Sept. 12-18: Flight Controllers Expose Risk of Plane Collisions; NPS Bans E-Cigs; Air India Grounds Overweight Crew; & more

This week’s round-up brings the latest airline and travel news – from flight controllers exposing risk of in-air  collisions, National Park Service bans electronic cigarettes, and London’s Gatwick Airport offering world’s first airport flight connection guarantee, to Air India grounds crew for being “overweight,” two planes collide at Los Angeles Airport, and flight attendant arrested after making two false bomb threats. Enjoy!

Flight Controllers Expose Risk of Plane Collisions

Five air traffic controllers from the Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Tuesday brought to light a long-standing problem that can potentially lead to plane collisions. Based on letters from the Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency, to the White House and Congress, the problem arises when a second flight plan is created for a flight due to situations like weather. The current computer system is supposed to automate any changes to flight plans but is unable to flag any updates if more than one flight plan has been filed for one flight. To circumvent that issue, controllers have to manually review the flight plans and any changes, which is a time consuming process. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) admitted to the issue last December, even though Vincent Sugent, one of the controllers said they have been reporting the problem for almost eight years. The FAA issued a statement saying that “the risk associated with multiple flight plans was low,” and they are currently considering the recommended changes made by a special panel the FAA created back in 2012.

NPS Bans E-Cigs

Another blow to smokers (or at least those trying to quit smoking) everywhere. On Monday, the National Park Service (NPS) banned the use of electronic cigarettes anywhere smoking is prohibited. NPS director, Jonathan Jarvis, issued a statement saying the ban is an effort to protect “visitors and employees from exposure to tobacco smoke to include exposure to vapor from electronic smoking devices,” as well as to prevent forest fires. Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, is quick to point out that “vapor products pose no more of a fire risk than a cellphone battery.”

Gatwick Airport Offers Flight Connection Guarantee

Travelers connecting through London’s Gatwick Airport on different airlines can now opt for the world’s first airport travel insurance program, GatwickConnects. Should travelers on multiple airlines who opt-in to this fee-based service miss their connecting flight, they will receive a replacement ticket on the next available flight, overnight accommodations should the next flight be the on a different day, and food vouchers of up to £50 (approximately USD$78). Additionally, program participants will also have a dedicated security line to fast-track through security to catch their next flight. This extra piece of mind will cost £27.50 (USD $43) for a one-way trip. Before you start booking your next European vacation with a connection in Gatwick, keep in mind that of the over 40 airlines that serve Gatwick, the only airlines currently participating in this program are EasyJet, Norwegian, Virgin Atlantic, Thomas Cook, Flybe and WOW.

Air India Grounds Overweight Crew

U.S. airlines may have done away with weight restrictions for flight attendants years ago, but that practice is apparently still alive and well with airlines in other parts of the world. Case in point – Air India recently decided to ground 130 flight attendants, mostly women, because they were overweight. Last year, the state-run airline gave 600 of their flight attendants six months to lose weight through a prescribed regimen of diet and exercise because their body mass index (BMI) is above what is acceptable for the airline. BMI is calculated by measuring the body fat based on height and weight and is sometimes a misleading guide to a person’s overall health. Air India requires female flight attendants’ BMI to be between 18 and 22, while men are required to be between 25 and 30. By comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 for both genders. An Air India official said “People who are fitter can respond quicker and more efficiently in case of any untoward situation,” but there are theories that it has more to do with the flight attendants not meeting “some or other ‘aesthetic’ standard.” The affected crew will be reassigned to airport positions.

Two Planes Collide at LAX

While on the topic of planes potentially colliding into one another, two aircrafts bumped into each other on Sunday while taxiing at the Los Angeles International Airport. United Airlines flight 1199 just landed from Newark and was making its way to its gate when Alaska Airlines flight 543, which was headed to Portland, was leaving a nearby gate. Passengers reported a “huge jolt” when the wings of both aircrafts collided into one another and was momentarily stuck. The planes were eventually separated and were taken away for full inspections. No injuries were reported and the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are looking into the matter.

Random News Story of the Week: Flight Attendant Makes False Bomb Threats

Justin Cox-Sever, a former flight attendant for SkyWest Airlines (who has partnerships with American and Delta, among other airlines), this week admitted to fabricating two bomb threats. On September 9, Mr. Cox-Sever was working onboard flight 4770 from Minneapolis to Dickinson, North Dakota, when he reported to the flight deck of a suspicious bag located at the back of the plane that was beeping. Upon arrival at Dickinson, the airport was evacuated and all traffic to and from the airport was suspended. When questioned by the FBI, Mr. Cox-Sever admitted to planting the bag he stuffed with towels. He then admitted to a second false report back in July 7 onboard an American Airlines flight from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Chicago. That flight was diverted back to Charlottesville where no explosives were found. He told the FBI he was “extorted by a friend to ‘bring down a plane’ or his family would be harmed,” but later recanted that story as well. Mr. Cox-Sever has been arrested and charged with “reckless disregard for human life and communicating false information.”

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