TIME

How the Germanwings Co-Pilot Was Able to Lock Himself In

Safety measures brought in after 9/11 may have helped the co-pilot barricade himself in the cockpit

The fatal crash of a German airliner in the French Alps, apparently a deliberate act by the plane’s co-pilot, seems to have been made possible by security measures brought in following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks intended to make air travel safer.

On Thursday, French officials said it appeared as if co-pilot Andreas Lubitz had deliberately downed Germanwings Flight 9525 by locking the cockpit door and refusing to allow the captain back inside. The crash killed all 150 on board.

If that is what happened, it would be an indirect result of tightened security measures implemented by airlines in the U.S. and around the world in the aftermath of 9/11, when 19 hijackers overcame crew and passengers and flew the planes into buildings in New York and Washington D.C.

In 2002, the FAA announced higher standards to protect pilots. Cockpit doors in airliners were made stronger while remaining locked throughout the flight. The FAA also mandated internal locking devices inside the cockpit to preventing someone from entering. But those restrictions, meant to prevent similar hijackings, may also have allowed Lubitz to prevent someone else from entering the flight deck as he piloted the jet into a mountainside.

“The procedures put in place to prevent one bad thing from happening facilitated another bad thing happening,” says Jeff Price, an aviation management professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

On an Airbus A320, a locked cockpit door can be opened through a nearby keypad—as shown in this Airbus video—but that can be overridden by an individual still inside the cockpit via a switch that can keep the cockpit door locked. “That act of fully locking the system down has made this event possible,” says aviation expert Chris Yates. “Pilots use that access keypad to wander into the cockpit anytime they choose, but it can be overridden from inside, and that seems to be the problem.”

Yates says one way to potentially avoid a similar situation would be to take out the locking mechanism altogether. But a simpler fix might be for all airlines to do as the U.S. has done since 9/11 and require a flight attendant to be inside the cockpit if one of the pilots is away. While some carriers have already begun doing this since the crash, many in Europe and across the world still don’t mandate it.

“U.S. airlines have been doing this since 9/11,” Price says. “And if the pilot decides to commit mass murder, there’s somebody else up there to open a door or notify somebody or take some sort of action.”

MORE How Pilots Are Screened for Depression and Suicide

Thomas Anthony, the director of the University of Southern California Aviation Safety and Security program, says there’s no one fix that would help prevent a similar incident. For any aviation mishap, he says, there are always four or five contributing factors, citing the Airbus’s strengthened cockpit doors as well as less interchange between the cabin crew and the flight crew, which he says has created a more isolated environment inside the cockpit. And he thinks any investigation into the downing of the German airliner will attempt to address this sort of insider threat.

“Every security measure that is taken has a price and often an unintended consequence,” Anthony says. “But I expect this will be a watershed event.”

Read next: Germanwings Plane Crash: We Could Be Doing Much More To Prevent Pilot Suicide

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY Airlines

$15 Flights to Europe—and 7 More Ways the Least Trustworthy Airline Has Misled Travelers

Ryanair plane taking off
Ryanair

Ryanair's turnabout this week on cheap transatlantic flights is hardly the only reason travelers might not trust Europe's most infamous high-fee, low-cost airline.

Airlines aren’t exactly renowned as the most honest, upfront, and trustworthy of businesses. Years ago, the industry told travelers that fees for checked baggage were necessary to cover the cost of higher fuel prices. Fuel surcharges were added as well, supposedly for the same reason. Yet even as fuel prices have plummeted, fuel surcharges remain commonplace and baggage fees are pricier and more widespread than ever.

For that matter, travelers have constantly been told that the “debundling” of the airline ticket, in which passengers pay fees a la carte for only the services they want, results in lower prices for strictly the flights themselves. How that concept jibes with the fact that average airfares have soared to all-time highs (over $500) for domestic round trips is rather puzzling.

Among this untrustworthy bunch, European low-fare carrier Ryanair is routinely considered the worst of the pack. Led by brash, headline-grabbing CEO Michael O’Leary—known for calling customers “idiots” for thinking they won’t be hit with fees at the airport, among other things—Ryanair has a long, storied history of bad, misleading behavior.

In the latest incident that turned out to be completely untrue, it was widely reported this week that Ryanair’s board had approved the launch of a series of transatlantic flight routes, with promotional fares from Europe to the U.S. starting for as little as £10 ($15) one way. Within days of the report, however, Ryanair released a statement that completely negated the earlier stories, clarifying that the board “has not considered or approved any transatlantic project and does not intend to do so.”

It’s hardly the first time that Ryanair appears to have blatantly misled travelers around the world, likely for purposes including but not limited to generating huge amounts of cheap publicity. Here’s a look at some other sketchy or downright untrue things that Ryanair has claimed over the years.

It’ll sell standing-room-only tickets. In 2012, O’Leary claimed that the airline was close to introducing a standing-room-only section on short-haul flights within Europe. Fares would supposedly start as cheap as £1 ($1.50) for passengers who would stand up rather than require a seat during their travels. The airline later stated that it had no plans for an SRO section on planes.

Seatbelts don’t matter. To make the argument that passengers can fly safely while standing, O’Leary was widely quoted saying, “Seatbelts don’t matter,” and compared the issue to other forms of travel: “You don’t need a seatbelt on the London Underground. You don’t need a seatbelt on trains which are travelling at 120 mph and if they crash you’re all dead.” Also, he noted, “If there ever was a crash on an aircraft, God forbid, a seatbelt won’t save you.” If nothing else, however, pilots and air safety regulators point out that in the event of turbulence passengers are more likely to be injured when not wearing a seatbelt.

It actually flies to Paris. More than a decade ago, a German court ruled that Ryanair must stop claiming that it flies to Dusseldorf when, in fact, the true airport destination is an old military airfield in Weeze, 42 miles away from Dusseldorf. It’s common for low-cost carriers to use secondary airports rather than those nearest to city centers in order to keep costs down, but Ryanair has been dubbed the “ultimate bait-and-switch airline” because its gateway listings are so often misleading. A SkyScanner report about the world’s Most Misleadingly Named Airports focused in particular on popular gateways used by Ryanair including Paris-Vatry (Disney) and Paris (Beauvais), which are, respectively, 93 miles and 55 miles outside of Paris. Despite its billing, the former is also 70 miles from Disneyland Paris.

It’ll charge for in-flight bathrooms. With the hopes of encouraging passengers to use the restroom before boarding planes, Ryanair previously announced plans to charge fees for bathroom breaks on its aircraft, and has also floated the possibility of removing toilets in order to make room for more revenue-generating seats. Understandably, such measures drew an outcry among travelers and regulators, and in retrospect seem like ploys to generate attention.

And in-flight porn. Talk about a marketing stunt to generate attention! Yes, a few years ago O’Leary made headlines by announcing that his latest moneymaking idea would be an app that would charge passengers to watch erotic movies on tablets and smartphones. Gambling and games would be available too, for a charge. “I’m not talking about having it on screens on the back of seats for everyone to see. It would be on handheld devices,” O’Leary said. “Hotels around the world have it, so why wouldn’t we?”

It considered a “fat tax” too. In 2009, Ryanair surveyed 100,000 passengers on the topic of how to save the airline money, and the top vote getter, receiving the support of 30% of those polled, was an extra fee for overweight passengers. Granted, this wasn’t the most serious or scientific survey: Participants weighed in because by doing so they had a chance to win free flights, and the second most popular money-saving scheme among voters was charging money for toilet paper with Michael O’Leary’s face on it. Remarkably, the South Pacific’s Samoa Air beat Ryanair to the punch by becoming the first airline to charge passengers by the pound in 2013.

It actually changed the way it does business. A year ago, not long after the airline was named as the worst customer service brand in all of Europe and described in the report as “aggressive and hostile towards customers,” Ryanair declared that it was instituting a wide range of service improvements and more customer-friendly policies to overhaul its image.

How is that working out? A (UK) Telegraph report in the fall noted that Ryanair has indeed followed through on several customer-friendly changes, including “a new allowance for a second, small carry-on bag, a reduction of the number of clicks required to book on its new website, allocated seating, several family-friendly innovations and more discreet selling of its food and other ancillary services on board.” Still, Ryanair continues to receive around 80,000 complaints per year, and as one Telegraph reporter put it, even after the “changes” have been made, “The in-flight experience was the same and the inflight food is still a rip off.”

TIME Aviation

This Airline Has the Highest Approval Rating in America

A JetBlue Airways Corp. plane prepares to take off from Long Beach Airport in Long Beach, Calif.
Tim Rue—Bloomberg/Getty Images A JetBlue Airways Corp. plane prepares to take off from Long Beach Airport in Long Beach, Calif.

Spoiler alert: it's not Spirit

Before you book your next trip, you might want to check the latest airline rankings: according to a new poll, JetBlue has the highest approval rating among American consumers.

Temkin Experience Ratings asked 10,000 people to rank their experience with different brands based on whether they could get what they wanted, how easy it was to get what they wanted and how they felt after the transaction, the Daily News reports. JetBlue came out ahead of the pack with a 75% approval rating, trailed by Southwest (72%) and Delta (69%). This marks a big jump for JetBlue, which was in the middle of the pack in last year’s poll.

At the bottom with a pitiful 47% approval rating is Spirit Airlines, which NPR’s Planet Money has described as “a subway car in the sky.”

[Daily News]

TIME Airlines

Lufthansa Cancels Hundreds of Flights as Pilots Strike Begins

Short-haul and long-haul Lufthansa aircrafts stand at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany on March 18, 2015.
Christoph Schmidt—dpa/Corbis Short-haul and long-haul Lufthansa aircrafts stand at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany on March 18, 2015.

The first of two planned strike days starts Wednesday

Lufthansa has canceled about 750 flights—roughly half of its scheduled 1,400—as pilots on Wednesday began the first of two strike days over retirement benefits and the carrier’s cost-cutting tactics.

The German airline is the latest in Europe to clash with its pilots as carriers compete with low-cost competitors, Reuters reports. Norwegian Air Shuttle and Air France-KLM have both faced strikes in recent months, and Lufthansa alone faced 10 last year.

Wednesday’s strike, affecting mostly shorter flights, is the second strike for the airline this year; a second day of striking, affecting longer flights and cargo flights, is planned for Thursday.

There are currently no firm plans to resume talks between the airline and the pilot’s union.

[Reuters]

TIME Airlines

Here’s a New Way to See if Your Flight Has Wi-Fi

In-Flight Wi-Fi
Matteo Colombo—Getty Images/Flickr RF Adult man using laptop on the plane

Google's flight search adds new features

In-flight Wi-Fi is an amenity frequent flyers are coming to expect because everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy. Now Google and a startup called Routehappy are working together to make this actually-mind-blowing-when-you-think-about-it luxury easier to find.

Routehappy already tracks various amenity offerings across millions of flights to let passengers know more about what features they can expect before they board their flight. That information will now be incorporated into Google Flights search results to show users whether a given flight offers Wi-Fi, power outlets and other perks.

Some competing flight booking websites like Kayak already present info on Wi-Fi availability.

Google Flights also has some other nifty features, like a year-long summary of flight fares between two cities so travelers can determine what time of year tickets are cheapest.

MONEY Travel

How Airline Partnerships Can Supercharge Your Travel Rewards

New York JFK airport
Jeffrey Milstein/Rex Features—AP New York JFK airport

Are you getting the most value from your airline miles?

Many travelers are disappointed when the airline they have earned their miles with is unable to offer them an award seat to their destination, or is charging far more miles than they expected.

But what most people don’t realize is that many airlines belong to a web of alliances and partnerships that allow you to use your miles to book award flights on other carriers. Here is how this system works.

Airline Alliances

There are three major global airline alliances operating today: Star Alliance, SkyTeam Alliance, and oneworld. Those who belong to the frequent flyer program of one carrier may redeem their miles for flights on any alliance partner.

Star Alliance (27 carriers)

  • Adria
  • Aegean
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian
  • Avianca
  • Brussels Airlines
  • CopaAirlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian
  • Eva Air
  • Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss
  • TAP Portugal
  • Thai
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United

SkyTeam Alliance (20 carriers)

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolineas Argentinos
  • AeroMexico
  • AirEuropa
  • AirFrance
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • China Southern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Delta
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia
  • TAROM
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • XiamenAir

oneworld alliance (15 carriers)

  • airberlin
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • LAN
  • TAM Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

Using Partners to Maximize Miles Value

There are different ways to access award flights for an airline’s partners to redeem your miles. Some require additional digging if an airline doesn’t offer partner award seats through their website.

How It Works

There are many ways to leverage an airline’s alliance membership and partners to maximize value from your miles. For example, United is part of the Star Alliance. So if you have United miles, then you can redeem them for flights that include one or more Star Alliance partners. In fact, an award trip booked with United Miles doesn’t even have to include any flights on United Airlines itself. In addition, travelers can earn mileage credit on United when they purchase a ticket to fly on any of the Star Alliance partner carriers.

In addition to these global airline alliances, many airlines have other partnerships with carriers that are part of a different alliance, or are independent of any alliance. For example, American, Delta, and British Airways are each partnered with Alaska Airlines, which is not a member of any of the three global alliances. Delta also has partnerships with Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, and Hawaiian Airlines, none of which are members of SkyTeam or another airline alliance. However, some of these partnerships only allow travelers to earn miles, not to redeem them for awards. For example, United is actually partnered with Amtrak, so you can earn miles when you book connecting train service from United between the Newark airport and Philadelphia, Wilmington, Stamford, or New Haven, but you can’t redeem United miles for Amtrak tickets.

How to Claim Award Seats

First, you have to learn which airlines are partnered with the frequent flier programs you belong to, including both alliance and non-alliance partners, which will be listed on each airline’s website.

Then, you need to determine how to search for available award seats among the partners. Some airlines, like United, will display most partner award seats when you search online, but others such as US Airways will not display any. And when a partner flight is not visible online, that means that you must call the airline to book an itinerary that includes it.

Unfortunately, the staff at airline call centers might not be as motivated to find partner award seats as you will, so award travel enthusiasts have discovered ways to perform these searches on their own.

One way is to use another alliance member that has a better website. For example, American’s website will show available awards for several oneworld partners, while the US Airways website shows none. Therefore, you might search American’s website to find partner awards, then you can call US Airways to book an award and politely suggest the available award flights that you have already found.

In other instances, you can leverage these partnerships to save reward points and miles. For example, if you had points or miles in a travel rewards credit card that allowed you to transfer them into a loyalty program, and you wanted to fly from San Francisco to Hawaii, you could transfer them to miles with United Airlines, which would require at least 40,000 miles round-trip. Instead, you could transfer them to British Airways which requires only 25,000 miles. Of course, British Airways doesn’t fly between San Francisco and Hawaii, but it is a oneworld alliance partner with American and a non-alliance partner with Alaska, both of which offer service from the Bay Area to Hawaii.

You would save 15,000 miles by understanding how to get award seats through a partner carrier.

Spend American Miles to Fly to Italy on a Spanish Carrier

Last spring, I had plenty of American Airlines miles, and I wanted to take a family trip to Italy. Although American serves Italy, it had few award seats available, and none during the summer when we wanted to travel. Nevertheless, I knew that American’s website did not display awards for some of their partners, including Iberia Airlines of Spain.

So I signed up for a frequent flyer account with Iberia, searched for award seats on its website, and found the flights that I needed to Italy on Iberia flights via Spain. Finally, I called American to book the award seats. In fact, it is very likely that these seats were still available during the peak season precisely because they did not appear on American’s website, and were never seen by tens of millions of American frequent flyers. So it really pays to look for these “hidden” partner awards, as they are far more likely to be available.

When travelers learn how to leverage airline partnerships, they will find that their frequent flyer miles can take them farther than they may have thought.

Read more articles from Wise Bread:

6 Ways My Family Scores Free Travel With Credit Cards
Everything You Need to Know About Frequent Flyer Miles
How to Buy and Sell Airline Miles

TIME Crime

Man Arrested in New York for Injuring Pilots With Lasers, Police Say

"[The laster] actually blinded us for a split second," one officer said

Police arrested a man Monday who allegedly gave four pilots, including two police helicopter pilots, eye injuries after pointing a laser at multiple aircraft departing from and arriving at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

Police charged Frank Egan, 36, with assault on a police officer, felony assault, reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a weapon after they traced the source of the laser beam to his Bronx apartment, the New York Times reports. Police say they recovered a machine labeled “Laser 303” from the apartment and that Egan admitted to using the laser that night.

Egan’s lawyer, Francis J. O’Reilly, said that his client was sleeping at the time of the investigation.

The two police officers injured by the laser say they were on board a helicopter investigating the cause of the beam when the it was directed into the cockpit and turned everything green. “[The laster] actually blinded us for a split second,” Officer Royston Charles told NBC.

The laser was not an isolated incident, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which reported that there were 41 cases of lasers at LaGuardia airport in 2014.

[NYT]

TIME Aviation

Korean Air Flight Attendant Sues Over ‘Nut Rage’ Incident

Passengers wait to check in at the domestic check-in desk of Korean Air Lines Co. at Gimpo Airport in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 2014.
Lee Jin-man—AP Passengers wait to check in at the domestic check-in desk of Korean Air Lines Co. at Gimpo Airport in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 2014.

Kim Do-hee alleges she was physically and verbally assaulted after serving an airline executive macadamia nuts

A Korean Air flight attendant is suing the airline and one of its vice presidents after the executive allegedly assaulted her over the serving of macadamia nuts.

In a lawsuit filed this week in New York, Kim Do-hee alleged that Cho Hyun-ah became physically and verbally abusive after Do-hee served her the nuts on a plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport that was headed to South Korea last December, the New York Times reports. Cho, who wanted the nuts to be served on a plate, demanded that the aircraft return to the gate so Kim could be taken off the flight in what’s since been called a case of “nut rage.”

Cho, the daughter of Korean Air’s chairman, resigned from her job following international attention and is currently serving a prison sentence after a South Korean court found her guilty of violating aviation safety regulations. In the lawsuit, Kim alleges that she was told to lie to authorities about the confrontation and make public appearances with Cho in order to rebuild Cho’s public image.

Kim is seeking unspecified damages. A spokesperson for Korean Air had no comment to the Times.

[NYT]

Read next: Daughter of Korean Air Boss Treated Crew ‘Like Slaves,’ Chief Steward Says

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Aviation

U.S. Airlines Expecting Highest Passenger Numbers in 7 Years

If numbers bear out, it would be most passengers since the financial crisis

The spring travel season could see U.S. airlines post their highest passenger numbers in seven years, bolstered by rising employment and personal incomes, says industry group Airlines for America.

Some 134.8 million passengers — or about 2.2 million people per day — are projected to fly in March and April, according to a press release.

If accurate, that would mean the most airline travelers since numbers peaked in 2007 — right before the financial crisis.

The 2015 projections are a 2% boost from the 132.2 million people who flew on U.S. airlines during the same period last year.

John Heimlich, Airlines for America vice president and chief economist, said high consumer sentiment and “the continued affordability of air travel” may contribute to a busy travel season ahead.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Is the Taliban’s fracturing a sign of its demise or a possible turn to a more lethal strategy?

By Sundarsan Raghavan in the Washington Post

2. To fight cybercrime, President Obama needs Silicon Valley.

By Katie Benner in Bloomberg View

3. The FDA needs updated systems to review drugs — made from our own cells — that target cancer and more.

By Peter W. Huber in City Journal

4. Our high incarceration rate no longer reduces crime.

By Lauren-Brooke Eisen in USA Today

5. Better than an action movie: Catch a college lecture on your next commercial flight.

By Kim Clark in Money

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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