Category Archives: Travel

The Dreamliner Experience – or why I avoid the 787.

So this summer I had the chance to fly on an almost brand new 787 Dreamliner – having read a number of very complimentary blog posts from business class passengers I was quite excited!

However I rarely fly in business so my experience was that of an economy passenger.  The takeaway point is to avoid the 787 and fly with another aircraft if you possibly can 😦  A lot of the much touted fuel burn improvements seem to be obtained simply at the expense of your comfort!  I am not alone in this view!

So my flight was on a BA 787 from London Heathrow to Montreal (and back).  The way out was a later afternoon flight and way back was an overnight.  There are a number of things wrong with the 787 (as implemented by BA other airlines may differ):

The seats are very narrow.  Both on the way there and the way back you find your shoulders and elbows clashing with your seatmate.  I managed to get an aisle seat each time but on the way back I had to endure some random blokes’ arm digging into my side the entire flight.  It was hot enough so you end up with a sweat patch where his arm touches you – urgh!  Whilst during the flight murdering him seemed a perfectly reasonable course of action, he wasn’t really being antisocial – there is simply not enough room for everyone.  This is a problem as everyone flies the 787 in nine across in economy.  I’ve flow ten across in the back of Emirates 777s loads of times and this felt much worse – I haven’t measured the seats so this is a subjective metric.

The selegroomat pitch is worse than Ryanair!  Again this obviously varies with operator but I had more personal space on a 2 hour trip from Edinburgh to Gdansk than on this transatlantic flight.  See photo left – you don’t get much more legroom with Ryanair but you do get more – a very surprising comparison to me!

The fancy electronic window shades don’t work very well.  So on the way out the cabin crew dimmed the shades but since we were chasing the sunset the sun remained blasting at one side of the plan keeping us in daylight.

The air conditioning system is ineffective.  Since the sun was heating the plane on one side, those of us on the right wereno air vents taking as many of our clothes off as you can get away with and sweating.  On the left side of the plane folk were wrapping blankets around their heads to keep warm.  This might be a function of BAs odd fit which doesn’t seem to fit individual cooling vents (see right).  The average cabin temperature might be fine but the individuals aren’t comfortable – bit of a design failure there!

There is a giant e2015-06-20 05.11.15equipment box in the foot well of every aisle seat.  Again this might be a BA thing but the thing is HUGE – it uses up around 1/3 of the volume.  This means you can’t sit straight in the seat.  This I think runs the entertainment system but is very bulky!

So the thing might be quiet and the cabin humidity might be higher.  I didn’t feel as dried out as I did when I did the Montreal trip in an MD11 the year before – but older aircraft give you much more person space.  Overall it was huge disappointment and I wonder how much the vaunted engineering reduces fuel burn and how much it is simply cramming passengers in like sardines.

I do also think that given that personal space is one of the biggest things being sold on planes that you ought to be able to find out how much space you are allocated easily.    The best way to do this now is via third party websites like Seatguru – which only exist because the airlines don’t provide this information to you.  I don’t see how the market can function without easy comparisons being made.

Anyway to sum up – avoid the 787!



I’ve Missed My Laptop

DSC_2062So after my laptop going technical I was left for three weeks without my computer!

Of course your laptop screen chooses to break on the day that you are giving four open day talks and you’ve lost the keys to your office….

O.k. so I took my annual leave right after that so I took my trusty Tablet S from Sony with me instead, thinking that this should probably be the future anyway. However I like the past for a few reasons:

  • I really missed my keyboard and my mouse.  I found the virtual keyboard slow and error prone and I missed the mouse as there is a clear distinction between position and action with my fat fingers I seem to often click buttons when I am simply trying to navigate around a page.  This can cause the odd outburst of swearing over slow internet connections when trying to enter complex data…
  • The Android Tablet pretends not to be a computer. This means the filesystem is abstracted away from the user.  This means it is much harder than it should be to do things like back up photographs from your camera.   To be fair a lot of software is doing this I often spend as much time looking for my boarding card download on PC as I did getting the PDF of the boarding card from the airline.
  • The Android Tablet doesn’t play DVDs.  When abroad I quite like to catch up with the DVDs that I have bought in shops but the stupidity that is region encoding means having a DVD player with an HDMI output is quite handy.  Messages like the one on the hotel supplied DVD player make me wonder when I don’t just pirate the stuff… DSC_2386
  • You need an app for everything.  Like navigating the file system to create a folder to backup your photographs…. but also for the stuff you do everyday like making notes, storing on-line passwords, creating a budget for the holiday, managing and uploading photographs.  Some of this could be solved by planning an preparation but as time goes on I want my IT to be simpler and simpler and only want to learn one program ever!
  • The Sony Tablet S has a really stupid custom power supply connector so you have to lug around a power brick and adaptor. Everything should be a standard supply in this day and age.  tabletspowersupply
  • Once you get back to mission control and want to copy files back to your computer your problems continue!  You connect the tablet via USB but then nothing happens…. This is down to the whole MTP thingy but still I had to had to check out OMG Ubuntu to get it done.

On the plus side my tablet is very easy to use on trains, planes and automobiles and comes with a game called angry birds where for no good reason I could determine a series of small birds (who looked angry) conducted suicidal attacks on pigs using a catapult and their own body weight.  Surprisingly fun.

Perhaps the future is actually in these touchscreen laptops which combine the best of both worlds…

The Beauty and Banality of Air Travel

The flight home from Vancouver to London Heathrow

I recently had the privilege of travelling from Newcastle Airport in the UK all the way to Vancouver to attend the ASME Turbo Expo.  It is amazing to me that you can get from one side of the world to the other in a mere nine and one half hours, travel at over five hundred miles an hour, in air that is too cold and too thin to breath, over inhospitable terrain, around treacherous weather and the thing that most concerns people is what is on the telly.

I appreciate that leaving the seat back TVs do not have enough contrast to be seen clearly if the shades are open, but you are missing on some wonderful views and it is a bit of shame that the flight attendants come around and ask for the window shades to be closed.

Now I know I’m something of an aviation geek – I do turbines for a living after all – but I’d like to see much more on the moving map than just the altitude and the ground speed.  There really ought to be a mode where you can see most of the key flight information: yaw, pitch, various airspeeds, rate of climb and a nice high definition camera looking out the front, back and sides of the plane.  Until then I will just have to annoy people by walking up to the emergency exit door and pulling the window shade up…

Incidentally Air Canada gets the thumbs up: reasonable legroom, comfortable seat, nice TV and o.k. food.  Personally I like a chatty flight crew but the ones on the way back were a bit quiet but perhaps being an overnight flight they wanted to let people sleep…  Speaking of Air Canada I’ve been enjoying the blog of Captain Doug Morris, you should too.