To blue skies and tailwinds

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted, and this post will be slightly more personal than past entries.

About two months ago I started a new job with the State of Minnesota AND was brought on as a writer for Airways Magazine – two milestones that were pretty big in and of themselves. However, this week alone has brought about (and will continue to bring about) a number of changes… all important and all very different.

On Sunday, we will officially move into our new loft in downtown St. Paul, something I’ve been looking forward to for months. On Friday, I will turn 30 … boy does that sound old! But … nothing compares to having lost my dear, sweet stepmom Carolyn, who passed away Sunday after a long, courageous battle with cancer. We will honor her and her amazing life and legacy this afternoon at a service here in Nashville, Tenn.

To say that Carolyn touched a lot of lives is an understatement. If you had the pleasure of meeting her, I take comfort in knowing you’ll never forget her, because trust me – you couldn’t.

She was one of the most selfless people I’ve ever known, and if I had to think of one word to describe her personality it would be “sparkly” – her presence could be felt the minute she entered a room… it was almost as though she carried sunshine and happiness in her purse with her everywhere she went. She always seemed to radiate a rainbow of colors.

Carolyn and I certainly disagreed on some things… but that’s just what happens when you grow up in different regions and different eras. But I can honestly say that in the nearly 15 years she was a part of my life, I can’t ever remember us being upset with one another. She made me smile … and she will continue to make me smile for years to come.

Carolyn was aptly nicknamed “GoGo” because she and my dad were always traveling. If they weren’t abroad in Japan or Israel or somewhere in Europe, they were going back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth between their two homes: Nashville and and Indialantic, Fla.

And, she even took her selflessness to a whole new level in opening up her own family practice clinic here in Nashville: Hope Health. She found great pride and joy in her job as a nurse practitioner … showing that even at “work” all she wanted to do was help others.

Those who know me will not be at all surprised by this, but just the other day while sitting on the couch here at my dad and Carolyn’s house in Nashville, I saw a package all sealed up that said “aviator bottle opener” – so I (obviously) tore into it without question, just out of curiosity. 

I asked my dad, “Did you buy this?” and he replied, “No, Carolyn bought that for you … for your birthday.” I’m actually tearing up a bit writing this, but that little bottle opener will hold a special place in my heart forever… she knew me so well.

For those who didn’t get to meet her, I’m so sorry. She was a truly remarkable human being who will be sorely missed, but whose spirit will live on for a long, long time.

I love and miss you Carolyn.

MSP: The Great Airport

MSP

On March 6, Airports Council International (ACI) announced the winners of the 2016 Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards, an award that recognizes airports around the globe, both big and small, that dedicate themselves to delivering an excellent customer experience.

Winners are determined based on customer surveys that are given to roughly 600,000 travelers in 84 countries. The survey covers airport access, check-in, security, restrooms, shopping, and dining.

I should have known right off the bat that my home away from home, Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport (MSP), would have been recognized. I mean… “Minnesota nice,” right?

And lo and behold – they were!

MSP was named Best Airport in North America for its size category (25-40 million passengers per year). A few notable competitors in this size category include Orlando International Airport, Boston’s Logan International Airport, and New York’s LaGuardia International Airport.

In a Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) release, MAC executive director and CEO Brian Ryks said the following:

“Our vision is ‘providing your best airport experience,’ and that is something we can only achieve with the support of the entire Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport community. It is very gratifying to know our customers recognize the tremendous efforts made each day by so many, and our focus to provide a personal touch in order to exceed travelers’ expectations.”

While I don’t get to frequent the airport as much as I’d like to (no, plane spotting doesn’t count), I completely understand why MSP was recognized. I’ve never encountered awfully long lines in security, and I always know that I’ll find something great to eat or a good store to kill some time in if I find myself overly early for my flight.

And again, there’s the “Minnesota nice” factor… the airport is chock-full of kind, helpful employees… from the check-in counter, to the coffee shop, to the gate.

MSP is Delta Air Line’s second largest hub, and is served by 14 airlines, offering service to 155 destinations. More than 37.5 million passengers flew through MSP in 2016.

So here’s to you, MSP. You done good!

View more ASQ award recipients on the ACI website.

Where Luxury Lacks, Savings Abound with “Basic Economy” Fares; United to Test Low-Cost Option at MSP

united
Photo Courtesy of United Airlines

Note: This was originally published on the Aviation Queen blog, where I was fortunate enough to post as a guest contributor thanks to the immense kindness of Benét Wilson.

As one of three major U.S. airlines committed to offering travelers low-cost tickets with fewer amenities, United will soon test its basic economy fares in Minneapolis.

And while signs point toward these fares becoming a regular fixture in commercial aviation – mainly as a way for larger airlines to compete with low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier – flying has certainly transformed over the last several decades.

Having worked as a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines in the 1970s and 1980s, when donning more fashion-forward uniforms and serving meals on china in first class were the norm, my mom says flying was more “glamorous” back then.

But now, she says, plane rides almost feel more like bus trips, which isn’t too surprising with the rise of discount airlines, and more recently with these low-cost fares. Delta is already offering the no-frills option, and recently American announced that they’ll begin offering basic economy fares in 10 select markets starting this month.

United first announced plans to offer basic economy fares last November, and in mid-January, President Scott Kirby said they would debut at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “When you think of the number of flights coming in, the number of customers choosing United, and the airports… MSP was a great market to test this in,” United Spokesman Jonathan Guerin said.

United basic economy fares provide the same onboard experience as standard economy with a few exceptions, most notably: you can’t choose your seat and full-sized carry-on bags are not permitted. But you are allowed one personal item that you must store underneath the seat in front of you.

Brett Snyder, who runs the popular Cranky Flier blog, sees basic economy as a good way for legacy airlines to offer low fares while stripping out amenities for those who don’t need them. “While this might mean an increase in the lowest selling fare that allows for carry-on bags and advance seat assignments, those fares aren’t really sustainable today,” he said.

And it’s no surprise that basic economy has received some pushback. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently voiced his concerns in a press release, citing the cheap fares as just another way for very profitable airlines to nickel and dime passengers. Through an upcoming FAA bill, he’ll push for new customer protections that “undo unfair policies” such as “banning” the free use of overhead bins.

The only issue is – the major airlines aren’t banning the free bin space because they’re not making you purchase a basic economy fare… it’s simply another option. These days, customers want choice and they want control, and that’s exactly what these fares are providing.

“There will always be pushback anytime the airlines do anything, even if it’s not bad,” Snyder said. “The reality is that you really shouldn’t buy these fares if you want a carry-on or a seat assignment, and the airlines will tell you that multiple times before you buy the ticket,” he added. “But people will still make that mistake and then complain.”

Another concern has been how airlines will keep track of those flying on basic economy fares. For United, Guerin said it shouldn’t be difficult, as it will be noted on your boarding pass and you’ll be in the last boarding group. This provides several opportunities for airport employees and gate agents to see if you have a full-sized carry-on, which will need to be checked and will be subject to the standard checked-bag fee. For domestic flights, you’ll pay $25 for your first checked bag and $35 for your second. But basic economy passengers who arrive at the gate with a full-sized carry-on will also need to pay a $25 gate handling fee.

United’s basic economy fares will go on sale during the first quarter of 2017, for travel during the second quarter. They’ll be available for routes between MSP and the airline’s seven U.S. hubs, eventually rolling out into other domestic markets.

Ultimately, while flying may not be the lavish experience it once was, it’s clear that the airlines have done their research in targeting this price-sensitive niche. Many people are just looking to get from point A to point B on the cheap, and now they have options outside of simply choosing a low-cost carrier.

I love the planes… I just love ’em

fed_ex_annieNote: This was originally posted December 28, 2016 on my personal blog, Life in Scrabble Tiles. It seemed like a fitting way to start things off on The Great Planes. Enjoy.

I consider only one man made “thing” on this earth to be as truly remarkable and awe-inspiring as Mother Nature herself: the airplane.

I try to make it out to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at least once a week to watch my flying “friends.” I pop in my headphones to listen to the MSP tower air traffic control feed, and I sit down and just stare agape, as though I’ve never seen a plane before.

“Taxi via Whiskey to 3-0 left and line up and wait,” one of the controllers will instruct a captain and his first officer. During busier times, they’ll shoot those planes off the runways one after another with seemingly no end in site. And maybe delayed, time-crunched passengers wouldn’t be too thrilled to find out they were about to “line up and wait,” but let me tell you… when I hear that phrase, you can bet your bottom dollar this girl’s happy. Because that means the show’s just starting.

And let me clarify: I love all planes. Whether it’s a little “dink” like a Subair Beechcraft 1900, or a “Big Kahuna” like an Air France Airbus A340… I love them all and am just as excited by each and every one of them. OK, there is one exception: I am obsessed (and I mean obsessed) with the MD-11… specifically UPS and/or Fed Ex MD-11s, there’s just something about that tail engine.

On the days that I’m not lucky enough to find myself out at MSP, I’ll flip on an aviation documentary of some sort or just watch a handful of plane-related YouTube videos (my current favorites being cockpit-view takeoffs — I get chills… CHILLS when they rotate).

And don’t even get me started on my aviation-related decorations and accessories. Between the many planes that sit on my desk at work, the seaplane that hangs from our living room ceiling, the biplane mounted on our bedroom wall… I can’t even keep track anymore. Though I will say that “Big Bo,” my new plush 747, holds a very special place in my heart, as do the propeller earrings my husband Scott gave me for Christmas.

But why planes? Why?

I think it’s safe to say that aviation is in my blood. My parents met as flight attendants on Eastern Airlines in the early 80s, and my dad spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Air Force. And somehow over the years, a love that I now know was there all along, just grew and grew before evolving into this great passion of mine.

As a general rule, our minds tend to “think forward.” And by that I mean, most of us are aware (and appreciative) of all the great things we as humans have been able to do thus far during our time here on earth, making us pretty excited for the future and the possibility it holds. But somehow, every time I see a plane take off, it makes me “excited” by the past. I realize how wondrous a thing it is, even today, to be able to see something so huge, something so heavy, just lift off the ground and actually fly. It makes me excited to think of what a breathtaking moment it must have been for the Wright Brothers to see their “flying machine” live up to its namesake for the first time.

And now, more than a century after Orville and Wilbur’s invention gave rise to aviation as we know it, I’m here to say: don’t let that magic die. There are so many inventions that we take for granted nowadays, some more extraordinary than others; but the plane… I mean, of course it’s “just physics,” but to me, it’s physics in its most majestic form. The fact that lift, gravity, thrust, and drag all work together to carry a tube full of people through the sky from one place to another, is nothing to scoff at.

At any given moment, there are thousands of planes in the air, just over the U.S alone. So whether you’re a frequent flyer or someone who rarely takes to the skies, next time you’re in an airplane, or even the next time you look up at the sky and see a contrail, just take a minute to think about how truly miraculous flight really is.

-Annie