If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em
Airplanes and Airlines

Above:  my plane lands in Dakar, Senegal, before I board it to Bamako, Mali in 2009

I guess it’s a guy thing. Years ago I decided if I faced thousands of hours

in airports in my lifetime I should at least spend some time learning the types of

planes.    Kay doesn’t seem to care if she is in a 757 or a 767 (above).   Not only do I want to know what I’m riding in, I want to be able to identify the planes as they land and taxi.  For one thing, it’s something else to do while waiting.  For another, it’s one of my ways to be a nerd.

Of course I subscribe to Airways Magazine. Who doesn’t?  Actually, it’s probably my favorite magazine, not only for
the information about planes but I like it also because it’s a pretty good travel magazine, with stories about destinations all over the world.  (Similar to reading Playboy magazine because of the articles, I suppose?)

Examples of hot items on the “news” pages of the magazine:

  “Iberia introduces a new color scheme”

  “Lufthansa adds a new 777F on the Frankfurt/Boston route”

  “Air Tahiti orders 2 new ATR42-600 models”

  “New inductee into Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame”

You get the idea.  These stories and many more were all from the same issue, at left.  I read every article at some point before the month is out and my new, fresh copy arrives.

As I sit by the hour in airports, after I’m tired of reading USA Today and after my iPad battery runs out, I try to identify planes.  The Boeing family is pretty easy.  First, the side cockpit windows are angled downward in a V (see plane at top of page), so I can immediately be sure it’s not an Airbus.  The 747 is distinctive and five 747 models (100, 200, 300, 400, and SP) each have their own identifiers).  The 717 has engines in the back like a DC9.  The 727 has three engines.  The 737 has a distinctive nose and the engines are flat on the bottom.  The 757 has a beautiful, slender nose.  The 777 has three axels on the main gear.  (As in the Emirates 777 in the picture on the magazine cover above.)

Identifying Airbuses is a little tougher, especially the 318, 319, 320, and 321 models. 
These four are basically the same plane, only each model is a little longer.  I’m getting better when I’m able to count windows, but I still miss a few.  The A300, A310, and A330 require some careful thought.   The A340 is easy, with four engines.  And the new giant A380 (right) is in a class by itself with two full decks.  DisclaimerI did NOT snap these two pictures.  They are off the Internet.

Most of the regional jets fall into three categories: Embraer ERJ’s (made in Brazil), Canadair CRJ’s and Fokkers (made in Europe).  There are some dead giveaways for identification, but I won’t bore you further.

I miss the old Lockheed L1011 Tristar on left.  It was the favorite of many passengers back in the last three decades of previous century.  None are still flying scheduled service, however.  Among other cool things, there was an elevator from the cabin down to the lower level, where two flight attendants worked in a galley, sending carts of food up to the main cabin.  Another gizmo allowed hanging garment bags to be lowered into the belly during flight.

Which brings us to airlines. Everyone has their favorites.  The list of “Top Ten Airlines” changes a bit every year.  Skytrax rates not only airlines but airports and other related things.  Wikipedia does a nice summary of the Skytrax findings.

Airline of the Year 2014

1. Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong)

2. Qatar Airways

3. Singapore Airlines

4. Emirates (Dubai)

5. Turkish Airlines

6. ANA All Nippon Airways (Japan)

7. Garuda Indonesia (Indonesia)

8. Asiana Airlines (Korea)

9. Etihad Airways  (Abu Dhabi)

  1. 10.Lufthansa  (German)

From this year’s list I’m happy to say that I’ve flown 8 out of the ten on the list.  Notice that no US based airlines made the top ten list, but that Asia is well represented!  Europe represented only by Lufthansa and Turkish, the later barely 12 miles from Asia!

Why are Asian airlines rated so highly?  It’s not all about young, attractive flight attendants, although that doesn’t hurt.  Since airline deregulation in the Carter era, America’s big airlines have struggled with legacy issues, meaning older workforces, pensions, higher salaries, and union contracts that all result in higher costs.

Not only are Asian airlines relatively unhampered by these issues, they’re also blessed by the fact that East Asia and the Middle East regions are seeing amazing growth in passenger traffic. Asian airlines in recent years have accounted for half of total industry profits worldwide! And those earnings have been reinvested in newer planes, better seats and high tech entertainment systems.

Click for a list of the Airlines I have flown.