Category: Blog

The Truth Behind Pushing Tin

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to listen to Air Traffic Control (ATC) communicating with pilots over a radio scanner, you’ve probably thought they’re speaking in some English-hybrid, coded language. In many ways, you’re right. While English is the globally accepted language for ATC, there are many special codes and terms that are used in aviation, such as the phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and so on). This allows consistency worldwide as flights move through numerous airspaces and speak to multiple controllers throughout their journey. 

Even on the shortest of flights, your pilots are likely talking to no less than seven separate air traffic controllers from gate to gate. On longer flights, this number could easily double. This happens because each controller is typically only working one section of an airport, or one sector of an airspace. 

During the preflight procedures, often before boarding is even complete, your pilot will contact Clearance Delivery, known as “Clearance.” The pilot radios the clearance controller with their flight number and destination and the controller replies that they’re cleared to the destination as their flight plan indicates, or if there have been any changes implemented to their flight plan by the FAA. Clearance also often gives the pilot an initial altitude to expect after takeoff, the cruising altitude to expect and the frequency they’ll need to contact the departure controller after takeoff. When traveling to a busier airspace, clearance may also give the pilot a specific window of time during which to takeoff in order to arrive at the flight’s pre-sequenced time.

When your flight is ready to leave the gate, your pilot contacts Ground Control, known simply as “Ground.” The ground controller will give them permission to push back onto a given taxiway or another designated location. Ground controllers are responsible for all movements along airport taxiways. At busier airports like Atlanta or Charlotte, the ramp areas (the paved area between gates and taxiways) each have their own controllers that direct the movement of airplanes into and out of gates. After being cleared by ramp or ground controllers to push back and doing so, the pilot notifies the ground controller when he or she is ready to taxi to the runway and is given clearance to do so.

Here at Asheville and in other mid-sized airports, your departure runway will always be dictated almost exclusively by wind direction. Aircraft always takeoff and land into the wind, as best as the runway layout of an airport permits. At busier airports with multiple runways, the direction into which you’ll be exiting the airspace also determines the runway to which you are assigned. For example, when departing Atlanta and heading north, west, or any direction in between, flights generally use the runway on the north side of the field. South and eastbound flights use the southern runway. When nearing the end of the departure runway, the pilots switch from ground to Tower Control, commonly known as “tower” and notify the tower controller that they’re prepared to depart.

Tower controllers are the controllers that most everyone is thinking of when they think of ATC — thanks in part to films like Pushing Tin. Tower controllers are positioned in an airport’s control tower and are responsible for all movements on an airport’s runway, which mostly consist of takeoff and landing clearances. Takeoff clearance usually includes a heading (direction) to fly, or a waypoint (invisible directional marker) to turn towards, along with an initial altitude to climb to and not exceed.

Very shortly after becoming airborne, the control tower tells your pilots to contact Departure. Departure controllers, along with approach controllers, make up the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON). They’re responsible for all aircraft within 30 to 50 miles, and in some cases up to 100 miles, of an airport. Departure handles all departing flights from shortly after takeoff until they are leaving the airport’s airspace. Approach handles all arrivals from airspace entry until they are close enough to the airport to be handed to the control tower. Pilots only spend a few minutes communicating with departure before out-climbing the airspace and being directed to contact an Area Control Center, known simply as “Center.”

Center control facilities house numerous controllers and are responsible for controlling aircraft that are en route over large regions. There are only 20 centers to cover all of the U.S. airspace. A flight from AVL to Charlotte will only communicate with Atlanta Center, but a flight to Chicago will communicate with Atlanta, Indianapolis and Chicago Center while enroute. Once your flight has contacted center, they are cleared to their final cruising altitude, traffic permitting. Center is responsible for your flight until you’re close enough to your destination’s airspace to be handed to the approach controller.

At this point, the entire progression of controllers essentially goes in reverse. Through approach, landing, taxi and parking, your pilots will communicate with Center, Approach, Tower, Ground and possibly Ramp — in that order.

While this may seem like an intricate web of communication, most transmissions are very brief and odds are your flight will never have to deviate from its original flight plan in any way. Between flight-planning technology, aircraft navigation abilities and aircraft sequencing technology, most adjustments that controllers do have to make are minor, even in the busiest of airspaces. Controllers are yet another piece in the system that keeps air traffic moving safely and efficiently around the world! 


We call ourselves “AVL” – Speaking in aviation code

AVL. We use it all the time. Fly AVL. FlyAVL.com. Facebook.com/FlyAVL. @FlyAVLnow on Twitter. You probably know that AVL has something to do with the airport, and you see it on your bag tag, but what does AVL really mean? What’s an “AVL”?

AVL is our airport’s identification code. All airports are known in aviation, largely, by their code. Airports are assigned codes by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration also assigns or acknowledges a code as an airport’s location identifier. These codes are used for many purposes, from flight planning to record keeping.

IATA codes are three characters in length and ICAO codes are four characters, with the first being a country or region identifier. Most U.S. airport codes begin with the letter K, Canadian airports the letter C, Europe the letter E and so on. In Asheville’s case, our codes are AVL and KAVL, respectively. The picture below shows every region around the world and its corresponding prefix under ICAO standards.

Generally, airlines use the IATA codes to identify airports when presenting them in public places; like their websites and reservation systems. The ICAO codes are used for navigation and flight planning purposes. This probably has to do with the fact that most IATA codes are common-sense oriented, whereas ICAO codes are less straight forward, especially in other countries.

Internationally, it’s normal for an airport’s IATA and ICAO codes to be completely different from one other. London Heathrow is known to IATA as LHR (which most frequent travers are familiar with) and to ICAO as EGLL. Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris is known as CDG to IATA and LFPG to ICAO. If you happened to fly to Charles De Gaulle, your ticket and baggage tag would say CDG, but the flight plan would be filed with “LFPG” as the destination. The IATA codes are often very easy to associate with the name of the airport. Many frequent travelers can quickly make sense of codes like LHR, CDG, FRA, AMS, and so on. Their ICAO counterparts of EGLL, LFPG, EDDF, EHAM… not so much.

In the U.S., most airports’ IATA and ICAO codes are the same, with the exception that the ICAO code adds the “K” at the beginning. There are rare exceptions, though, such as the Branson airport, which is known by IATA as BKG and ICAO as KBBG. There are a fair number of exceptions, each with its own interesting story that often ties a seemingly bizarre code back to its original meaning.

Chicago O’Hare bears the code ORD, as the site of the airport used to be known as Orchard Field. New Orleans is known as MSY, for the Moisant Stock Yards that used to occupy that airport’s location. Some western airports such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Portland simply added an “X” to their existing weather station codes, leaving us with LAX, PHX and PDX respectively. Cincinnati uses CVG, as the airport sits in Covington, Kentucky and Louisville is known as SDF, derived from the airport’s original name, “Standiford Field.”

The next time you pick up your luggage from baggage claim, take a look at the codes on the tag. Odds are, you’ll recognize what you see, but you just might discover a new one. There are also a handful of websites (like this one) that tell some of the interesting stories about the origins of specific airport codes.

While we’re on the subject, here’s a useful tip every traveler should know: When you’re booking travel online, you can generally enter the airport code in the “departure city” and “arrival city” fields to speed your search process — if you know the codes! We might be biased, but we think the most important one you need to know is AVL!


Breathe easy in the clouds: aircraft pressurization 101

Flight crews will often tell you that the aircraft is pressurized for your comfort. While this is reassuring to hear, have you ever wondered what it actually means? What is cabin pressurization and why is it necessary?

While people can adapt to high altitudes, climbing and descending as quickly as an aircraft does would be extremely uncomfortable. The higher the altitude, the less oxygen there is in the air and the lower the overall air pressure is. If flights were not pressurized, passengers would be at risk of various physiological aliments. Because of this, federal regulations require that all commercial flights over 8,000 feet be pressurized.

So how does it work? Aircraft are pressurized by pumping cooled and humidified air into the aircraft’s cabin during flight. This flow of air into the cabin is constant. Depending on the aircraft, this air can be bleed air (air generated by the engines), fresh air from outside or a mixture of both. The pressurization system is designed to slowly raise and lower the cabin altitude as a flight climbs and descends, to allow as gentle a transition as possible for passengers.

When your flight is zipping along at 40,000 feet, the pressure in the cabin will be similar to the pressure at 5,000 or 6,000 feet in elevation. This is a comfortable elevation for the human body, but is still not the same as being on the ground. Essentially, being in a pressurized cabin is more like standing on a small mountain than being on the ground at sea level, or even at Asheville’s elevation of just over 2,000 feet. Most of the physiological quirks that some people experience when flying, like jet lag, are the result of the cabin altitude.

A depressurization event (when a pressurized aircraft loses cabin pressure for any reason) is extremely unlikely, but flight crews are trained extensively on how to handle them. In the event of a depressurization, oxygen masks will deploy for every passenger. Oxygen mask demonstrations are always a part of the flight attendant’s safety briefing, and if you’re a frequent flier, you could probably run the demonstration yourself after having seen it so many times. Oxygen masks are designed to deploy if the cabin altitude exceeds 14,000 feet for any reason. A little-known fact about oxygen masks is that there is typically an extra mask in every row of seats on a plane. This means an airplane with three seats on each side of the aisle will have eight masks in that row. These extra masks are for those traveling with a lap child (an infant in their lap), and is also why airlines have a restriction on the number of lap children that can be in any given row.

The number one priority in aviation is always safety, so you can be sure there are rules and regulations in place to govern safety around oxygen. For example, there must be enough oxygen on board to allow passengers to continue to breathe comfortably until the pilots can descend below 14,000 feet; there must be at least two hours’ worth of oxygen on board for each member of the flight crew; and all commercial aircraft must be able to descend from their cruising altitude to 10,000 feet in ten minutes.

While we’re on the subject, we may as well point out that the aircraft is pressurized from the cockpit to where the tail starts to narrow, and that includes the cargo area of the aircraft, so no need to worry about your furry friends traveling in cargo below – they’re enjoying the comfort of the pressurized aircraft, too!


When you fly home, you’re home: Top 10 reasons to Fly4Biz from AVL

We’ve got some serious air warriors out there – travelers we see every Monday, and welcome home at the end of each week.  You’re working hard around the globe, and banking some serious mileage!

Some business travelers fly less frequently, so we may not know you by name (yet) – but we sure would like to.  We believe there are excellent benefits to designating Asheville Regional Airport as your airport of choice for your business travel, and here are the “top ten” on our list!

Reason #10 to Fly4Biz from AVL:  We’ve got your last-minute business services covered

From mailing, faxing and printing services, recharge stations throughout the airport, and a quiet business center with private cubicle desks – we know you may need to take care of a few things before you board the plane.

Reason #9 to Fly4Biz from AVL:  Parking is just steps away from check-in

With numerous parking options – including a lot across the street with 24/7 shuttle service directly to and from the front door of the terminal, you can step from your car and be in the terminal in a matter of minutes.

Reason #8 to Fly4Biz from AVL:  Airlines offer dual-class service, catering to business travelers

AVL is served by three legacy airlines that have excellent products designed just for business travelers. Learn more about business services:  American | Delta | United.  Of particular note, flights from AVL often have dual-class (first-class or business-class) service offered.

Reason #7 to Fly4Biz from AVL:  You can relax

AVL is designed to provide a relaxing, easy experience before and after you board your plane.  Enjoy a quiet corner in a rocking chair, or hang out at the bar overlooking the runway in the Blue Ridge Tavern where there are always local brews on tap.  You may want to wander through the Art Gallery where works by local artists are displayed, or if you’re lucky – you’ll be in the terminal during one of the “Music on the Fly” pop-up concerts by local musicians, sponsored by Ashvegas.com.

Reason #6 to Fly4Biz from AVL:  Easy security lines

Yes, we advise all travelers to arrive two hours before their flights.  That’s just prudent traveling.  However, our TSA security lines are typically short … and when they do get long, the process is efficient.  And if you’re a TSA Pre-check customer, you can enjoy expedited screening at AVL.  While there is not a dedicated Pre-check screening line, you won’t have to remove your shoes, belts or jackets before screening.

Reason #5 to Fly4Biz from AVL:  We strive to know you by name

The courteous airline, TSA and restaurant staff provide excellent customer service.  We often hear from frequent business travelers that they love being greeted by name – that this small gesture makes them feel at home.  That’s our goal, because you ARE at home.  AVL is your hometown airport, and we’re proud of the service offered.

Reason #4 to Fly4Biz from AVL:  When you “fly local,” the whole region benefits

The presence of a vibrant airport significantly contributes to the economy.  Because AVL is here, there are 1,700 jobs in our community, and the economic impact to the region is more than half a billion dollars annually.  So, we always ask travelers to “check AVL first” for all of their air travel needs  High utilization leads to a stronger airport.  And guess what?  Travelers ARE flying from AVL – we’ve experienced record-setting years of passenger growth.  Thank you.  We hope to welcome you back to the airport again soon!

Reason #3 to Fly4Biz from AVL:  We’re a gateway to the world, usually with one easy connection

In 2013, AVL was named the “best connected” regional airport in America by MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation.  Among airports our size, in communities like ours, AVL offers frequent daily connectivity on three legacy airlines via major international hubs (American, Delta and United).  Additionally, AVL has point-to-point non-stop service to some key east coast leisure destinations on Allegiant.

Reason #2 to Fly4Biz from AVL:  There’s no road trip before your business trip

When you travel for business, doesn’t it feel good to get to the airport, go through security and then just begin the air travel process?  Instead of spending an hour or two in the car first, you can hop on a plane to your connecting airport, and then use any layover time to prepare for your business meeting, read, catch up on emails or have a bite to eat.  There’s no major traffic (ok, we admit – I-26 could be backed up due to never-ending construction, but that’s just life in WNC), and you know that your airport experience will most likely be pretty easy.  (You might even be greeted by name.)

Reason #1 to Fly4Biz from AVL:  When you fly home, you’re home.

Business travel is necessary, sometimes exciting (sometimes not), and can be exhausting.  When you’re done with the work at hand, we know you start thinking about home.  You want to be there.  Relaxing in your chair.  Hiking on your favorite trail on the Parkway.  Hanging out at your favorite brewery on the South Slope in Asheville, or just sleeping in your own bed.  So, when you fly AVL for your business trips – the ease works in reverse.  When you land, you see the mountains around you and sigh.  HOME.  You walk off the plane – grab your bag, and in moments, you are to your car.  Maybe you stop along Airport Road to grab some groceries, or perhaps you get a text to meet your husband for dinner at Biltmore Park (you can meet there in ten minutes).  SIGH.  That’s the best.  Welcome home.


Baby, it’s cold outside! Deicing: What it is and why it matters

If you’ve flown much during the colder months, odds are you’ve been on a flight that had to be deiced before takeoff. Airplanes, especially jets, fly at very high altitudes and very fast speeds. At 35,000 feet, it’s not uncommon to see temperatures dip below negative sixty degrees Fahrenheit. If planes can operate in these extreme subzero temperatures regularly, why is it necessary to deice when on the ground?

The reason for deicing lies within the design of the aircraft itself. All airplane designs are very precisely engineered to be flown as they were built, without the addition of any contamination. No, this doesn’t mean the aircraft can’t become ill with a virus. In aviation, the term contamination often refers to the buildup of ice on the aircraft’s wings and fuselage (the body of the aircraft). Even a small amount of ice on the wings changes the wing’s shape and impacts its aerodynamics. But fear not! As with everything in aviation, there are numerous precautions and procedures for all commercial flights to ensure safe operations in and around icing conditions.

The process of deicing is relatively simple, but there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye. There are primarily two types of deicing fluid that are used in the United States. Both fluids are glycol based but have their differences. The first type, which is orange, is a true deicer. It’s the most diluted form of deicing fluid and is used to remove snow and ice from an aircraft. The other fluid is thicker and designed to stick to the aircraft for a defined period of time, making it more of an anti-ice fluid. Each fluid is applied hot, which is why you see so much steam when deicing in colder temperatures. Your pilot will tell the ground crew exactly what type of deicing fluid they need and where. In many conditions, they’ll just request deicing of the wings and tail.

In conditions where there is no freezing precipitation, you’ll get a spray of of the deicer and be on your way. If it’s snowing, your flight will first get a coat of deicer, followed up with the anti-ice fluid. Based on the temperature and weather conditions, pilots know exactly how long they have to take off after being deiced. If they exceed this hold time, they must return to the gate to be deiced again. Additionally, pilots always visually inspect the wings before taking off in snowy conditions, regardless of how long ago the aircraft was deiced. During takeoff, the deicing fluid blows off the wings as the aircraft gains speed.

Once airborne, aircraft are able to use their own anti-ice and deicing systems. Most jets use hot air from the core of the engine to heat metal surfaces along the edges of the wings to prevent and remove ice.

That said, pilots and Air Traffic Control do all they can to avoid substantial icing conditions. It’s rare to ever spend a substantial amount of any given flight in icing conditions. At high altitudes, air is often so dry that there’s not enough moisture to generate any significant form of icing on the aircraft. Like all phases of flight, aircraft manufacturers, airlines and pilots have handling ice down to a science. Rest assured that if the winter weather is beyond the parameters for safe flight, your flight won’t leave the gate.


The Turning Point: Ground crews work hard to reunite you with your luggage

If you’ve ever flown, then surely you’ve landed at an airport, proceeded to baggage claim, spent somewhere between five and ten minutes there and then begun to wonder when your bags will appear on the conveyor belt. “What’s taking them so long out there?” you’ve probably wondered. The job of the airline ground crews is seldom understood and often underestimated.  While delivering your luggage quickly is a priority for all airlines, there are many things that must be done before the ground crew even get around to opening the cargo doors of your flight.

The cumulative act of all things that must occur at the gate between a flight’s arrival and its next departure is known as a turn. The workers outside that handle this job are known as ramp agents, though the position has gained many nicknames over the decades. Most airlines require at least three workers be present to park an aircraft. This allows one person, the marshaller, to guide the plane to the proper parking spot while two other walk next to the wingtips of the plane as it pulls into the gate. Those that walk near the wingtips while you’re parking or pushing back are appropriately named wing-walkers. This three-person crew is usually the minimum staffing level for turning most single-aisle aircraft.

The exact procedures vary depending on the type of aircraft being turned, but the general progression of events is similar for all. Once the aircraft has come to a stop at the gate, the ramp agents must wait for the engines to be turned off, and for the pilots to turn off the flashing red beacon lights. These lights are left on until the engines are no longer generating a dangerous amount of suction or jet blast. When these lights are turned off, the wheels of the aircraft will be “chocked” with large rubber chocks that prevent the aircraft from rolling while at the gate.

Also after the beacon light is turned off, many airlines require the person that parked the aircraft to do a full walk-around of the plane, inspecting for anything abnormal.

After the aircraft is chocked, the ramp agents will then connect the ground power unit (GPU) and pre-conditioned air (PCA) to the aircraft. Aircraft need to stay powered between flights so that things like cabin lights, air conditioning, and all of the cockpit computers continue to run. Most aircraft have an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), which is a small jet engine near the tail that is used exclusively on the ground to provide power and air conditioning. This, however, does burn jet fuel. That’s why parked aircraft are connected to a GPU, which burns drastically less fuel than any of the aircraft’s own engines. If you’ve ever noticed the black cord running from the nose of your aircraft into a machine, that’s the ground power. The large yellow or orange hose, usually attached somewhere along the belly of your plane, is the PCA hose.

Now that the aircraft is chocked, powered and air conditioned, it’s finally time to offload the bags. Keep in mind, your flight has probably been deplaning (allowing passengers to get off the plane) for three to five minutes at this point. Depending on the size of the plane, one or two ramp agents will get inside of the cargo bin to feed bags to the belt loaders outside. The remaining person will load those bags into the baggage carts. Only the smallest planes have one cargo bin, so if your flight is relatively full the crew will unload one bin at a time. If a flight has eighty bags and they unload one bag every four seconds (this is really cooking, by the way), that’s still a five-and-a-half-minute offload time.

Once all the bags are off, they have to be driven to the location where bags are placed on a conveyor belt to baggage claim.  This drive could be a distance of a few hundred yards (like at AVL) or several miles (like at ATL).   Then, bags are offloaded one-by-one and often by one person. When you factor in the time it takes to move equipment into place, potentially unloading multiple cargo bins, and the fact that the average human is not an Olympic athlete, getting your luggage in less than twenty minutes is a very solid performance by the ramp crew (and “less than twenty minutes” is the norm at AVL – there are some hard-working ramp agents here!).

Another important thing to consider is that this scenario doesn’t account for any adversity. There is a myriad of things that can slow the luggage offload process. Rain, snow, heat and even wind generally slow people down. Any oversized or overweight cargo will slow the baggage offload. The pilots may need to leave the engines running for an extra minute or two once parked, which will slow the entire process outside. Sometimes the ground crew may be short a person. If the ground crew takes a few extra minutes than you think they should, just remember all the steps that go into the turn and when your bag shows up on the carousel. You’ll know exactly how much hard work had to take place for you to be reunited with it.


Leaving the Lights On for You

As day turns to night, an airport’s maze of painted markings and symbols transforms into a vast arrangement of backlit signs and colorful lights, each with their own distinct meaning. We thought we’d help you understand the night-time wayfinding that pilots use at airports around the globe.

Taxiways – the “roadway system” that pilots use to get to the runways, are always bordered by blue lighting. Airports equipped with instrumentation to operate during dense fog also have green centerline lighting on their taxiways.  Yellow lights give pilots a warning that there is an intersection, or a stopping point before they enter the runway.

Runway markings can be some of the most complex to the untrained eye, but their lights are the most recognizable in all of aviation. All runways have white lights along their edges, with green lights visible on the active end of the runway (since all arriving and departing flights travel the same direction on a runway) and red lights visible from the opposing end.  As yet another visual aid to pilots, the last 2,000 feet of runway lights alternate white and yellow lights. Likewise, the last 2,000 feet of centerline lights alternate red and white, and the last 1,000 feet are all red.

One of the most impressive lighting arrays can be found in the approach lighting systems, which serve as a visual extension of the runway for pilots and can extend as far as 2,400 feet from the runway.  When using an instrument approach (where the pilots rely on instrumentation rather than the naked eye), pilots must see a visual reference of the runway before descending to a certain altitude in order to continue the landing. During low visibility landings, pilots will see the approach lights first, thereby allowing them to continue the landing.

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The next time you’re flying at night, take a closer look at the many different lights you see. Whether you know their meanings or are a casual observer, a good view of an airport’s lighting will never disappoint.


What is turbulence?

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*Ding* “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We just turned on the fasten seatbelt sign due to reports of some choppy air ahead. We should have it back off in about 20 minutes.If you’ve flown, you can bet your bottom-dollar you’ve encountered at least some level of turbulence. While turbulence does make some people uneasy, understanding what causes that rough air can help take the edge off.

Turbulence is defined as the unsteady movement of air (or water), and changes in wind speed or direction can be caused by any number of weather phenomena.

Air moves much like water and turbulence can by created in any instance in which two different flows of air are mixed. People often think of storms as the primary cause of turbulent air, but there are other causes as well. Clear-air turbulence, which lacks any visual cues such as clouds, is a relatively common cause of turbulence. Even though this sort of turbulence is invisible, pilots and dispatchers (those who make flight plans) can use wind data to fly around areas that are prone to this type of turbulence. On hot days, thermals (currents of warm air that move upward rapidly) can cause turbulence, and flying over mountains or even hills can also be turbulent because air has to move around them, resulting in updrafts or downdrafts.

It is comforting to know that pilots and Air Traffic Control (ATC) are always working together to keep your flight as smooth as possible. There is more weather data available today than ever before to help flights avoid rough air. This information not only helps pilots and ATC know what types of weather are more prone to the creation of turbulence, but also helps them see and avoid it. The weather radar in modern jets allows pilots to scan what’s directly ahead at their altitude and altitudes above and below the aircraft. Pilots and dispatchers have the discretion to fly hundreds of miles out of the way just to give you a smoother ride. Here’s a great example of an AVL-bound jet making a slight deviation en-route to avoid a thunderstorm.

Additionally, pilots often provide Pilot Reports (aka, PIREPs) of flight conditions, so aircraft passing through the same airspace know what to expect or avoid — you can see some examples here and here. Given the number of planes flying, there are thousands of PIREPs every day, helping your flights find the smoothest air. That’s how your pilots often know about turbulence ahead of time and are able to climb or descend to avoid it.

Turbulence is never truly as rough as it may feel to a passenger. In fact, even “severe” turbulence typically only involves altitude changes of 20–40 feet. Aircraft are built to endure much more punishment than they ever endure during commercial flights. In fact, modern aircraft are designed to handle forces 1.5 times stronger than any recorded in the past 40 years of flight. When flights re-route around turbulence, it’s largely for your comfort, as the aircraft would handle the ride just fine. No matter how bumpy your flight gets, the structure of the airplane is far from ever becoming stressed. You can see just how much the wings of modern jets like the Boeing 787 are tested here.

If you’re a nervous or anxious flier, there are many things you can do to help yourself enjoy the flight. You should always try to sit where you’ll be most comfortable. Even on sold-out flights, if you let the gate agent know ahead of time that you really want a window, they’ll try to accommodate you. Make sure you bring along a movie, some snacks, ear plugs and any other creature-comforts that you’d want in any scenario where you’d be sitting for hours. There are apps and online guides (like this one) that’ll help you find other ways to make your trip as enjoyable as possible.  And always – keep that seatbelt fastened when you are seated.

The next time your flight encounters turbulence, loosen your grip on that armrest and remember that you’re experiencing a perfectly routine part of flight — the safest form of travel in human history. In fact, statistically, air travel has been increasing its lead as the safest form of travel for decades. So sit back, relax and enjoy the flight!


Seeking Volunteers: How (and WHY) Flights are Oversold

If you’ve ever flown for the holidays, during spring break, or on a peak summer travel day, you’re all too familiar with the gate agent making the announcement that the flight is oversold and they’re seeking volunteers. Most of the time, someone catches a later flight and gets a lovely incentive from the airline to do so. It’s not uncommon to hear various passenger perspectives on why or how this could happen, but it’s never a mistake. Many airlines oversell hundreds of flights as a revenue maximization tactic.  It’s smart business!

Here’s why. People miss flights. Most flights that are booked full never actually leave the gate full. Passengers miss flights for thousands of life-related reasons and airlines track this. Each flight is different, but airlines always mathematically estimate how many people won’t show up for a flight based on historic data and other situational information. They take advantage of this data in an effort to maximize revenues, because once a flight departs, empty seats mean lost revenue that can never be regained. 

A simplified example may help explain.  If one flight has had two people not show up every day for a year, that flight may be marketed to sell 2 more seats than the aircraft holds. Depending on the route and aircraft type, airlines may choose to oversell by as little as one or in excess of a dozen. Again, this happens because if they only sell to capacity, and the people that don’t show up end up getting refunded, that’s lost revenue. Of course, there are many situations where airlines won’t oversell a flight at all because the odds of everyone showing up are very high.

There are other reasons that your flight could end up oversold. There can always be a last minute swap to a smaller airplane for operational reasons. If there’s a cancelation or an irregular situation, airlines could overbook flights that they might not normally overbook in an effort to get everyone where they need to go. It is also possible that the weather may impact whether or not a flight can be oversold.

The good news is that it is very rare for a passenger to be unwillingly removed from a flight because it was oversold. Most of the time it’s a win-win situation:  when flights are missed, the airlines are able to ensure full flights, and nearly all the time, airlines will find passengers who will happily volunteer for a later flight in exchange for incentives such as some cash or flight vouchers. So listen up the next time you’re in the gate area.  When you hear, “Seeking volunteers,” will you raise your hand?  It could be worth it!


AVL goes to D.C.

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When Allegiant announced that they were starting a summer seasonal non-stop flight from AVL to Baltimore Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport (BWI), it was great news for WNC air travelers!  A quick and easy flight to the Washington, D.C. area has been on our “wish list” for many years.

After the announcement, we learned that some travelers did not know that BWI is an easy gateway to Washington, D.C.  So, we decided to investigate.  A team of AVL staff, a representative from our Convention and Visitors Bureau, a representative from Allegiant and several local media personalities boarded the inaugural flight to BWI from AVL on May 19, 2016.  Our mission?  Document the experience of flying non-stop from AVL to BWI, and share the details about how easy it really is with travelers in our region.

Was the experience easy?  Was it efficient?  Would we do it again?  Yes, yes and YES!

Here’s what we learned:

  1. The non-stop flight to BWI from AVL departed on Thursday morning, May 19 at 8:45am, and just 59 minutes later, we landed in Baltimore.  A one-hour flight – so easy!
     
  2. When we walked off the plane, the airport was welcoming and easy to navigate.  A quick walk (literally a few minutes) later, we exited the terminal and found shuttle buses waiting for us.  The BWI shuttle buses that run between the airport and the MARC station (Maryland Transit Administration commuter rail) operate every 6 minutes.  We hopped right on the bus.
     
  3. Five minutes later, we arrived at the MARC/AmTrack station.  (Side note – this train station offers connections to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and more.)  The commuter train (the “MARC Red Line”) travels directly to Washington, D.C.’s Union Station.  The trip is about 30 minutes, and these trains leave the station about every hour.  We waited a little while, and then hopped on the train and headed to D.C.
     
  4. When we got to Union Station (the train station in Washington, D.C.), we walked outside and … Tah, Dah!  The Capitol Building was a few blocks ahead.  We made it to Washington, D.C. in just a few hours.  And everyone agreed that the trip was super easy.

Once we got to D.C., we were reminded about the city’s historic grandeur.  There are so many amazing sights to see, from the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court, to the Washington and Lincoln Monuments.  War Memorials are everywhere, and in between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial are many Smithsonian Museums (like the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum).  There’s the Washington Zoo, The White House, Arlington National Cemetery, and more.  Most of the museums, the zoo and tours of the government buildings are free.  Washington, D.C. is a wonderful place for a long-weekend getaway, or a week-long family vacation.  Here’s a link to more information about things to do when you visit D.C.:  WASHINGTON.ORG

The non-stop flight from AVL to BWI/DC area is a wonderful addition for WNC travelers this summer.  Don’t wait – book soon!  ALLEGIANT.COM

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