Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Remote controlled passenger planes are here. Would you fly in one?

It seems the age of the pilotless' plane is upon us with the news that the first remotely controlled passenger jet flew over London last month. The test flight was part of the £62M industry and Government funded  Astraea project (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment Programme). This was a Jetstream plane specially kitted out with cameras, sensors and additional computer banks which enabled a team of controllers many miles away on the ground to control the aircraft in flight - although there was a crew on board in case of emergency.
On learning about this development, I had more than a few thoughts about it. Now, I know remote controlled drones have been a part of military hardware for years, but even so, the thought of me trapped in a metal tube thousand of feet in the air with my life in the hands of some controller somewhere is not at all comforting.
It's like that joke about the pilot telling everyone over the intercom to look left at the engine on fire and then look down at the raft where he is speaking from.
Mind you, these days aircraft fly on autopilot anyway but we still have the comfort of a warm body in front who does occasionally speak to us in calm reassuring tones.
Not quite the same as someone in a control tower somewhere letting us now our progress whilst doing a crossword now is it?
I suppose the next development after that will be flights devoid of flight attendants too, something for Michael O'Leary at Ryan Air to ponder on no doubt!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Welcome to the upgrade auction!

I recently travelled to Los Angeles on Air New Zealand and had my first taste of their new upgrade auction system. As I was confirming my seat online, I was invited to enter an auction for an upgrade by entering an amount I was prepared to pay. Actually, let me clarify that: Air New Zealand clearly pointed out no money would be taken, unless my bid was accepted.So, faced with pleasant prospect of perhaps crossing the Atlantic in the lap of luxury, I threw in a figure just for the hell of it. Of course, my generous offer was ultimately politely declined but it was an interesting experience, and begs the question:is the end of the road for free upgrades?
This ingenious auction system, which incidentally has been embraced by a number of major carriers including Etihad and Virgin,is down to PlusGrade, a US based software company which manages each auction via web pages branded with airline livery.
The plus side for airlines is they get additional money for otherwise potentially empty seats, and PlusGrade only get rewarded through money generated by the auction. So, a win win then. But is it also a  win for passengers?
I suspect that in no time there will be web postings detailing the amounts people have paid for their winning upgrades and that of course will lead to resentment in other quarters from passengers who missed out.
It can only end in tears I suspect.
What do you think?  What would you pay?