Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Plan Ahead Travel Ideas

My Travel Pre-Checklist includes a lot of details that when once accomplished can make my trip easier, more comfortable, and with less hassles.

A few weeks before I go, I call my mobile provider (I use T-Mobile whom I have found to be very helpful both at home and abroad) to determine their international rates to call to/from the countries I’ll be visiting. Usually, it’s more than I want to pay, so I’ll check to see if using my phone on its Wifi settings will avoid those charges or reduce them. I mostly make my calls using Skype (with my computer or using the application for my BlackBerry), or send text messages to locals whom I need to contact.

I also arrange in advance to have my phone unlocked (by my mobile provider) so it will accept a foreign SIM card which allows me to buy an in-country card (if I think I’ll be doing lots of calling to exceed the $25 that these cards seem to cost) and install it in my phone when I arrive. I have to remember that when I’m using the foreign SIM card, it prevents me from getting my e-mail, so sometimes it’s not the best deal. However, the SIM card can be swapped quickly and is a good option for those who need to make lots of calls abroad.

I do sign up for the International roaming on my mobile which allows me to pick up my e-mail on my BlackBerry 8120 Pearl at a very reasonable $5 per week. Keeping up with those e-mails that are critical is a big bonus to making my return home less hassle-filled. T-mobile allows me to start and stop the service exactly when I specify, so I call them a few days or weeks before I leave and arrange to have the service in effect for the days I know I’ll be gone. When I board my flight out of the U.S., just before they close the door and I have to turn off my phone, I set my mobile to call-forwarding to send any incoming calls to my home number where my answering machine will catch all the calls in one place. This saves me paying long distance international charges for wrong numbers or non-critical calls. I send an e-mail to my friends giving my itinerary and suggesting that if they want to contact me while I’m gone, the best way if by e-mail as I’ll receive it immediately. A call, I tell them, will just get forwarded to my home number, which I’ll check for messages several times per week from abroad using Skype.

To charge my mobile phone I’ll be sure to take with me the USB adapter so I can charge it through my computer. This saves me having to carry the AC adapter and a converter. I do carry, however, the car charger (or a plug-in car adapter that allows me to plug the USB cord into that auto plug) so I can re-charge if I’m driving or being driven during my trip. A spare phone battery is also a must, along with the ear plugs. By the way, the new Comply NR-10i (www.complyfoam.com) in-ear noise canceling ear phones work great for making calls in noisy environments, like in a car or bus/train station. I like their NR-10 earphones to use on my flights because I can eliminate the tiring airplane noises while being able to hear seat-mates talk. I can also plug into the airplane’s audio system or listen to my own iPod or computer. Sleeping with the Comply Foam headsets is much more comfortable than using an over-the-ear style noise-reduction headset, particularly if I want to turn head from side to side while resting.

More tips next time on packing, finances, paperwork and in-flight comforts…

Fly Smart, Fly Safe,

Captain Karen

Friday, April 9, 2010

How safe is your plane?

How safe is your plane?

See my input on AOL Travel News:

How Safe is Your Plane?
by Terry Ward
Posted Apr 8th 2010 01:43 PM

Purchase your in-flight meals. Pay for your checked baggage. Buy your own blanket. There hasn't been much happy news in recent years for the flying public. But two words no flier ever wants to hear associated with an airline they're likely to travel with are "maintenance violations." In the past six years, the Federal Aviation Association has levied more than $28 million in fines against over 25 airlines, which begs the question, just how safe is your plane?

In March 2010 alone, two legacy carriers -- Northwest Airlines and American Airlines -- racked up hefty civil penalties from the FAA for violations involving the safety of mechanics aboard airplanes operating passenger flights.

On March 12, American Airlines was fined $787,500 for three safety violations. The FAA said the airline flew a McDonnell Douglas MD-82 jetliner on 10 passenger flights after mechanics diagnosed a problem with one of the airplane's Central Air Data Computers (the flight control system) that should have been fixed. The flight crew was led to believe the problem was repaired. American Airlines was also accused of operating passenger flights without following an FAA airworthiness directive -- rules issued by the FAA when a condition on a plane is deemed unsafe and additional maintenance is required to fix the problem -- related to the inspection of rudder components.

And on March 23, failure by Northwest Airlines to inspect airplane wires located near the cockpit windows that are used for heating led to another FAA penalty of nearly $1.5 million.

"Basically, the problems with the wires is that they could eventually cause overheating and smoke and fire if you found a problem and didn't correct it," says Alison Duquette, an FAA spokesperson.

The FAA says that Northwest Airlines flew more than 90,000 flights from late 2005 until the wiring problem was discovered. And the airline continued to fly more than 40 flights before completing the inspection of all its planes.

While hearing about these issues is unnerving, even when you're on safe ground, the experts say there is no reason to panic. A potentially unsafe condition doesn't mean the actual planes are unsafe, says Duquette.

"The FAA's position is that if we're allowing the airline to operate, they are safe. By the time a civil penalty against an airline is imposed by the FAA, the airline has already fixed or resolved the issue that came up."

Still, a particularly alarming fine certainly sets alarm bells ringing. When Southwest Airlines was slapped with a whopping $10.2 million fine in 2008 (the case later settled for $7.5 million) for failing to check for fuselage cracks and fatigue in its airplanes, shocks were felt throughout the industry. Of the 46 Southwest Airlines planes later inspected, six were found to have cracks.

"That one's reverberating because it is a big fine," says Charles Justiz, a NASA pilot and aviation safety consultant. "Fuselage cracks sound scary, and they are, but your car drives with cracks, and it doesn't make it necessarily riskier. All fuselages have cracks. But by the same token, if you find a crack of a certain size, there are maintenance procedures to follow."

The fact remains that aviation has never been safer than it is today, says Justiz. "If you look at the safety records of the airlines, I think they are running a fatality every 2 billion hours, so it's ridiculously safe. But that said, when you have a safety record like that it's very easy to get complacent, to let yourself slip and fall into bad habit patterns."

Like the regulations themselves and the evolving technologies, safety concerns have changed over the years.

"The major causes of accidents 20 years ago were controlled flights into terrain -- like hearing about a plane flying into a mountainside," says Duquette. "Those things you don't hear about anymore because we have equipment that allows pilots to take evasive action."

Duquette says that the FAA's biggest safety concerns today relate to runway incursions -- when two airplanes collide on a runway, or an airplane collides with operational equipment on the runway. Still, maintenance-related FAA fines pile up.

"I think what they are doing with these big fines is letting the airlines know you can't sweep things under the rug," says Captain Karen Kahn, a longtime pilot with one of the US legacy carriers. "We certainly have a lot more regulation than we had in the past. But fines seem to be what people understand as penalties -- when it gets really bad, they ground different parts of the fleets of airlines."

In 2009, US Airways was hit with a $5.4 million fine for failing to comply with airworthiness directives. The FAA accused the airline of operating 19 flights using an aircraft that was not in compliance with an order requiring inspections to prevent a cargo door from opening during flight.

Also in 2009, the FAA proposed a $3.8 million fine against United Airlines after it was found to have operated a Boeing 737 aircraft on more than 200 flights in violation of maintenance procedures relating to one if its engines.

After a United 737 flight was forced to return to Denver after shutting down an engine due to low oil pressure, mechanics discovered that shop towels had been used to cover openings in the oil sump area instead of the protective caps that are required. The FAA determined that this maintenance oversight led to the aircraft being flown in a condition that was not airworthy, endangering passengers and crew.

And in February 2010, American Eagle was fined $2.5 million by the FAA for failing to ensure that the weight of baggage aboard flights had been properly calculated -- on at least 154 passenger flights, it was determined that the baggage weight listed on cargo hold records did not sync with the company's Electronic Weight and Balance System. Once the situation was brought to the attention of American Eagle, the FAA said the airline continued to operate at least 39 flights without correcting the problem.

"An airplane only has so much weight it can carry, the certificated weight," explains Justiz, "And there's a balance point -- after a certain point you're outside of your center of gravity limits and the airplane won't fly."

But as the statistics substantiate (your chances of dying in a plane crash on an American carrier are around one in 13 million), flying is an extremely safe mode of transport, says Justiz.

"That said, I don't believe in the word safety," he concedes, "there's no such thing. It's 'How much risk are you accepting?' After a certain point, you don't want to accept the risk, so you don't fly the airplane.

"In my opinion, the recent fines do not mean the risk to the flying public has increased. What happened is the FAA raised their hands to the airlines and said 'Why aren't you doing this? You should be managing the risk to this point.' It was a subtle point but a valid one."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Girls Incorporated of Santa Barbara

As a professional speaker, aviator and female mentor, I am often asked to share my experiences with others on how they too can soar through life with confidence and find their true passion. So, when the Santa Barbara chapter of Girls, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold, approached me to share my passion and story on how I became one of America’s first female pilots hired, and one of the few still working, I jumped at the opportunity.

Girls Inc. has responded to the changing needs of girls through award-winning, innovative after-school and summer educational enrichment programs and through public education efforts that empower girls to understand, value, and assert their rights. You see, as a pilot career counselor, I see many mature beginner pilots who want to fulfill their heart’s desire and become a professional pilot. However, until recently, I have never had the chance to reach out to such a young audience, specifically eager, smart and strong girls. This was a thrill for me.

I thought I had accomplished a lot, but when I looked out in the audience of young, impressionable and oh so very honest faces, I realized how much I have yet to share. I spoke to a lively crowd of about 40 young girls from ages 5 to 12. They watched a brief video about what it takes to succeed as a female pilot in the aviation industry, as well as other careers available for females. Then I shared my experiences about my own challenges and successes as one of the first pioneering female pilots in the country. As I’ve discussed in my book “Flight Guide For Success”, women will continue encountering situations in the professional world where they must compete with a majority of men. I enjoyed giving the girls insight that would prepare them for such circumstances.

Girls Inc. is an incredible organization, and it was an immensely rewarding experience to share my advice with these amazing girls! They were adorable! I was surprised that a majority of them had already been on flights. After my talk, we gave the girls coloring books, pencils, and lightweight gliders (so they soar on their own!) donated by Tim Lawton and the generous folks at the Santa Barbara Airport.

Girls Incorporated is an inspirational organization, with chapters all around the country, which I encourage everybody to support! You can learn more at http://www.girlsincsb.org/.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Travel Product Reviews Coming Soon

Hello everybody, I hope the new year is going well!

I'm getting some great new travel products to review. Right now, I'm also looking for good travel blankets, now that most airlines don't supply them. Any samples out there which you'd like tested? Let me know.