sim card and other conveniences for passengers - a marketing strategy with its partners

Basic cabin - no in-flight entertainment system for the airlines operating the narrow-bodies (A320, B737..etc) Most airline's aircraft have non-reclining seats.

For wide-bodies like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner (Norwegian and Scoot) - WiFi is available at a fee and beware of windowless seats when you do your booking. Both carriers have 2 classes on this aircraft type. 

For the Airbus A330 Low Cost Operators, the aircraft is configured in a full economy 3-3-3 Economy Class (436-440 configuration) 

Here are the photos of some Low Cost Carriers 

Gol Transportes Aereos (Brazilian carrier) Boeing 737-800


Jetblue (U.S carrier) ERJ-190


Spring Airlines (Asian carrier) Airbus A320


Mango (African carrier) Boeing 737-800


FlyDubai (Middle East carrier) Boeing 737-800


Jetstar (Australian carrier) Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner


Easyjet (European carrier) Airbus A320


Hybrid carriers 

These are airlines that focus on being in between a Low Cost and a Full Service airline. There are not many around but when you fly on one, you will notice the difference. For example: Aircraft with comfortable seats with In-Flight Entertainment system but you have to pay to use it, free snack and drink (usually water) but if you are still hungry, you have to pay for the meal and drink (an in-flight meal menu can be found at your seat pocket. For these airlines, 15kg allowance is given and any extra, you have to pay (This is standard also for Premium carriers but the baggage allowance is 20kg and above) 

So for only 2 airlines I can think of, I will update this part when I get more information. 

Malindo Air (ATR-72-600)


Batik Air (Airbus A320)


Full Service Carrier

(Only one of them is not a full service carrier, do you know which airline?)


The answer is revealed below. 

Full Service Carrier also known as Premium airlines provide everything from baggage allowance to in-flight meal and usually seat assignment (normal seats) are complimentary. As far as I observe, most Asian airlines don't charge for seat assignments when you do your online booking and certainly no charges during web check-in for all airlines. These airlines are the pioneer in the aviation industry and usually the airfares are more expensive than Low Cost Carriers, of course there are periods during low season which airlines offer cheap fares but cheap fares means less privilege such as very little or no mileage points for the frequent flyer program, no selection of seat until web check-in. Usually long to ultra long haul routes are covered by Full Service Carrier and there are either 2, 3 or 4 different cabin classes depending on the airline. The cabin configuration are: First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy and Economy Class. 

Type of classes 

First Class

Lounge access: Yes 
Chauffeur service: Depends on airline
Mileage accumulation: At least 3 times 

 (Singapore Airlines A380's Suite) - Sam Chui's photos



Purchasing the airfare is expensive and only the rich can afford. However, if you are a frequent flyer and have lots of miles in your frequent flyer program, depending on which airline (alliance or partners)'s program you are using, you can redeem points depending on airline's policy and availability. If successful, only thing you have to pay is the airport tax and you are ready to enjoy the best class in the market. 

Lounge in Business Class cabin - a pretty nice to relax during in-flight 


Business Class 

Every premium airline has Business Class and for narrow-bodies, they can found at the front rows of the aircraft. The more popular products are the 2-2 seating configuration, wider seat which increases comfort for the premium passengers. For wide-bodies, it is either 1-2-1, or 2-2-2 for most airline's configuration. 

The air ticket cost of business class isn't as expensive as First Class but it provides comfort and privacy just like First Class but on a lower level. Redeeming miles on Business Class is easier and availability is higher than flying on First Class. 

Lounge access: Yes
Chauffeur service: No 
Mileage accumulation: At least X 2 times

Qatar's Airbus A350 Business Class cabin (Sam Chui's photo)


Premium Economy

This class is in between Business Class and Economy Class, you have a mix of both. This is introduced to make travelling more affordable as the prices between Business Class and Economy Class can be a quite a difference. 

What's the difference between this and Economy Class? 

Small cabin with seats of more seat pitch (34-36' inch depending on airline's configuration) 

Configuration is usually different from Economy Class (Depends on airline)

More comfortable seats (Depends on airline)

Priority boarding 

Increased frequent flyer points 

Exclusive amenity kits (Depends on flight duration and airlines)

Better in-flight meal (Depends on airlines)

Increased baggage allowance

Do note: Not all airline has premium economy cabin, mainly the major airlines and do check the aircraft types as well because usually medium - long haul aircraft has them. These aircraft may be deployed on short haul, high demand routes. 

Lounge access: No 
Chafferer service: No 
Mileage accumulation: At least 1.5 times 

Air New Zealand's Boeing 787-9 Premium Economy Class 



Economy Class 

Almost all airlines in the world provides Economy Class, as it's easy to make money for most types of travellers. For travellers, its the cheapest way to travel and can be comfortable if you choose the right seats or the seats besides one remain vacant. Usually for premium airlines, legroom space in this class is better than Low Cost carriers and also most major airlines offer Seat back In-flight Entertainment System, essential for long haul flights especially day time flight. The bad thing is the IFE box may be located below the seat can reduce the precious legroom space. 

There are usually many types of prices for the Economy Class and the cheapest means there are restrictions while the most expensive means more flexible to your air ticket, you can make changes to your ticket (no charges for Premium airlines). Best is to look at the conditions and see which ticket suits you the most. Of course most leisure travellers would choose the cheapest option, saving money and for other activities such as shopping. Redemption of mileage on this class is easy as there are more seats compared to the premium classes. Upgrading to Business or First Class is possible, that is if you have enough mileage points and of course availability of seats. Taxes do apply. The points depends on how far you travel, the longer the route, more points are required. This is subject to airline's approval as airlines tend to reserve some seats for paying passengers, that's their priority. 

Lounge access: No
Chauffeur service: No
Mileage accumulation: Depends of class booked

This is Thai's Airbus A380 Economy Class 



Booking Classes 

There are different booking classes for First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy Class, the class that has the most different types of booking class is Economy Class, different levels - different prices and privileges. 

When you do the booking especially for cheap airfares, do check the class type to see the conditions. Sometimes we need to make changes like date change, its better to check whether the ticket allows changes. If the ticket doesn't allow changes and you need to change, you have to buy a new ticket. Do note that you have to travel the first flight in order for your ticket to be valid. You can't skip the outbound flight and catch the inbound - ticket will not be valid. If you miss the outbound flight, you will be charged the no show fees and have to pay for another ticket - this depends on the airline's policy. 

This is one example: EVA Air 



Any other alphabets means 0 Mileage points and that is usually for the lowest fare (special prices). So if you want more miles, you have to pay more for the fare and sometimes the difference between the most expensive and lowest fare can be quite a bit, so you have to decide whether you want to fork out more for the points. 

Of course you can also buy miles from the airline and it cost quite a bit. Is it cheaper to buy miles and redeem them for First Class or Business Class seats on long haul flights? I leave that question to the other bloggers such as this one.

Answer to the question: Cebu Pacific 

Some photos of the popular premium airlines 

Korean Air Boeing 747-8I 



ANA Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (Starwars livery)



Etihad Airways Airbus A380



KLM Airbus A330-200



LATAM Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner



Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner



American Airbus A321



Qantas Airbus A380



Airport

This is LAX Airport, photographed by Paul Paulsen



Airports are built as a hub to transport passengers from one city to another by aeroplane. The modern cities have built world class airports to compete with each other so that passengers would either visit the country (improve tourism) or transit via the airport (more business for the airport). Its good to do a bit of research of the airport especially if you are heading there for the first time so that at least you can be mentally prepared (this applies mainly to the airports with bad reputation). 

These days, the modern airports have facilities to keep everyone entertained during the layovers or some spare time to kill before boarding the aircraft.

 Why is it important to be at the airport earlier than you should normally do? 

Well here are a few reasons: 

First: Unexpected traffic jam long the way to the airport. (Photo by metro.uk)



Once you are stuck in a jam (above), its hard to get out of it and most likely you may miss your flight. So if you know there is a jam, depart early or take the train to the airport (if possible). 



Second: Long queues at check-in counter (applies to airlines with no web check-in counter at the airport - all have to queue up at the same queue line), if the airline has a few flights, the queue would be even longer. (I experienced this before.) If you miss the cut-off time for checking in, you will miss your flight. My recommendation: Be there at least an hour earlier, you can spend the remaining time relaxing at the airport. The less stress you are, the better. 

 Why do the check-in counters close early even though the departure time is about an hour plus later?

Reason: The check-in staff needs to pass on the list of passengers to the office and the dispatcher would prepare the paperwork for the pilots. So any additional weight to the aircraft may affect the calculation in the take off and other issues. Not only that, luggages that are tagged to this flight would need sorting out with other luggages of other flights. That would take time for the luggage handlers to do so. So usually the deadline for checking in is about an hour before departure (Please check with the airline for confirmation), as they need time to prepare. Luggages for the flight would be loaded on the airport cart vehicle (about 20 minutes after check-in deadline has passed) 

Everyone wants to depart on time, so please ensure that you are at the gate early and don't forget the time. If you arrive too late, the captain would make the decision to offload your luggage (this takes time) and even if you appear at the gate while the aircraft is still there, the flight crew has every right to reject you as you waste not only their time (waiting for you and the time to search for your luggage at the aircraft's cargo hold), also the other passengers' time as well. 

This Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-400 is being prepared for departure



This EVA Air's Airbus A330-200 is now ready for push back. The driver of the tow truck and flight crew have to wait for Airport Traffic Control's clearance before they can proceed.

So if you run all the way to the gate and see this, it means you miss your flight.


 More information: Time is needed to prepare the aircraft for departure: loading of cargoes and luggages to the aircraft, refuelling the aircraft, cleaning and preparation of the interior of the aircraft, loading in-flight meals (depending on duration of the flight) and the flight crew has to do checks to ensure the aircraft is in good health to fly. Check lists are done and if you see a flight crew member on the ground looking around, he is doing the mandatory check on the aircraft. Once everything is ready, announcement would be made by the airport staff and you can board the aircraft shortly. So if you ever see the aircraft cleaners or airport staff, do thank them for their hard work, they deserve our appreciation. 

Third: Long queues at immigration counter and security checks. If you are going there at peak hour, make sure be there early. Even after checking in and you take your time to get to the air side, you can still miss your flight. Like mentioned earlier, the flight crew (Captain) makes the final decision whether to wait for you or go. 

See the number of aircraft at the taxiway waiting for departure? That's why the Captain wants to depart on time! Everyone wants to reach the destination early. Remember! :) 



Every airline has a specific time slot and if the flight fails to depart at the allocated time slot, the flight crew would have to apply for a new one, this can be troublesome especially if the airline is flying out of a foreign airport. So that's why some Captains choose to depart on time instead of waiting for the last passengers. For congested airports like London Heathrow, San Francisco and Hong Kong, to wait for the next time slot can take hours, causing a delay to the flight and that may affect the flight's operation schedule. 

Facilities at the airport 

Airports in different cities are unique in their own way. The more established countries/cities have better facilities than the others but that doesn't mean the smaller airports aren't good. You be surprised they put some of the bigger airports to shame. One example: Free WiFi available at all parts of the terminal unlike Changi Airport which the WiFi is only available at the air side or areas near to it, so for those without a phone line would have to go to the counter to obtain a password to access to it. Most airports do not need password, you just have to agree to the terms and conditions and you are online. 

Apart from Free Wifi, most or in fact all airports have restaurants and duty-free shops for passengers to enjoy, both air and land side. 

London Heathrow (Land side)


Batam Airport (Air Side)



Sapporo Airport (Land Side) 



Xiamen Airport (Air Side) 



Taipei Taoyuan (Air Side)


Bangkok BKK Airport (Air Side) 


Remember not to forget the departure time if you decide to go shopping. Sometimes getting items here may be cheaper than getting it from the major shopping centre and also if you don't have time to get the items from town area, you can do your shopping here at the last minute. 

Types of Lounges 

Premium Lounges 

Premium Lounges are for passengers flying on premium classes (Business and First Class) and also Airline's frequent flyer gold members and depending on airline's condition, some are allowed to bring a friend in. There are also lounges that access credit card premium customers so you need to check out the lounges the airport offers at the airport's website. Great to get yourself ready for the long haul. 

I rarely visit the Premium Lounges, but here are a few that I have visited so far. 

Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge (Bangkok BKK)



Qantas Lounge (Tokyo Narita)


Club Bauhinia (Hong Kong Airport)


Paid Lounges 

Paid lounges are available at some airports, the established ones would have at least a few. They can be found at both air and land side, suitable for long layovers. You can also make online booking for the lounges, check out the link over here.

KLIA2 Plaza Premium Lounge (Land side)



Hong Kong Plaza Premium Lounge (Air Side)


Hourly Lounge are also available and they are cheaper than airport hotels.

This Hourly Lounge can be found at Beijing Airport Terminal 3 


Transportation from Airport to Town and from Town to the Airport

For well established countries, usually they have good transportation consisting of choices of bus, taxis and train system. It's best to get some information especially to smaller cities. Which airport has the best transportation facilities? Its a tough question but I rate Hong Kong International Airport as one of the best, you have a choice of taxi, Express Train and buses (Mostly Double Decker buses) at the nearby terminal within walking distance from the arrival hall. 

These AXX number bus services takes you to the city comfortable and convenient. 




For airports without a proper bus or train system, taking a cab will be a better option. Uber or Grabtaxi is possible but whether the drivers are willing to pick you up at the airport is another story. Do because of taking the local cabs.

Here are some tips: 

Make sure the taxi driver knows how to get to the destination, for those drivers can't speak English, get assistance from the local taxi guides. 

Insist the taxi drivers to use the taxi meter (before driving off), if he doesn't want, get off and wait for another one. Normally they will overcharge you if you agree to their request. 

If you have data plan (cell phone), check your goggle map to ensure the taxi driver is not going the long way. 

Fear of flying




Are you afraid of flying? Does turbulence make you uneasy? Has travelling been limited to a few cities due to a fear of flying? Well, let me try my best to help. 

Always have your seat belt fastened at all times even when the seat belt sign is turned off. Unexpected turbulence can happen anytime and the rough ones you see that happen in the news are rare occasions but that doesn't mean it won't happen. 

What is turbulence? 

Turbulence is something that behaves with a chaotic and unpredictable motion. This can be caused by a few factors such as windy condition, hot and cold temperature meeting, another aircraft (probably a bigger aircraft) has flown pass the same area not too long ago and other factors.

Pilots are usually given weather reports before and during flight and if the weather gets bad, the flight gets delayed or if the flight is already on its way, it can get diverted to another airport or circle around somewhere (depending whether this is enough fuel) and land when the weather has improved. Modern aircraft has high tech weather radar system and it can detect bad weather, so pilots will try to avoid them as much as possible. If it is not possible to get past the bad weather, the pilot will try its best to fly through the least roughest part and if that happens, the flight crew would give a warning. Don't be nervous about it, just look around you or have a conversation with your seat mate. If its too much for you, focus your mind on good memories and remind yourself that the modern aircraft these days are built to be tough and have undergo many tests to deal with such situation, so don't worry! 

Even in good weather like this, it can be turbulent. This is called Clear Air Turbulence and its difficult to avoid them.




 Usually when flying on long haul flights, you may encounter bits of bumps. Flying over Japan, Bay of Bengal and over the other oceans usually will have turbulence but do not worry, you are in the safe hands of the pilots. Remember, cabin and flight crew have to go through them every time they fly.

Types of turbulence

Convective turbulence 

This turbulence is usually encounter at low altitudes usually during take off or landing phrase. This kind of turbulence happens when the sun heats the ground and the warm air rises and it has to pass other air to rise and as a result, turbulent air is formed. When the rising air increases speed, it pushes the air moving crossing it and that causes greater turbulence. Storms and rain clouds usually generate heavy turbulence and pilots will avoid them. 

Flew through stormy cloud and the turbulence was so intense that I had to hold on to the seat in front of me. 



Cumulonimbus cloud 

This is a huge cloud that can be dangerous and pilots will try to avoid it if possible especially during storm. It is capable of producing lightning and dangerous weather such as tornado. So if you are flying and you see something like this (photo below), you know what it is. It can be quite a sight when you watch it from a distance. 



Clear Air Turbulence 

This type of turbulence can happen at any time of your flight. It usually happens at high altitude when 2 aircraft crosses between 2 air masses heading opposite direction. Jet stream winds which happens from North America to Europe gives the pilots a good advantage in the sense that the aircraft can reach the destination using less fuel but turbulence is mostly like to occur. 

Looks great right? Well, the first officer on my Virgin Australia's flight was making his announcement and had to stop abruptly due to turbulence, we dropped a few metres and some shakes before it got better when we were at a higher altitude. 



Mechanical turbulence




When an object causes an obstruction of airflow, it can generate turbulence known as mechanical turbulence. Like high mountains and tall buildings blocking the wind and the wind goes up causing unstable air which lead to this turbulence. The flight crew will choose to avoid flying over such objects.

Wake Turbulence

This turbulence (A380 creates the worst) is caused by the aircraft engine leaving a trail of unstable air during flying. The worst wake turbulence coming from the aircraft comes from the take off, that's why aircraft has to wait for a while for a safe room of separation between the front aircraft and themselves before they can take off especially if the aircraft in front is a wide-body. This usually happens near airports. 




For aviation, the level of turbulence is categorises as the following:

Light - Light chops: Meal and drink service continued as per normal and most flights I been on, seatbelt sign is not turned on. Movement in the cabin is slightly shaky but nothing bad. No issues for the flight crew. 

Medium - Heavier chops: Seat belt signs are turned on and sometimes no hot beverages are served. Normal crew service continues. Passengers are required to sit down. Pilots have a little problem monitoring the key instruments in the cockpit. 

Heavy - Heavy turbulence: Seat belt signs are turned on and cabin crew have to stop service and return to their seats. Pilots have problems monitoring the key instruments in the cockpit but controlling the aircraft (without auto-pilot) may be difficult. 

Severe - Severe turbulence: Seat belts signs are definitely turned on and if possible all cabin equipment are stored before the turbulence kicks in. Very uncomfortable ride and pilots would lose temporary control of the aircraft. But not to worry, this rarely happens and if it does, pilots are trained to handle them. 

With modern flight radar system, feedback from other pilots and advices from company and Air traffic control, avoiding the bad weather is much easier than in the past, thanks to today's technology. Its true that flying at certain time of the year to some places can undergo bad turbulence, but why let it stop you from enjoying your holiday? 

If you choose the window seat, sometimes you get good views like this! 

This is Northern Light, I hope to see this one day. 




Mount Fuji, Japan! Isn't this beautiful? 



In life, you have to mix the good with the bad, right? That's part and parcel of life! So don't let fear of turbulence ruin your travelling plans. 

These are my few nice window shot photos 

What does this looks like to you? On board Malindo Air's Boeing 737-800



Sunrise on board Oman Air's Airbus A330 


Engine view of Kuwait Airways Airbus A340-300


Air Travel should be an enjoyable one but sometimes we experience the unexpected such as flight delay, miss of flight, flight upgrade, lost of luggage...etc This is all part and parcel of life! So don't despair if things go very wrong for you. Take it as an experience and share it with your friends. Life will eventually even up, not now but later. 

Useful Tips 

Always get travel insurance especially if your trip is lengthy. '

Don't place all your money in your wallet, leave some money elsewhere just in case your wallet gets stolen (precaution) 

Criminals usually target travellers with jewellery or well dressed, so avoid dodgy places and wearing expensive accessories if possible. 

Always make plans ahead and if you are lost in a city, ask from the local or from the information staff when you travelling at foreign cities especially for the first time. 

Take only official taxi companies, avoid the private ones as you never know where you end up and how much they overcharge. If you do decide to take the taxis from the private companies, check the rates before deciding.

Watch out for your belongings at all time, no matter how safe the city is. 

If you are flying off somewhere, remember to be at the airport and departure gate early. 

Never leave expensive items such as laptops, cash and other valuables in your luggages as there are cases of these items being stolen, hand carry them instead. 

On the aircraft, try to store your items to the overhead bin nearest to your seat or at least to where you can see as there are cases of hand luggages being stolen. 

If you are travelling with kids, make sure your kids are within your sight (kidnapping in poorer countries) 

On the aircraft: If your kids are young and tend to use the toilet often on board, I recommend them to wear diaper. Sometimes during the flight, seat belt sign is turned on or during take off and landing, no matter how urgent they are, they are not allowed to use the toilet. 

If you are the sort of person that has difficulty waking up, set 3-4 alarms (Phone, alarm clock or anything that rings) if you have to especially for early morning flights.


Hope you find this blog post useful and if there are any questions, please feel free to ask. 


Thanks for reading! 

Cheers,
Charles 




2 comments:

  1. Hi guys,
    Thank you so much for this wonderful article! Here we all can learn a lot of useful things and this is not only my opinion! Even BLNCK corp. and http://www.flyingquest.com/ confirmed it!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the informative post, Charles! It was really useful, especially the part on turbulence.

    ReplyDelete