Winter storm: Airlines issue waivers; plane slides off KC taxiway
Airlines are issuing travel waivers due to a winter storm headed for much of the U.S. this weekend – and at least one airport has experienced issues after a plane slid off the taxiway.
Delta flight 1114 headed to Detroit slid off the taxiway at Kansas City International Airport in Missouri, according to Joe McBride, marketing manager for the airport. It was carrying 129 passengers and crew.
“Passengers were safely offloaded and bused to Terminal B. Crews will remove the aircraft sometime today,” he said in a tweet . “It is not impeding much of the airfield.”
He wrote in an earlier tweet that there were no known injuries.
“In preparation for departure, the nosegear of Delta flight 1114 exited the taxiway. We apologize to our customers for the delay and inconvenience and are working to reaccomodate them,” Delta spokesperson Martha Whitt told USA TODAY.
The airport was closed on and off Friday morning amid icy conditions.
“The airfield is closed,” the airport wrote in a tweet . “Icy conditions from ongoing freezing rain led @KCIAirport Operations to once again close the airfield/airport to flights. Terminals are open. Crews are out treating surfaces.”
The airfield is closed. Icy conditions from ongoing freezing rain led @KCIAirport Operations to once again close the airfield/airport to flights. Terminals are open. Crews are out treating surfaces.
— Kansas City International Airport (@KCIAirport) January 17, 2020 The airport was initially closed due to icy conditions but had since reopened after crews went about deicing. “The airfield/airport is now open as of 7:40 am and aircraft are able to take off and land,” the airport wrote in a follow-up tweet . “Many thanks to our dedicated Field Maintenece and Operations crews. Apologies to those inconvenienced. Safety first.”
“In very inclement weather with slick taxiways , the chances of aircraft sliding off the paved surfaces increase,” USA TODAY’s “Ask the Captain” columnist John Cox writes. “It can be safe to operate the aircraft based on previous reports but still find that the taxiway is slicker than anticipated due to changing conditions.”
“Ground crews do a wonderful job of clearing snow and ice from the surfaces, but there are limits to what they can do,” he adds. “I would say that it is safe and ground crews do a good job, but very occasionally an airplane slides off the paved surface. It is an inconvenience but rarely causes damage.”
Weather travel waivers United Airlines is issuing travel waivers due to bad weather in Minneapolis/St. Paul, as well as across the East Coast and Midwest. Consumers should check on which dates are eligible, as they differ depending on location. American Airlines , Southwest Airlines , JetBlue Airways and Delta Air Lines are also issuing waivers due to the weather, but passengers should check which airports and dates to see where it applies.
As of Friday late morning, there were 999 delays within, into or out of the U.S., according to flight tracking service FlightAware , and 537 cancellations.
Nearly 90 million Americans are under a winter weather alert Friday as a sprawling storm is expected to create hazardous travel conditions from the Plains into northeastern U.S. through the weekend, forecasters warn.
The latest: Nearly 90 million under winter weather advisory as sprawling storm picks up across US
Forecasters posted a blizzard warning for parts of the Upper Midwest as the storm began to gather steam. In South Dakota and Minnesota, dozens of schools canceled classes Friday ahead of snowfall expected during the day.
In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly closed state offices in the Topeka area, urging people to “stay safe and warm, exercise caution and allow road crews to do their job.”
Some of the heaviest snow will fall Friday and Friday night in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, AccuWeather said, possibly piling up to a foot in some areas.
In Iowa, the weather service in Des Moines warned that the wet, heavy snow will combine with ice accumulations and gusty winds to bring the threat of downed power lines and tree branches.
Freezing rain is also expected from the southern Plains into the mid-Mississippi Valley and the mid-Atlantic region, the weather service said.
By Saturday, moderate to heavy snow is expected in portions of Pennsylvania, New York and much of New England. A foot of snow or more could pile up in parts of the central Appalachians and New England.
Further south, “enough snow and ice is likely to fall with this storm to create slippery travel from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore to New York City with a general coating to an inch or two forecast for these areas along Interstate 95,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dave Dombek.
Contributing: Associated Press
Good to know: Ask the Captain: Why are so many planes sliding off runways?
From earlier: Weekend winter storm will make travel ‘hazardous’ across central US and the Northeast
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You’ve got questions about how airplanes, airlines and pilots work and Captain John Cox has answers. Each week, he clears up confusion and mysteries for passengers in his USA TODAY column. Click forward and be enlightened. Miguel Villagran/Getty Images Fullscreen Why would pilots dump fuel before landing the airplane? Airplanes frequently depart the airport heavier than the maximum landing weight allowed – the threshold at which a given aircraft can sustain a very hard landing without damage. During a normal flight, the plan is to burn fuel so the plane’s weight will below that number by the time it lands. However, if an airplane encounters a technical problem or passenger medical issue and needs to make an emergency landing early in a flight, they won’t have had a chance to burn enough fuel to reduce the weight below the maximum landing weight. This means the flight crew has to quickly get rid of excess weight and the easiest way to do that is by dumping fuel. Matt Hartman/AP Fullscreen Recently there seems to be an increase in aircraft sliding off a taxiway or runway. Are the conditions not safe enough for them to be flying or is it just a matter of the ground crew needing to do a better job of clearing the surface? In very inclement weather with slick taxiways, the chances of aircraft sliding off the paved surfaces increase. It can be safe to operate the aircraft based on previous reports but still find that the taxiway is slicker than anticipated due to changing conditions. Pilots taxi very carefully when conditions exist where sliding is possible. Ground crews do a wonderful job of clearing snow and ice from the surfaces, but there are limits to what they can do. Ryan Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald via AP Fullscreen In freezing conditions, with ice on the runway, how safe is the anti-skid braking system on a modern jet? The modern jet’s anti-skid system is very good. I have landed on ice-covered runways many times using the anti-skid system to safely stop the airplane. Pilots listen carefully to other landing airplanes for descriptions of the stopping ability on the runway. Runway conditions can change quickly, requiring judgment and experience by the pilot to determine whether it is safe to proceed. This system has worked very well for many decades to ensure the safety of landing aircraft. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Why, after a plane has crashed into the water, do investigators put the “black box” back in water? If a flight data recorder is recovered from the water, it is submerged in fresh, clean water to prevent deposits such as salt or minerals from drying out within the device. When the technicians at the laboratory are ready to download the data, they take the recorder out of the freshwater bath, carefully open it and dry any sections that have been exposed to water. They then download the data into special computers that can read the information. AlexLMX/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen I’ve been on a lot of flights where the plane seems to turn soon after takeoff. Why is this and is there a minimum altitude the plane must reach before it can be done? At many airports, there is a departure procedure requiring the pilot to fly a specific heading. This is loaded into the flight management computer. The normal minimum altitude for turns is 400 feet. Some operators have slightly higher minimum altitudes for turns. the_guitar_mann/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen What happens if one of the pilots become disabled in flight? Both pilots are fully qualified to take off and land. In the event a pilot becomes incapacitated, the other pilot would divert the airplane to the nearest suitable airport, declare an emergency and safely land the airplane. In larger airplanes, if it were the captain that became incapacitated, then they would have to stop on the runway because only the left side of the airplane has the nose steering wheel used for taxiing. The first officer, who sits on the right, would not be able to taxi the airplane. Chalabala/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Do military aircraft have priority in shared airfields? Whether the military plane receives priority fueling or takeoff depends on the types of aircraft involved and the fuel situation. Certain types of military airplanes do have priority. Recovering fighters that are low on fuel will have priority. Military transport planes are treated like airliners. guvendemir/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Do flight/cabin crews have fun holiday traditions? For many operators, uniform restrictions are relaxed a bit during the holidays. Flight crews are creative so some of the most humorous holiday neckties available will be worn with pride. Santa hats replace the traditional uniform hats and holiday pins are added to uniform jackets. Some crews will bring battery power lights to enhance the galley area and to spread holiday cheer. EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen What were your best and worst experiences working on Christmas? My best working Christmas experience was a 3-day trip that left Christmas Eve and returned late on the day after Christmas (Boxing Day). I was a first officer at the time. The captain brought the crew together and told us, “I know all of us would rather home with families, but we are not. So let’s make the absolute best of it.” That set the tone for the trip. At most stops, one of us would go into the airport and return with something for the crew. Chocolate and mints were the favorites. On the overnights, we had nice dinners and enjoyed the company of each other. On Christmas Eve, there was a toast to all those working that night. It was a very memorable trip. My worst Christmas wasn’t too difficult: we were scheduled to get home Christmas Eve, but weather and mechanical problems delay our return until early Christmas afternoon. eyegelb/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen On every flight I take, I hear an announcement to raise my seat back and close my tray table (typically before landing). But I don’t believe I ever heard an announcement that I may recline my seat and open my tray table. Why isn’t that announced? When is it OK to recline my seat and open my tray table? For takeoff, once the airplane is airborne, you may open your tray table and recline your seat. For landing, tray tables must be stowed and seats in the upright position for the landing and taxi phases. This is normally done when the airplane is descending through 10,000 feet. There are requirements for the tray table to be stowed and the seat to be in the upright position so there are announcements. There is no requirement to recline or open the tray table; hence, no announcements. bradleyhebdon/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen How safe are commercial airports with short runways? Commercial airports certified by 14 CFR Part 139 (the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulation governing facility approval) are very safe. Runway length is carefully calculated before every takeoff and landing with good safety margins. Pilots know that the runway length is short so they pay special attention to touchdown points and approach speeds. Kesu01/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen If you had a choice to fly the Airbus or Boeing, which would you prefer? I am asked this question frequently, it is very hard to answer. I flew the Boeing 737 for 15 years and the Airbus A320 for six years and thoroughly enjoyed both of them. Each had their strong points and their not-so strong-points. The A320 was more comfortable on long flights, due to the larger flight deck and lack of a control column (it has a side stick). The 737 was the best airplane I have ever flown in a crosswind. Both are reliable workhorses of our transportation system. Picking one over the other is like asking me to pick my favorite child … I like them both! AIRBUS Fullscreen In light of the 737 Max debacle, do you still feel that the automatic stabilizer trim systems on modern aircraft are a valuable enhancement? The 737 Max issues are very, very complex. In the case of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, a sensor failed, causing its stabilizer trim to push the nose down. This caused a very unbalanced condition as the pilots were trying to command nose up. The stabilizer trim system normally balances the aerodynamic forces on the tail. But in the two MAX accidents, it was mispositioned by the aircrafts’ Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) . The MCAS on those planes also lacked redundancy and did not have a limit on activation. Other automatic trim systems have redundancy and a proven track record (they have been in use since the 1980s). Like any flight control system, the redundancy and testing must be robust for a trim system, manual or automatic. There are many lessons to be learned from the Max, many of which should help make the next generation of airliners safer and more robust. Skyhobo/Getty Images Fullscreen What aspect of commercial aviation do you feel currently needs the most review and reform? Pilot training in the upcoming years is probably the most difficult issue facing commercial aviation. The upcoming aviators must be to adapt to increasingly complex airspace, in increasingly complex airplanes while maintaining the ability to fly and navigate manually if necessary. Properly diagnosing and responding to unexpected situations is a critical skill that comes from experience and training. Ivanushka/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Is there a term for restarting stalled airline jet engines in flight? If the engine has failed, pilots say the engine has flamed out. Restarting a flamed out engine is known as a relight. olaser/Getty Images Fullscreen What were your best and worst experiences working on Thanksgiving? The Thanksgivings I worked often included several hotels taking special care of the flight crews with turkey and all the trimmings. We appreciated the hospitality and the realization that we missed our time with our family to get our passengers to their families. The worst was when there were weather problems causing delays or cancelation. We know that there are very few options for passengers due to airplanes being full. We did all we could but there were stranded passengers and holiday plans that were affected. Spencer Platt/Getty Images Fullscreen Which cities or airports do you enjoy flying into during the holiday season? Seeing the holiday lights in many cities is a special experience. New York and Boston are especially noteworthy as you come over the water toward the city dressed in their “holiday” best. When there is time to enjoy it, seeing New York with all the holiday decorations, and the children’s excitement is always fun. New Year’s Eve was special when I was in cities with fireworks. Andres Kudacki/AP Fullscreen How do pilots train for flying into airports where the airline has never flown? Before a new airport is added to a route system, it is evaluated by training pilots to ensure all necessary information is provided to the crews. If an airport is in a tricky location, it may require that the pilots be accompanied by an instructor on their first flight there. This was the case when my airline opened service into Mexico City International Airport, which sits more than 7,000 feet above sea level and is surrounded by the Sierra Madres. On my first trip there, an instructor pilot was in the jumpseat to advise us of any special considerations and to evaluate our performance. stockcam/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Can pilots request a different takeoff runway when they think a different one will work better? Pilots can request a different runway but there usually needs to be an operational need in order for it to be granted. For example, if the noise abatement runway is shorter, and the flight is heavily loaded, the pilots would have legitimate operational grounds for requesting the longer runway. But requesting a different runway just to shorten taxi time is not considered sufficient need. Jag_cz/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen I believe aircraft have de-icing mechanisms. What is the difference between these and, say, a windshield defroster, and why couldn’t they be used in place of having wings sprayed with de-icing solution? Inflight de-icing equipment de-ices only the leading edges of the wings, propellers and sometimes the tail. Other parts of the airplane, such as the windshield and pitot tubes, are heated to prevent ice buildup. On the ground, ice forms on the entire surface of the airplane, resulting in significant weight and the distortion of the airflow, which is potentially dangerous. Consequently, ice must be completely removed from the airplane before takeoff. Heated fluid knocks the ice off the airplane, then a thick gel is applied, so any ice or snow that falls will not stick to the airplane and will blow off during the takeoff roll. This gel is effective for only a limited time, requiring pilots to refer to tables to determine how long the period between de-icing and takeoff can be. Trying to heat the entire airplane would require a very large amount of hot air and a very heavy mechanism; therefore, it is not efficient. Alexa Welch Edlund, Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP Fullscreen Why don’t airlines stress strongly to passengers that they should leave overhead bins closed during emergency evacuations? Passengers who attempt to retrieve overhead luggage during and evacuation put themselves and others at risk. It is critical that people leave their luggage and concentrate on getting out of the airplane quickly. Airlines try to emphasize this, but too many passengers do not pay attention. Curtis Compton/AP Fullscreen If pilots are trained to fly specific planes, what happens when to a pilot when that particular plane is retired? For example, the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 was recently retired , so what happens to MD-80 pilots? Pilots change airplanes several times during a career. Moving to a new airplane requires attending ground school, passing a written exam, passing a verbal exam, completing a simulator course, passing a simulator evaluation, passing a line-oriented training evaluation, and passing the initial operating experience evaluation. If all goes smoothly, the training and evaluations take around six weeks. When airplanes are retired, such as the MD-80, all the pilots bid for new assignments. Usually, a pilot’s seniority determines his or her next aircraft. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/USA TODAY Fullscreen How long does it take for a pilot to get promoted to captain or to a new aircraft? It varies depending on the carrier. Thanks to the rapid expansion of my airline (US Airways), I was able to upgrade in a little over three years, which was very quick. Friends of mine waited over 10 years to upgrade. The growth of the airline and the rate of retirements are the two most significant determining factors. Once a pilot has a captain bid, it is not a guarantee that they will upgrade. All of the training must be completed successfully and all the evaluations completed before flying your first trip as a captain. Upgrading is one of the largest highlights in a pilot’s career. We all remember our first captain trip. It is the culmination of decades of experience, effort, and training. venuestock/Getty Images Fullscreen How do pilots prepare for an early or red-eye flight? Are there sleep requirements? Are you as tired flying a 5 a.m. flight as passengers are? Red-eye flights are challenging. There are rest requirements for pilots before reporting for duty but it is still tiring to work when your circadian rhythms are low (usually around 4 a.m. body-clock time). Many pilots will try and get a nap before a late-night flight to help mitigate fatigue. For very early flights, the best choice is to get to sleep as early as possible. This is easier said than done, particularly when there are numerous time zone changes from your home. Fatigue is a challenge for all flight crew members, especially when crossing time zones. mnbb/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen In your experience, what do pilots make of passengers clapping upon landing? (Do they generally take it as a compliment or an insult?) It always caused me to smile. The appreciation of executing a challenging approach and landing is a compliment. Often, pilots feel that we are just doing our jobs when faced with a challenging approach and landing. We use experience and very good training to ensure the safety of the flight. gorodenkoff/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen How tricky is it to land with one or more blown tires? How many can you have and still land safely? Is it better to have the front or rear ones blow? Most airliners have two or more tires in each position (left main, right main and nose). Certification standards require that a safe landing can be made with one tire deflated when there are two or more tires in that position. I have landed with a deflated main gear tire without a problem. There have been cases of airliners landing with a deflated nose gear problem with no difficulties. In cases where there are more than two tires on the main gear, such as a large airplane, losing one tire would be less of an issue than one of two nose gear tires. CatEyePerspective/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen How do pilots cope with cold/flu season? Can they take over-the-counter meds like cough syrup or Sudafed, etc. within a certain time range before a flight? How far in advance do they have to call in sick? Colds are a challenge for all flight crew members. It is essential that pressure changes in the cabin can be equalized in the inner with clear eustachian tubes. Colds can block those tubes making impossible to equalize the pressure. This can be very serious. Over-the-counter medications can help but pilots must be very careful about what medications are taken prior to flight. There are lists of approved medications and any restrictions that are available to passengers. There are some antihistamines that can be taken but most cough syrups contain ingredients that are not approved. There are some cough drops that are ok. If a pilot is taking cold medication that require a number of hours before a flight, they must adhere to that restriction. When a flight crew member knows that they will be unable to fly due to illness, including a cold, the sooner they let crew scheduling know the better. In most cases, this happens no later than the day before the trip is scheduled to begin. globalmoments/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Most of the country is preparing to turn their clocks back on Nov. 3. How much of a pain is this for flight crews and dispatchers? And do they have as much trouble as the rest of us telling time in places like Arizona where they don’t observe daylight savings time? Twice a year, we are reminded of the change on those very early Sunday mornings. When on short overnight stays with outbound flights the following morning, I have seen messages from dispatchers saying, “Please remember that tonight is the change to/from daylight saving time.” This is so that crews can make sure their alarm clocks are set properly for the morning. Flights that are already in progress at the time of the change are not affected due to the use of Universal Coordinated Time, the world-wide standard. It does not change. The very few areas that do not change are a challenge for crews to remember which time zone they are in during the time of the year. Is Arizona on Mountain or Pacific time? In reality, they do not change from Mountain Standard Time, but part of the year they are in the same time zone as Denver and the other part of the year, they are on Los Angeles time. gud_zyk/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Last weekend, a JetBlue flight had to divert due to smoke and an “electrical smell” in the cockpit. What might cause that, how big of a deal is it and has it ever happened to you? An electrical smell must be considered a potential fire until it can be conclusively determined otherwise. Usually, it is a cooling fan or some other electrical device that is hot but not a true fire. The JetBlue crew did the right thing in diverting . An in-flight fire is one of the most serious conditions a pilot can face, therefore it is taken very seriously. FAA reports indicate that smoke or smell events do happen. Fortunately, actual fires are very, very rare and pilots train for this situation. I, too, have experienced electrical smells and light smoke in the flight deck. We were able to determine the source and isolate the problem component. JetBlue Airways Fullscreen Do any other airports have wrap-around taxiways like Victor in Atlanta? It seems like a brilliant design solution. Wraparound, or end-around taxiways (EATs), as they’re known in the USA, allow aircraft to taxi around the end of a runway instead of crossing it. They’re both safer, reducing the risk of runway incursions, and more efficient, letting the runways be actual runways. In addition to Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta (ATL), you can also find them at Detroit Metro (DTW) and Dallas-Fort Worth. DFW also has two more under construction, with the first targeted for completion by 2021 and the second to follow in 2023. (New end-around taxiways must be pre-approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.) Optimal Geomatics, Inc. Fullscreen Can you be afraid of heights and still be an airline pilot? A true fear of heights could pose a problem even for airplane passengers. It would certainly be an issue for a pilot. That said, there is a difference between truly being afraid of heights and being fearful of falling, from say, the edge of a skyscraper. I know many pilots who say they don’t like “heights” but their concern is more about feeling uncomfortable looking down from a building or other edges. However, they are comfortable in airplanes. You could take a flight to see how you feel and help determine if being a pilot is right for you. Senohrabek, Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen I’ve noticed that the wings aren’t placed in the middle of the plane but at nearly the rear of the plane. Why is this? I would not say that wings near the rear of the plane, but they are not always in the exact middle as designers seek the best location for the loading envelope and to improve fuel efficiency. Wing placement is decided based on fuel efficiency and on the loading capabilities (weight and balance). Wings create lift, keeping the plane in the air. They are balanced by the small wing in the tail known as the horizontal stabilizer. This wing is upside down so the lift is created downward. By balancing the two points of lift, the pilots can maintain control of the airplane. frankpeters, Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Can you explain windshear and the effects that has on airplanes? Windshear is the amount of change in wind direction or velocity over a short distance. This can be a source of turbulence as the airplane travels through a changing air mass. One example of windshear’s effect on an airplane could be a change in the ground speed. As a tailwind becomes a headwind, the ground speed would slow down. In extreme cases, a change in direction can cause a loss of airspeed with a resulting reduction in lift. Chalabala/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Why have a bag on the oxygen system if it doesn’t inflate? The design of passenger oxygen systems is a continuous flow design. This means that the oxygen generator in the overhead creates oxygen at a given rate, as you breath in, it exceeds the rate of production do the excess in the bag is used. During the time when you are not inhaling, the bag is refilled with oxygen. It may not fully inflate during this process. Fortunately, the time a passenger would needs oxygen is short due to the pilots descending to lower altitude were there is sufficient oxygen. Thinkstock/Getty Images Fullscreen An hour into American Airlines Flight 4582 on Sept. 1, another plane flew past us in the opposite direction at the same altitude (35,000 ft.) and couldn’t have been more than 500 ft away from us. I mentioned it to the flight attendant, who then spoke with the captain, and she came back and said the pilot said he saw the other plane but it was at least 500 ft away. That seems way too close to me. Would that be considered a near miss? It scared me! At jet cruising altitudes the minimum vertical separation is 1,000 feet. The airplane you saw may have looked closer but it was at least 1,000 feet different altitude. If two airplanes were at the same altitude, the air traffic controller would receive an alarm and both flight crews would receive an alarm on their Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS). This multi-redundant systems works very well and midair collisions are extremely rare. I appreciate that it scared you, but your captain told you the truth. The opposite direction traffic was vertically separated by over 1,000 feet. Chalabala/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Why are planes not equipped with continuous worldwide satellite tracking versus limited ground based radar tracking? Airplanes are being equipped to have continuous tracking. By January 2020, nearly all airliners will be equipped with transmitters that provide altitude, heading, ground speed and the aircraft’s identification to controllers via satellite. The process to equip airplanes has been underway for several years but modifying an entire fleet is a big, expensive and time-consuming process. In the past, pilots made position reports to controllers via high-frequency radios but this process was replaced by automatic reports sent via satellite communication (SATCOM). Now there is nearly continuous transmission of this data. Nathan W. Armes/Special to USA TODAY Fullscreen Do pilots have a camera that shows them when the front wheels are on the yellow-and-black line like at the gate? No, most airplanes do not have cameras displaying the underside of the airplane. Pilots learn how to position the airplane precisely based on experience. That said, they’re not doing it completely blind: There are ground crew signalers or automated systems that tell the captain when the nose gear is in the proper place. Having the proper alignment is essential to fitting the loading bridge onto the door properly. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Special to USA TODAY Fullscreen I’m a senior in high school and want to become an airline pilot. Should I go to college or go straight to flight school? You will have more options if you go to college. A college degree will give you more alternatives if you ever develop a medical issue that would prevent you from flying. It will also help you if you choose to go into management. In your search, you will come across colleges that have both flight schools and an aviation major. That is the best of both worlds. As with any college search, don’t fixate on brand names when it comes to aviation programs. While there are some very well-known colleges with flight majors, look around at lesser-known programs that are less expensive. Your guidance counselor can help you identify programs. RGtimeline/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen What do airlines look for in people who apply for flight training? Naturally, airlines look to see whether candidates possess the proper licenses, such as the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate as well as experience flying large-turbine-power airplanes in various weather conditions. In the past, many carriers also required a college degree; however, the ongoing pilot shortage has made them less picky about that. It’s also OK if you have a degree in an unrelated field. Most importantly, airlines are looking for the right attitude, which can make or break a candidate. After all, they can teach you a lot about flying but they can’t teach you the right mindset to fit in with their culture. You either have it or you don’t. venuestock/Getty Images Fullscreen With so many passengers bringing emotional support animals on planes, what can be done to help people who are allergic to animal dander? Flight attendants can often persuade passengers to switch seats providing separation between the animal and the person with the allergies. The earlier the flight attendants know about the issue, the more likely they can arrange a solution. However, there are times when passengers can’t or won’t switch seats, making for a difficult flight. If this happens to you or a companion, try opening the overhead air vent. By directing the flow of air that hasn’t been exposed to animal dander toward the passenger with the allergy, you can reduce the severity of the reaction. GummyBone/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen With flocks of birds wreaking havoc on airplane engines, why aren’t there screens on the engines that would allow air to flow in but but keep animals out? This has been suggested by some for years but it’s not a perfect solution. One potential problem is the screen splitting the bird into pieces small enough to enter the engine. Additionally, if the bird causes damage to the screen, it, too, can be pulled into the engine causing more damage than the bird itself. Jet engines very carefully control the airflow into the fan and compressor section. if a bird got caught in the screen, that could potentially disrupt airflow, leading to a loss of power. In most cases, a bird goes into the engine and is thrown outward into the fan duct where it does little or no damage. Very rarely one will get pulled into the core, which can cause more damage. Bird-strike-induced emergency landings like 2009’s Miracle on the Hudson , when US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger landed Flight 1549 in the Hudson or the Russian A321 pilot who put his plane down in a Russian cornfield in August are extremely rare. However, they do illustrate the need to improve bird tolerance in newer engines. Manufacturers do extensive bird-ingestion testing but there are still improvement to be made. YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen What do airline dispatchers do? The dispatcher, who works out of the airline’s operations center, is jointly legally responsible for the flight with the captain. Dispatchers are vital members of the operations and safety team. They provide weather updates and airport updates to the flight crew. Additionally, they will watch traffic flow for impact of weather or traffic congestion. Their training is very similar to pilots – just without the flight training. Delta Air Lines Fullscreen When do pilots send the request for ground crew? Ground crews are actually pretty proactive. For incoming flights, they are ready to move into place once the plane taxis in since they know it has already touched down. For departing planes, once the jet bridge is retracted, they know pushback will occur very soon. YakobchukOlena/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen How do pilots avoid anvil-head clouds and other signs of thunderstorms while flying at night? Pilots use onboard weather radar to remain clear of thunderstorms during day and night operations. Lightning is actually easier to see at night, which shows the pilots the location of the storm. Alan Diaz/AP Fullscreen Can pilots nap, read books or watch movies in the cockpit? It depends on the country and the situation. When there are augmented crews and a rest area (like the one seen here) on board, pilots who are off duty can nap or read. If there are only two pilots, then controlled napping depends on the country. Some allow it (done properly, it really helps to lessen fatigue), while such as the U.S. prohibit it. Rathke/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen What does the crew eat on long flights? Pilot meals vary from airline to airline. Usually on long flights, the crew meals are prepared in a similar way to passenger meals. The flight attendants bring the meals to the pilots once the the passengers have been served. The menu varies depending on the departure airport and the catering request. IPGGutenbergUKLtd/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Recently, a Delta passenger got his flight all to himself . Public relations bonanzas aside, that seems like a money-losing move for the airline. How do they decide whether it’s worth it to fly a near-empty plane? Does there need to be a minimum number of passengers? The decision to fly an empty plane is actually based on much more than headcount. Airlines also factor in maintenance schedules, the next day’s flights, weather-induced logistical chances and paid cargo. RyanFletcher/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen I’ve been on a lot of flights where the plane seems to turn soon after takeoff. Why is this and is there a minimum altitude before it can be done? It is routine to turn shortly after takeoff. Common reasons include noise abatement rules and avoiding an airplane departing on a parallel runway. Most operators do not turn until reaching 400 feet to ensure good separation from the ground in the event of a problem. However, there are some special cases where a turn is needed earlier, such as at Washington Reagan National Airport. When departing north, a turn is required very soon after takeoff to avoid the prohibited airspace over the Mall and White House. Terraxplorer/Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen How dangerous is a cracked cockpit windshield? When is it most likely to happen (takeoff, cruising altitude or landing) and what can be done about it? Windshields consist of two panes of thick glass with a plastic layer between for heating. Either pane is capable of holding full pressure in the other is lost. In my experience, more of the windshields cracked during climb than in other phases of flight. If this occurs, pilots will descend to reduce the pressure and plan on a diversion if necessary. DANIEL SLIM, AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen There are so many reports of pets dying on flights. Are pets safe and comfortable in baggage? I have stopped flying to protect my pet. Aircraft designers know that live animals will be shipped so they ensure there is adequate airflow and heat for them. If you are shipping an animal it is prudent to ensure the connecting airport is not extremely hot or cold during the time the animal will be there. All of us protect our pets and airlines realize how the responsibility that comes with accepting a pet for shipment. Talk to the airline staff and plan your trip to minimize connection times without extreme weather conditions. Mary Altaffer, AP Fullscreen Question: What guidelines are in place in case planes are flying at the same altitude and approaching each other? Answer: Air traffic control prevents airplanes from approaching each other at the same altitude. Airplanes also have traffic avoidance systems that will have one airplane climb and the other descend. Jeff Chiu/AP Fullscreen How are runway assignments determined for arriving or departing flights when there are multiple active runways in use? Air traffic control will try and use the runway that points toward the wind when possible. Some airport layouts make it much faster for certain runways to be used for landing and others for take off. The controllers know what configuration works best. The goal of air traffic controllers is to try to expedite the traffic flow while keeping it safe for aircraft. ANDREW GOMBERT/EPA-EFE Fullscreen Question: Calling a family pet an emotional support animal is rife for abuse. If you need a support animal or blanket to feel secure while flying, it might be time to consider the train. How can we Think you can get the people that write the laws to use common sense? Answer: Airlines are slowly making progress in requiring more documentation for all animals traveling on board. Too many passengers have abused the emotional support animal rule and it can have a safety implication during an evacuation. Julio Cortez/AP Fullscreen How secure are planes in the air from being hacked by technology brought onboard by passengers bring on planes? Critical flight computers are shielded and not accessible by the internet or passenger electronics, making them very secure. John Locher/AP Fullscreen How will Boeing promote and market the safe return of the 737 Max on its first day back in the air? It is impossible to know at this point. Each operator will handle the return to service differently. Some will make a media event out of showing the safety and reliability of it while others will attempt to make it “business as usual.” JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen Once the 737 Max is approved to fly again, can individual pilots choose not to take assignments for that aircraft? Will they be “punished” for refusing? If they are assigned to the MAX fleet, then they are expected to fly it. However, It is possible for them to change the fleet to which they are assigned. I do not know of any pilots that would not fly the MAX once it is recertified, tested and returned to service. Boeing Fullscreen What do the pilots do if there’s a loss of power? What’s the point of no returns? The total loss of power is extraordinarily rare. The first action would be to relight the engines. If that failed, a ditching would be required, as was the case with 2009’s “Miracle on the Hudson.” After a bird strike disabled both engines minutes after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, Captain Chelsey Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles glided their US Airways Airbus A320 into the Hudson River in what was called the “most successful ditching in aviation history.” Bebeto Matthews/AP Fullscreen Recently, a 777 had an engine failure on takeoff at Atlanta. It seems like there would be extra strain on the functioning engine while under such a heavy load compensating for the failure. Would that engine also undergo inspection, or is that not even a concern? All twin-engine airplanes are designed to fly with one engine inoperative so there is no additional strain on the operating engine. Unless there was an indication that the remaining engine had exceeded temperature or speed ranges during such a flight there would be no concern and no need for inspection. CARLOS CALVO/UNITED AIRLINES Fullscreen Is it typical for pilots to have to burn off fuel on a flight prior to landing? I was on a completely full flight on an Embraer 190 between Philadelphia and Raleigh-Durham where the pilot had to lower the landing gear and fly around prior to landing. I’ve flown quite a bit and do not recall ever experiencing this. This happens occasionally. On some flights when the passenger load and cargo load is heavy, the flight is planned to land at the maximum landing weight. If they wind up burning less than what was forecast, then the pilots have to burn off the excess fuel to reduce the weight. Lowering the landing gear and to extend the flight accomplishes the needed fuel burn. frankpeters, Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Some routes always seem to have dramatic air pockets, such as flying into Las Vegas. Are there some routes that are just more susceptible to sudden drops? I suspect you are feeling the effects of thermal heating causing turbulence. In places like Las Vegas where there are mountains and high heating, turbulence is more common. Usually, this occurs at lower altitudes although mountain waves can occur at cruise altitudes. Diy13, Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Do all the electronics inside the aircraft such as the reading lights, TV screens and fans impact the engine or drain the battery? Modern airplanes have very large generators capable of supplying electrical power for all the modern devices. Each engine has at least one large generator the auxiliary power unit has a generator and most airline jets have a ram air turbine that can produce electricity. There are batteries. too. The engine generators do cause the engine to burn more fuel but it is not a large amount. Panasonic Fullscreen Why can’t airlines equip the entire cabin with active noise-canceling technology (not just headphones)? That would make long-haul flights more comfortable than pastel mood lighting. I have seen active noise-canceling technology in business jets and turboprop aircraft but not in airliners so far. The technology is available but I suspect cost and weight are the reasons it has not been installed yet. Beats by Dre Fullscreen In today’s modern aircraft, does turbulence make it physically tiring to control a plane or does fly by wire and automation take away physical exertion? Flying modern jets is not overly physical. The automation and powered flight controls have made it much easier and less physically stressful. Elaine Thompson/AP Fullscreen Do both pilots fly the plane under normal circumstances or only when there’s an emergency? Both pilots are fully qualified to fly the airplane. Usually, one pilot flies the airplane while the other performs the duties of the monitoring pilot, such as communicating with air traffic control, handling checklists and overseeing the flight path. The breakdown of tasks between the flying pilot and monitoring pilot is very clearly defined but pilots are trained to perform both. CLEMENT SABOURIN, AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen Is there any specific way flights are numbered? Each airline has their own way of numbering flights. That said, there does have to be some coordination between companies to prevent different carriers from having the same flight number in the same airspace. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Special to USA TODAY Fullscreen While traveling on a Boeing 737-800, I noticed there was no window in Row 10 on the left side. What is the reason for this? There is often a missing window on jets since the air conditioning vents run up the wall there. Some airplanes also leave a window out in line with the fan section of the engine incase of a blade separation. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen When the cabin door closes and the cabin staff announces for all cellular devices to be placed in airplane mode or turned off, some passengers feel this announcement does not pertain to them. They keep talking. Is it acceptable to rat them out to cabin staff? Agreed, there are passengers who do not comply and get belligerent when a flight attendant does their job of reminding them of the rule. Matt Slocum/AP Fullscreen Is there a speed limit for planes while taxiing on the taxiway? Some airports have speed limits but more often airplanes will have a limitation in the flight manual for maximum taxi speeds. This is usually around 30 knots. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren for USA TODAY Fullscreen Question: Why do jumbo jets ascend at a lower rate? It takes them much longer to get to the desired altitude. Answer: Large four-engine airplanes are slower to climb than two-engine airplanes due to the amount of excess thrust of two-engine airplanes. If a two-engine airplane experiences a loss of thrust in one engine (50% of the total thrust), it must still be able to climb and continue flight safely. A loss of thrust for a four-engine airplane only results in a 25% loss of thrust. The twin-engine plane has more excess thrust when all engines are operating and therefore climbs faster. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren for USA TODAY Fullscreen When a plane is experiencing severe turbulence, it’s difficult to judge how far “down” it appears to be falling or dropping – inches or feet? In heavy turbulence it can feel like the airplane is going up and down long distances, when in reality it is only a few feet. Humans notice the rate of change (how fast you are going up or down) more than the magnitude of the excursion. Very rarely, turbulence can cause a change of a few hundred feet, but most times it is less than 100 feet. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren for USA TODAY Fullscreen If aircraft weight is so important, why aren’t aircraft windows made larger? Aren’t those materials lighter than the rest of the aircraft? The structure around the window is heavier. If you look at airplanes designed as freighters, they do not have windows. This is done to reduce the weight and maintenance costs. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Planes making a sideways landing in a strong crosswind make for remarkable videos. How does the airplane landing gear handle the added stress of such landings? If you look carefully, the airplane will yaw before touchdown to be more closely aligned with the runway. The pilot uses the rudder to reduce the crab angle just prior to touchdown. This reduces the sideload on the main landing gear. During certification flights the manufacturers demonstrate crosswind landing without yawing prior to touchdown to test the capability of the landing gear. While the gear is designed to take the load, it is a lot of force. Valery Hache, AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen Question: Why don’t airliners “power back” from the gate? In the 1980s, airliners with aft-mounted engines (e.g., DC-9, MD-80 and B727) used powerback in an effort to reduce the number of ground personnel required. Today, most large airliners have underwing-mounted engines; they are too close to the ground and have a potential to ingest debris during a powerback. Powerback has safety risks; only a few aft-mounted engine jets could do it. I do not know of any airline using that procedure today. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren,special to USA TODAY Fullscreen In the cockpit are all those buttons and knobs really used or necessary to fly the plane? Yes, the buttons and knobs are used to control the airplane in normal flight or when there is a problem with a system. While they look confusing to the layperson the pilots know exactly what each one does and how it is to be used. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY Fullscreen How safe are commercial airports with short runways ? Commercial airports certified by the Federal Aviation Administration’s 14 CFR Part 139 are very safe. Runway length is carefully calculated before every takeoff and landing with good safety margins. Pilots know that the runway length is short, so they pay special attention to touchdown points and approach speeds. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, special for USA TODAY Fullscreen Why are airlines still using 50-plus-year-old black boxes, when the technology currently exists to transmit all the same cockpit data and voice information in real time via satellite communications? While technically possible, there are significant issues with real-time up-streaming of data. Who owns the data? What can it be used for? Can it be hacked? The Digital Flight Data and Cockpit Voice recorders have proven to be very successful over the decades. There is reluctance to lose this proven technology. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren for USA TODAY Fullscreen How would you suggest a passenger cope with turbulence, physically and emotionally? The best steps to take physically are to remain seated with your seat belt securely fastened. This will prevent you being bounced around in the seat. If you want to sit in the area of the airplane that moves the least during turbulence, then choose a seat over the middle of the wing. The aft section of the airplane moves the most. Fear of the unknown is the root of the emotional discomfort. Some people believe that the airplane will suffer damage or even crash due to turbulence. The facts prove otherwise. Modern airplanes are designed to withstand very heavy turbulence. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren for USA TODAY Fullscreen What problems would cause you to make an emergency landing? A diversion to land at an alternate airport is often erroneously described as an emergency landing in media accounts. There is no emergency, but there is a change in plans. A problem with the pressurization system may require a diversion. A passenger with a medical problem may require a diversion. Some electrical problems will require a diversion. If there is an onboard fire, then an emergency landing is necessary. The difference is that in some fire conditions, the situation requires landing as soon as possible. That is an emergency. There are other conditions that require a diversion but only a very few require a true emergency landing. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen How easy is it to land the largest jumbo jets? A pilot with significant experience can transition to a very large airplane quickly. There is little difference in the handling characteristics, but the flight deck height and wingspan require practice. The 747 and A380 pilots I know characterize both as easy airplanes to fly. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren for USA TODAY Fullscreen What do you think of the recent attention given to companion animals on flights? Isn’t this a source of unnecessary distraction for both pilot and crew ? The issue of companion animals is a difficult one. There have been cases of animals biting passengers, getting loose, urinating and worse. The airlines had to do something due to the number of bad events that continued to rise. Current requirements for certification for the need for the animal by a doctor or physiologist appear to be reasonable. Dave Einsel for USA TODAY Fullscreen What is the top speed for a typical jetliner without compromising the air frame? Is there such a thing as too fast for a plane (putting scheduling & ATC aside)? Airplanes only know their speed in relation to the air around them. If there is a 200 mph tail wind, the speed of the airplane across the ground would be over 750 mph. All air frame speed limitations are based on airspeed not ground speed. Julio Cortez, AP Fullscreen Do pilots have to eat different meals on a flight? I have not seen an FAA requirement for a meal difference. Many airlines require different meals for members of the flight crew in the belief that it mitigates risk of food-borne illness, but it is a choice made by each operator. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen I notice that jet engine cowlings are scalloped on the rear edge on some engines and not on others. What is the purpose of the scalloped edge? Newer engines have the saw tooth cowlings. They help make the engine quieter, particularly at higher power. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen When Air Force One makes a long trip, does it refuel in air? The Air Force carefully limits the information about the specifics of an Air Force One flight. So if there were an aerial refueling we would not know about it. The specially modified B747s that fly the president are capable of aerial refueling, and the crews maintain proficiency in this skill. The direct answer to your question is that it is possible, but the information is not released. Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA-EFE Fullscreen Why do the cabins on passenger jets get hot when flights are delayed on the ground after leaving the gate? Does the air conditioning system rely on power or airflow levels only available in flight? When the engines are at idle, they do not produce much compressed air used for cooling. This can result in a warm cabin. The issue is the amount of air available for cooling when not in flight, where the flow is robust. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Why do airlines still have ashtrays in the bathroom doors even though smoking is prohibited? : It is a certification requirement by the regulatory agencies (e.g. the FAA and EASA). This is an old requirement that came from the 1960s to ensure that a person had a place to extinguish a cigarette other than throwing it in the lavatory trash bin where it could cause a paper fire. The requirement has never been changed because there are still airlines around the world that allow smoking, and airplanes are often sold between airlines. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Why are some landings rougher than others? Is it pilot’s technique? The conditions vary greatly from landing to landing. Wind, runway conditions, weight of the airplane and many other factors can cause some landings to be less smooth than others. Yes, pilot technique can be a cause, but it is usually not the only cause. Digital Vision Fullscreen What lifts the plane off the ground on takeoff, the pilot using a control or just reaching a certain speed for lift? Once the airplane has accelerated to the proper speed, known as rotation speed or Vr, the pilot commands the elevators on the tail to raise the nose. Small airplanes will fly off, but jets and larger airplanes have to be commanded to raise the nose. Stephanie Lecocq, EPA-EFE Fullscreen Can you please tell me exactly what’s going on during the descent, and if it’s as dangerous as it seems? It is not dangerous. Flying is the safest form of transportation ever created by mankind. Descending from cruise altitude can take many forms due to the requirements of air traffic control. In some cases, it is necessary to descend quickly to meet crossing restrictions. Pilots practice this frequently and airplanes are designed for it. There is no problem with this. A smaller airplane may provide more sensation of rapidly descending, but they usually fly nearly the same profiles as larger ones. Michael Probst, AP Fullscreen Some aircraft have three seats on one side of the aisle and two seats on the other side. Does this imbalance affect aircraft performance? The weight is balanced due to the aisle being offset a bit. Airplanes such as the DC-9, MD-80/90 and Boeing 717 have the 3–2 seating in the main cabin. They fly normally with no imbalance due to good design engineering. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Is there an airline pilot shortage? How does one become an airline pilot? How much do they make? Yes, there is a definite pilot shortage. It is true in all parts of aviation: airline, corporate, training, military and other types of aviation. To become an airline pilot, a candidate must have all the necessary licenses, a minimum of 1,500 flight hours and meet the entry requirements of the airline (these vary somewhat). Talk to flight training organizations to provide you with the most current information. Salaries vary depending on the operator but can reach six figures annually. Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen What do you think about flight training that is augmented by virtual reality? Do you anticipate that this will replace full-motion simulators in the near future? Flight training technology is expanding constantly. Simulators today are very realistic and are a form of virtual reality already. This trend is likely to continue. There is a longstanding debate regarding the need for motion in simulators. I have flown both full-motion and chair-movement simulators. So far, I prefer the full-motion simulators due to the greater fidelity. I would not expect full-motion simulators to be replaced in the near future. Gabriel Bouys, AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen Do pilots get bored if they must fly exactly the same route many times, or does it not matter to them? I would not say they get bored, but it can become repetitive. Pilots flying the same route, such as the New York, Boston, Washington shuttle become very, very familiar with the route. That said, no two flights are the same. Christof Stache, AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen What’s the prettiest city from the air at night? Hong Kong. It is a sea of neon surrounded by the black ocean. Getty Images Fullscreen Can pilots really make up time in the air? Working with air-traffic control to shorten the route is usually the best way to “make up time.” Many flights do not use the most direct line between two airports because of congestion and air-traffic control routing, so there may be opportunities to reduce distance. Most jets cruise near their maximum speed, so there’s little available speed in reserve to lower the overall flight time. Michael Probst, AP Fullscreen Can the 747 be saved? It’s sad to see the most beautiful and iconic passenger plane ever built being retired. The 747 will remain in service in cargo operations for several more years. In passenger service, it has been overtaken economically. The new fuel-efficient twins cost so much less to operate that the 747 cannot compete. Four-engine airplanes are becoming more rare due to economics and the technical advances of the twins. This trend will continue. Justin Tallis, AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen If a tire blows out on the runway, what is the normal course of action? Most modern airliners have more than a single tire on a landing gear. The tires are designed to take the load if the companion tire is compromised. If the pilots know a tire has failed during takeoff at low speed, they will abort the takeoff. At high speed they will go ahead and take off, then return to land for a safety inspection. If the tire fails during landing, a normal landing is conducted. Stephen Brashear, Getty Images Fullscreen Are airplanes more likely to experience more turbulence during one season than another? Each season has challenges: Summer has thunderstorms and tropical storms. Autumn has late tropical storms (usually the quietest season). Winter has higher winds, blizzards and more clear air turbulence. Spring has fast-moving fronts and high winds, causing severe squall lines. Each of these events can cause turbulence. It depends on the vagaries of the year’s weather which season is worse or has more frequent turbulence. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen What do you miss most about being an airline pilot? I miss the camaraderie of many of my fellow pilots; the challenge of precisely maneuvering an airplane, particularly a jet, from place to place in inclement weather safely; the beauty of sights that only pilots get to see (e.g. St. Elmo’s fire, lines of thunderstorms at night with lightning illuminating them and sunrises over mountains and oceans from cruise altitude). Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Why are some runways not perfectly flat, and does this pose any problems during landings and takeoffs? Some runways are more challenging due to the slope and humps. The slope is included in performance calculations for takeoff and landing, as it can affect acceleration and deceleration. Humps can cause “firm” landings if the pilots are not aware of them or if they miscalculate the touchdown point. Runways are rarely the same elevation at each end, so in many cases the question is the amount of slope. There is also a need to keep taxiways at a reasonable slope, and there may be differences in elevation on a different axis. Airport designers must make compromises for efficiency and cost. Joaquin Sarmiento, AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen Can pilots change their route for a better view of an eclipse? A captain always has the final decision regarding the route of flight and how the airplane is being flown. Air traffic control is responsible for ensuring proper separation between airplanes on instrument flight plans. Usually pilots will follow their filed flight plan routing (with ATC approval); if it coincides with the eclipse then making a PA to advise the passengers would be routine. Business aviation or private pilots may request special routing to view the eclipse from cruising altitude and if ATC can accommodate the request they will. David Zalubowski, AP Fullscreen Why haven’t modern airplanes been built with extensive video surveillance of the outside of the aircraft so pilots can observe all parts, especially if something goes wrong? Some large airplanes have cameras installed in strategic places. They provide valuable information for taxiing and can be used in flight if necessary. The instruments provide pilots with a good indication of problems or system malfunctions. The direct answer to your question is that the manufacturers have not determined that the benefit justifies the cost. Ted S. Warren, AP Fullscreen How and why is fuel dumped from a fligh? Some airplanes, usually large intercontinental jets, have the capability to dump fuel in flight. This is done via valves in the wingtips that allow fuel to be pumped out and vaporized. The purpose of dumping fuel is to reduce the weight of the airplane. Most airplanes have a maximum takeoff weight that is higher than maximum landing weight. Should a problem develop soon after takeoff, the weight may be above the maximum landing weight, and dumping fuel allows the weight to be reduced quickly. LM Otero, AP Fullscreen What is the highest altitude an airplane can fly? The highest commercial airliner altitude was 60,000 feet by Concorde. The highest military air-breathing engine airplane was the SR-71 — about 90,000 feet. The highest airliner flying today reaches 45,000 feet. The highest business jet flying today reaches 51,000 feet. Getty Images Fullscreen When a baby is born in flight, what determines the nationality of the child? The nationality of the child is dependent on which airline the birth occurs, where it occurs and the nationality of the parents. Different countries treat births differently. In some cases, rules stipulate that where the baby is born, the nationality is offered or required. Other countries have the nationality of the parents as their rule. In some cases, the nationality of the airline can become the nationality of the baby. Based on this patchwork of rules, there are scenarios in which multiple citizenships may be available for the child from which the parents can choose. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen How does the evacuation test work? Manufacturers and airlines frequently demonstrate evacuations to regulators. This is done when a new airplane is certified or when an airline purchases a new airplane. The participants are not specially trained and represent a wide age range. They are aware that they are participating in an evacuation drill, but not given any more information. Half of the exits are blocked. The participants are not aware of which exits are blocked until the evacuation is started. Every occupant must be safely off the airplane within 90 seconds. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen How do pilots remember and then repeat all of the instructions from ATC? Listening and understanding radio calls from ATC is a learned skill. Pilots fly for many years, working with ATC. The more experienced crews fly into more complex airports. Part of the training process for first officers before upgrading to captain is experiencing many different ATC environments. Joe Raedle, Getty Images Fullscreen What happens when lightning strikes a plane? Lightning strikes will usually leave small burn marks or holes at the entry and exit point. Airplanes are designed to allow lightning to move along the skin of the airplane without doing damage. Occasionally, a static wick will be the victim of lightning exiting the airplane. Ethan Miller, Getty Images Fullscreen The airlines are adding more seats to their planes. Are they jeopardizing passenger safety? No, each airplane is certified for a maximum number of passengers based on the ability to evacuate all passengers and crew within 90 seconds. Most airlines do not have the maximum number of seats installed, so an increase in the seats that is still below the maximum certified number does not jeopardize safety. Ted S. Warren, AP Fullscreen What is yaw, and how does it affect an airplane? Yaw is movement of the nose of the aircraft perpendicular to the wings (left or right). It can cause the heading to change and can create asymmetrical lift on the wings, causing one wing to rise and the other to lower (roll). Jets with swept wings have a natural tendency to yaw, requiring an automatic small input to the rudder to counter it. The device that inputs this small rudder is known as the yaw damper. Carolyn Kaster, AP Fullscreen I’ve flown on the Airbus 380 several times. It seems to me the taxi speed is slower than smaller equipment. Is this an illusion of size — larger objects appear to be moving slower — and the higher position of seats in the upper deck? Or are there reasons, such as fuel-use and braking concerns, that make it taxi more slowly? The A380 is a very large airplane, which has a wingspan of more than 260 feet. The long wingspan means the jet can taxi only on certain designated taxiways and will have the wingtip pass closer to objects and other airplanes. Consequently, A380 captains do tend to taxi more slowly. The weight of the airplane causes increased stopping distances. You are correct that being in the upper deck and the sheer size of the airplane make it appear to move more slowly, but large airplanes do tend to taxi a bit slower. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Recently, it has been rumored that some airlines are considering using the Airbus A321-LR for trans-Atlantic flights. Do you think narrow-body aircraft will be the future for international travel? It is possible that several airlines could begin flying A321LRs on trans-Atlantic routes. The airplane has the range to make the flight. The Boeing 757 has been used on less-traveled trans-Atlantic routes for many years. Both are single-aisle airplanes, also known as narrow-body aircraft. As the service to secondary cities continues to increase, the ability to fly non-stop instead of connecting in a hub to a wide-body aircraft will be very appealing. The planes will not replace the wide-body aircraft flown between the large cities. There is growing discussion about low-cost trans-Atlantic airline service. In the past, it was not successful; however, there are several budget international airlines entering the market or interested in doing so. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY Fullscreen Is over-reliance on automation increasing the number of commercial airline accidents? No, the number of accidents is decreasing. Over-reliance on automation has become a factor in a larger percentage of accidents, but the overall number is trending downward. The appropriate use of automation and maintaining manual flying skills are focus items for aviation. Training has to include extensive use of automation and manual flying. Alexander Hassenstein, Getty Images Fullscreen Can a larger aircraft land on a shorter than recommended runway in an emergency? Yes, it can be done. Every airplane has a required runway length due to the physics of decelerating. It is much shorter than many people realize. When landing on very short runways, the pilots will very carefully control the speed, touch down on the touchdown point and use all of the deceleration devices (brakes, spoilers and reverse thrust). Rob Griffith, AP Fullscreen Where does my bag go when I check it? From the time a bag is checked in, a series of belts and carts transport it to the waiting airplane. If your airplane is a larger one, the bag will be loaded into a container to make it faster to load onto the airplane. Security screening of the bag occurs before loading to ensure the safety of the flight. When the loading begins, it is sent up via belt loader or in the container into the cargo hold where it is kept warm (sort of) and pressurized during the fight. At your destination, the reverse occurs. The belt loader or container loader takes the bag to a cart where it is sent to the terminal to meet you. Patrick Semansky, AP Fullscreen When the announcement is made that, “The pilot has begun his initial approach,” why is the word initial used? It implies there may be more than one approach. It is a differentiation of the segments of the approach. There is an initial part of the approach and a final phase of the approach. The final phase is often the last 5 miles when the airplane is aligned with the runway and is descending toward it. Justin Tallis, AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen Why do airlines on domestic flights carry life vests, with all the extra weight that entails? Airplanes often fly domestic and overwater flights in the same day. It is not uncommon for an airplane to fly several domestic flights, then fly to Bermuda or the Caribbean. Returning from the overwater flights, it then flies other domestic legs. One of the NTSB recommendations from the accident in the Hudson was to have all airliners have life vests available for passengers due to the large number of lakes and other bodies of water over which airplanes fly. Edouard H. R. Gluck, AP Fullscreen Right after takeoff, it often seems that the pilot slows down and the plane drops somewhat. Why is that? The sensation of slowing down is really one of slowing the rate of acceleration; this is due to reducing the thrust after takeoff to the climb setting. The sensation of “dropping” comes from the retraction of the flaps and slats. The rate of climb is reduced, causing it to feel like a descent. Josep Lago, AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen Can you explain all the different lights on a commercial aircraft and their purpose? Lights vary on airplanes, but all have red and green lights on the wing tip, and a white light visible from behind (it can be on the tail or aft part of the wing tip). Additionally there are landing lights to provide illumination of the runway during landing. A taxi light provides a lower-power light to see taxiways; the taxi light can be supplemented by special lights to help make sharp turns. There are often lights that illuminate the wings so the pilots can inspect for ice build-up. The red flashing lights on the top and bottom are known as anti-collision lights. Many airplanes have bright flashing white lights called strobes making them easier to see. Comstock/Getty Images Fullscreen How bad does turbulence have to be before we should be freaking out? Unexpected turbulence is uncomfortable, but is not a safety risk to the airplane. Airplanes are designed for it. The last case of a turbulence-caused accident was in the 1960s in Japan. There are some similarities with a boat hitting a wave in water. One difference is that the airplane may experience more vertical displacement, making it feel more severe. Most humans do not like the sensation of negative Gs, which you feel when the airplane drops suddenly. That sensation is caused by the vestibular system in your ears. In everyday life we do not experience negative Gs often, making the sensation unusual and scary to some people. This is a normal reaction. Pilots have experienced this sensation many times and have no problem flying the airplane safely. Christophe Testi, Getty Images/Hemera Fullscreen How were airport codes assigned? There are two different types of airport codes: the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA). ICAO uses a four-letter code, in which the first letter is the country code. The USA uses K for its code. The New York airports are KJFK for Kennedy, KLGA for LaGuardia and KEWR for Newark. These codes are used for the filing of flight plans and for air traffic control purposes. The IATA codes are used for ticketing and are three letters. Chicago O’Hare is ORD, London Heathrow is LHR, and London Gatwick is LGW. The IATA codes are used for baggage, too. Jason Kempin, Getty Images for #TackleEbola Fullscreen Why is there no window next to my seat? When jets are certified, one consideration is the consequence of a catastrophic engine failure, where rotating engine components are not contained within the cowling. In the very rare event of uncontained parts puncturing through the cowling, it is possible that they could strike a window causing damage and decompression. This area is strengthened, and the area where the window would normally be is solid. Jeremy Martin via AP Fullscreen Do airplanes have a hard time taking off in hot weather? I would not say they have a hard time, but performance is definitely limited by the heat. Hot air does not allow the wing to create as much lift (fewer air molecules); therefore, the weight must be reduced to maintain the required climb path. Very high temperatures such as Arizona, the Middle East or other desert environments require careful preflight planning. Rob Schumacher, The Arizona Republic Fullscreen Is it safer to be on a smaller plane or larger one? It is not possible to make a safety differentiation between small or large airplanes because the terms are vague. Regional airline-size airplanes have a somewhat higher accident rate than do larger airline jets. Turboprops have a higher accident rate than jets. Airline jets have some models having lower accident rates than others, but size is not the determining factor. Aviation is the safest form of transportation. This makes it very hard to say that one airplane is significantly safer than another. They are both safe — even if one type has a slightly higher accident rate, that rate is still infinitesimal. Mark Wilson, Getty Images Fullscreen How long will supplemental oxygen last after the masks drop in an emergency? On typical airliners oxygen generators will last 10 to 14 minutes. That is more than enough time to descend to 10,000 feet or the lowest altitude above the terrain. Airplanes can descend very rapidly, which means the need for supplemental oxygen lasts only a few minutes. Getty Images Fullscreen Why does it take so long to open the exit door? Once the airplane arrives at the gate and is properly chocked, the captain shuts down the engines and switches off the “Fasten Seat Belt” light. The anti-collision light (this is the red blinking light on the top and bottom of the airplane) is switched off, informing ground crew that it is safe to approach the airplane. Ground crew members then begin to position the jet bridge, aligning it with the door. Once the jet bridge is mated to the aircraft and the cover is in place, the ground agent either opens the door or taps on it for the flight attendant to open it. Once the door is initially opened, the ground agent assists in fully opening it and ensuring that it is locked in the open position. This is the generic procedure for most jet airliners. Regional or smaller airplanes have a slightly different procedure as their stairs are built into the door. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen How do runways get their names? T he runway number is the approximate magnetic heading. As an example, runway 35 is pointing approximately 350 degrees magnetic. The opposite end of the runway is 17 or approximately 170 degrees magnetic. When there are two parallel runways pointing in the same direction, they are designated with the proper number and a left or right identifier. Two runways pointed east are named 09 Left and 09 Right. The 09 indicate they are pointed 090, due east, and the left and right identify the parallels. When there are three runways, they use the same process but include a “Center” designation. If there are four runways or more, the airport will change one of the runway numbers to help differentiate them. As an example, the north runways pointed to the southwest at LAX are named 24 Left and Right, while the south runways are named 25 Left and Right. The runways point in the same direction but the difference allows pilots to know which runway to use. Digital Vision/Getty Images Fullscreen What efforts are being employed to ensure computer hacking doesn’t negatively influence modern aviation from the ground or while in flight? Computer security is taken very seriously. Airplane flight control and flight management computers are segregated and hardened against outside intrusions. It is possible a hacker might interfere with an in-flight entertainment system, but those and the onboard wireless system have separate pathways from the flight computers. Improving security is an ongoing effort by manufacturers, operators and the regulators. Mario Tama, Getty Images Fullscreen Why is shipping lithium-ion batteries considered dangerous, yet almost all passengers have cellphones with them? What’s the difference? A lithium battery installed in a device is less likely to enter thermal runaway and, if it does, there are few batteries nearby to be driven into thermal runaway. Shipping lithium batteries on passenger aircraft poses a risk that is higher than many operators find acceptable because of the rapid expansion of a fire when lithium batteries enter thermal runaway. FAA via AP Fullscreen Are there routes over the continental U.S. that tend to experience more turbulence than others? In some conditions when there are high surface winds, crossing the Rocky Mountains can be turbulent. The mountain waves this condition creates are more pronounced around larger mountains, making the airways crossing them more turbulent. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Does it matter how old a plane is? If an older airplane is properly maintained, it is safe. The age is not a factor; it is the quality of maintenance that matters. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Why d on’t airplanes have external cameras for the pilots to use when taxiing or parking to better guide the plane? Some of the larger airplanes (e.g. Airbus A340 and A380, and the Boeing 747-8) have cameras to help assist the pilots on taxiways and at gates. Smaller airplanes (e.g. B737 and A320) do not need them as the flight crew can see the wingtips. he widebody airplanes that do not have cameras installed by the manufacturer require careful positioning by the captain during taxiing and parking. It has not been cost-effective to retrofit these airplanes with cameras. Jasper Colt, USA TODAY Fullscreen When an aircraft is descending toward landing, it seems some planes fly down nose pointed downward, and some seem to float down with the nose pointed up. Is this true, and if so, why the difference? When configured for landing, the position of the nose is determined by whether there are leading edge slats installed. Airplanes with leading edge slats (movable panels on the front of the wing) approach the runway with the nose up, while airplanes without slats approach with the nose down. Mario Tama, Getty Images Fullscreen Have you ever gotten lost at an airport, considering the congested nature of some U.S. airports? Taxiing, particularly at a large airport in limited visibility at night, can be very challenging. Many of the modern airliners have electronic maps with the position of the airplane displayed, which really helps. Those that do not have electronic displays require the crew to have taxi charts out and to agree on the taxi clearance and actual route. I have never been lost but have taxied slowly and been very careful to follow the taxi clearance, using input from the first officer. Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen How do commercial airliners and military aircraft share the skies? Air traffic control does a great job of keeping airplanes separated, be they commercial, private or military. In addition, the military branches have special airspace they can use for training and maneuvers. Ian Hitchcock, Getty Images Fullscreen How could a plane land at the wrong airport? There are several contributing reasons: Humans often see what they expect to see, even when it is wrong. This is known as confirmation bias and contributes to the pilot believing it is the correct airport and runway when it is not. Two pilots and rigorous crosschecking with navigation displays normally break the confirmation bias early. Fatigue can also be a factor, as performance degradation can make it more difficult to recognize the mistake. Modern airplanes have many wonderful navigation tools helping to avoid such events. Brett Deering, Getty Images Fullscreen How do flight planners determine which aircraft to use on what route? Airlines have route-planning specialists to ensure that the right-size airplane is used for the route, that any maintenance considerations are taken into account, and that airplanes arrive at the proper location for inspections and service at the proper intervals. It is an art to keep the schedule running. The scheduling professionals learn the job after years of airline experience and are vital to smooth operations. Brendan Smialowski, AFP/Getty Images Fullscreen I’m amazed at how the pilots steer their plane so effectively while taxiing and then stay centered on the runway’s center line. How are these procedures done? Pilots keep the airplane centered on the runway using a combination of nose-wheel steering and rudder. From very basic flight training, it is a skill that is taught and evaluated frequently. It is critical to keep the airplane aligned with the center line. Some airplanes are easier than others, but a pilot is expected to master it before being released to fly. Pilots watch for drift during takeoff roll and apply rudder with the rudder pedals. On some airplanes at lower speeds it may be necessary to add a bit of nose-wheel steering to achieve the desired track. Rob Schumacher, The Arizona Republic Fullscreen Do airline pilots need a college degree? Pilots have varied backgrounds; most are college graduates, and many have master’s degrees or PhDs. It is more important to be able to learn the material, understand it and properly apply it than to have a specific level of education. Joe Raedle, Getty Images Fullscreen What do the in-flight chimes mean? Different airlines use the chimes differently. Here are some uses I’ve witnessed in my career: A single chime could be to the flight attendants to advise them of pending choppy air, perhaps serious enough that they should be seated. Another possibility would be, “when you have time, could we please have a coffee?” Two chimes are often used to indicate the aircraft is approaching 10,000 feet in altitude. Three or more chimes could be to tell the flight attendants to be seated NOW due to reports of turbulence that were just received by the pilots. Cabin crew can also use the chimes to communicate with the flight deck. A single chime could be, “would you like coffee?” Three or more chimes to the flight deck could be, “we have a passenger with a medical problem that could require a diversion.” Getty Images/iStockphoto Fullscreen Interested in this topic? 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