Tag Archives: Flights

Flight Delays: A Lesson in Patience

While stuck at LaGuardia for 7 hours due to a delay,  I was reminded about the issues facing our teachers who are travelling with their large groups and encounter a situation similar to the one that I encountered.  Let’s face it – in travel, stuff happens, and weather, equipment problems, and any host of other issues can cause delays to occurs.  It’s one thing for a single traveler to have to deal with a delay, and that in itself can be a bit of a nightmare.  Tempers get frayed and the best plans get ruined under the best of circumstances, when flights are delayed for only a couple of hours.  But now add 30 people and group travel to the mix and you have a whole different ball game going on.

First, most of us who travel regularly, tend not to check our bags.  That is a huge advantage when you are faced with a delay because you can move around easier and abandon ship quickly without having to wait for your bags to be retrieved.  But mostly everyone travelling with a group has checked their bag so there’s no flexibility.  Furthermore, everyone travelling with a group is super time-sensitive about their scheduled itinerary.  There are excursions, dinners, a tour guide, you name it, everything is synchronized around an arrival and a departure date.  If you change one day, you cause a ripple effect that sometimes is tough to recover.  Three days in Paris is not easily tradeable. There are trains and timed entrances that hang on these itineraries. One day off can throw a whole year of planning out the window.  All of the meetings that have taken place to prep the groups, prepare the parents, and then all of a sudden, a weather delay can throw off the entire itinerary.

It’s so important to have a service-oriented organization that is ready to make adjustments quickly and do everything to make this better.  At ACIS, that’s what we try to do.  Make it better, accommodate requests, shift itineraries around, stay in constant touch with teachers at airports, and try to intervene and assist in guiding airline representatives as they attempt to sort out the mess.  The amount of emails flying around here during a delayed flight is astonishing.  Bottom line, everyone is trying to help and trying to get our clients to their end destination as efficiently as possible without skipping a beat.

It is not always easy and not always seen as such.  That’s the tough thing about delays and cancellations.  From our point of view, we try to think for the airline, look at options, and beat the crowds that have already formed at the gate as delays and inevitable cancellations start to cause havoc.  Just being able to see things that the rest of the delayed passengers can’t see, gives our ACIS passengers a key advantage.  Our air team is always looking to resolve this stuff ahead of the airlines.  If we can think for the airlines and come up with solid suggestions, we can beat the crowds.  That’s what we want to do.  Tour managers at the other end are busy accommodating these changes as well. They are trying to figure out how to synch the late arriving group with an itinerary that doesn’t quite look like it did.  We also ask airlines to accommodate groups, if they have the flexibility, by extending a day wherever possible.  Sometimes that works, but sometimes it doesn’t if there just isn’t the space on the return journey to accommodate.  Plus sometimes groups do not have the flexibility to add an extra day.  We add stuff to itineraries and redress the things that have been missed.  We want to get this trip of a lifetime back on track.  Usually, we succeed.  The most important part in all of this is the group leader.  They set the tone.  They are the leader.  More often than not, that is the difference between winning and losing.

What’s Up with Airline Regulations??

So after the recent debacles with United and American, the government is getting heavy.  Finally, we are seeing the government recognizing that consolidation is creating an arrogance in service and in amenities.  After deregulation in 1978, industry charges like baggage fees and bumping passengers have been pretty much left to the airlines.  And 80% of USA domestic business is now in the frightening hands of four airlines. Power to the few and less power to the consumer.

Airlines claim that overbooking helps keep fares low and provides less risk so more choice for consumers.  Understood, but you have to be nice too!  Honestly, whoever comes off a plane and says that they had a fab and fun experience?  Now United are going to have to put their money where their mouth is.  Dragging a guy down the aisle sounds like a bad wedding arrangement.  It nearly cost them their business.  CEO Munoz stated that he is committed to making things better and now overbooking as a policy is going to be phased out.  Southwest, the darling of consumers, actually has the highest overbooking of any airline. They were just smarter and nicer about it.

We all get that overbooking creates more flexibility for airlines and lots take advantage of the compensation.  It doesn’t take much but being nice and being smart makes the difference.  Having a positive attitude and being customer friendly is key.  That’s all we ask for.  We are not cattle.

Oh, The Airport Woes

If you are going to get stuck at an airport and your flight is going to be endlessly delayed and possibly canceled, one word of advice, pray to God that you are not stuck at LaGuardia Airport.  It sucks.  Watching delays unfold and getting bad updates and then inevitable cancellations are frustrating and bring out the worst in all of us.  Airline staff is not helpful and nobody has a clue.  Usually, they point to a gate complaint line that is a mile long and have you wait there.  If you are really lucky, you get a snack voucher.  As for a hotel, dream on!     

What I never understand is why the airlines do not better prepare their staff for dealing with these situations.  At the airport, I saw queues and queues of people trying to get out and I thought how bad airlines deal with this stuff and yet this is where they should shine.  Stranded passengers, helpless passengers, simply giving soothing words and realistic directions and expectations on how to get out of the mess would be helpful.  It is always a drag to watch this debacle.  It could be so much better.  It’s as if they have no training on what happens when stuff goes wrong.  That’s the only time they have to worry and that’s when they can really overperform.  We know the airline food is bad, the seats are cramped, and the service in general on the plane is very average, so how about excelling at this?  Help passengers who are trying to figure out what to do, concentrate on the pre-boarding service, calm people, assure people, and take a genuine interest in getting people into a good frame of mind.  Maybe they should have yoga attendants at the gates helping passengers breath.  It’s a shame. This is an area where you don’t have to do much.  Just be service-oriented and kind.  Is that too much to ask?


Low-Cost Flights Pietro Place Peter Jones

Low-Cost Air: The Battle for Low-Cost Flights

The gloves are off.

What already took place in Europe with Ryan Air and easyJet, and moved subtly across to the domestic arena in the USA with Southwest and Spirit, is now happily making an impact on the transatlantic flight.

Yes, the discount airlines are moving in big time.

While they are not impacting the big boys yet, this could be the start of a new Freddie Laker revolution.  And what to do to respond to a market trend of low-cost long-haul flights?  How do you retool your factory and make your product more efficient, less expensive, and less dependent upon goliath overhead drain than the big three consolidators?

What we all know is that you cannot take an airline called United and shorten it to Ted and pretend that it is just the same as having a cheaper, more efficient airline carrier.

Been there, done there.  That…did not work.

The emergence of the low-cost flights–long-haul flights–has come at a time when oil is cheap.  Airlines are starting to make money by pairing down the size of their fleets, using more fuel efficient planes, and charging higher prices to get us from A to B.  So who is trying to break up this party?

A recently purchased Norwegian Air ticket from Copenhagen to Boston costs $180 one-way.  Other carriers like Canada’s WestJet Airlines and Iceland’s WOW Air are offering prices that are half of what the competitors charge.  Furthermore, they are providing a business class option at a tenth of the price of the rip-off business class ticket that you are charged with the top transatlantic airlines. Norwegian operates on 26 routes and on those routes, its share is a staggering 13%.  JetBlue is starting to feel that they can make a move in this market too and Southwest is also making noises.

The bottom line is that low-cost long-haul carriers will become a growing threat to transatlantic profitability.

Because the USA and EU have an open skies aviation treaty, carriers can charge what they like which used to spell bad news for the consumer. However, with the low-cost guys, it is completely consumer-driven.  This is a big chunk of market to grab.  Put a fuel efficient Dreamliner on a route between New York and London and charge $350 roundtrip with a $650 business class option and you are likely going to get takers and more importantly converts.  We have all seen how absolutely useless a bunch of points or a loyalty club can be when you really need them.  If the low-cost carriers can provide comfort, good legroom, a fun experience on the plane, and all at relatively inexpensive prices, I think that this is just a growing market.

What kind of market is this and who controls what?  Delta and United control about 13% of transatlantic traffic, American and British is around 10%, Lufthansa is 7%, but there is a staggering 40% that is up for grabs.  The discounters have smelled the prey.  The CEO of Norwegian intends to add more flights from more USA cities to more European cities.  He claims that ticket prices will be less than $100 one-way.  I’m putting my money right now on Norwegian – they fly nonstop, the food is as good as any of the other carriers, they fly the Dreamliner, and they provide super value in two classes of services.

This is all good news for consumers.  This should be fun to watch.


Flying over London Pietro Place Peter Jones

Flying High Over London

I’m originally from London so I know the city pretty much back to front.

Nowadays though I tend to see it more as a tourist and probably enjoy a lot more of the sights than I ever would if I lived there.  Usually when I fly transatlantic to London, the flight pattern follows the western parts of the city and picks up the Thames just around the airport area close to Windsor, Eton, and Runnymede where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215.  Sometimes, if you sit in a holding pattern low enough, you get a wonderful tour of the city center before making final landing.

But the other day the flight pattern coming from another European city was decidedly different.

This time, flying over London took us full along the Thames from the eastern stretches of outer London all the way through the center.

It was a sight to behold.  We passed over the mouth of the Thames where Dover sole fish farms ply their trade and eels are caught for the English delicacy of…horror upon horrors, jellied eels.

Literally we seemed to trace the old docklands which had been replaced by brand new developments around Canary Wharf, past The O2, and over the Emirates gondola before we started to get into the new city development – the skyscrapers with funky names like the Gherkin, the Shard, and the Walkie Talkie.  This was the new London and we were flying above it at around 20,000 feet.  The pilot seemed to be enjoying the view as much as we did and he made a couple of announcements pointing to the developments on the river below.

It was strange to see old London squeezed in between the skyscrapers and the ancient river below.  There was the tiny-looking Tower of London and the omnipresent Tower Bridge, London’s iconic and still used drawbridge.  Everybody in the plane, whatever side you were looking at, had a treat to behold.  St. Paul’s Cathedral was on the right, the Tate Modern on the left, and the London Eye straight ahead…did I miss 12th century Southwark Cathedral in the middle of it all?  We passed Westminster, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Lambeth Palace, just a stone’s throw from where I grew up, and still we kept on following the Thames.

As we started to run out of sights, the plane banked slightly and we caught a glimpse of Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace.

I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better or more impressive city to fly into than London.  I don’t think so.


Day Flight

The BA Day Flight

How I love that day flight.

You can work through the day on the plane, arrive looking roughly the same as when you left, and get to enjoy a great meal in London before you begin your journey.  Or better still, grab a hotel night at the incredibly convenient Sofitel that is situated at Terminal 5 at Heathrow.  This hotel is a dream especially if your onward connection the following day is on British Airways and therefore in Terminal 5.

British Airways operates day flights from New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Boston.

The flight time from Boston is 5 hours and 50 minutes and while it is not recommendable for people who are trying to save a hotel night by sleeping on an airplane seat, the difference in a healthy travel experience and a somewhat acceptable looking human being emerging from the plane is well worth it.  The great news is that during the summer months you can connect all the way through to Paris (if you are a BA fan) or to more exotic places like Palma in Mallorca (I’m a big fan).

Imagine – you depart Boston at 8:10 am, do some work, watch a movie, connect through to Paris, and by midnight you can be sitting down in a restaurant on the Boulevard Saint Germain, as I did in the Café Louise.

At that point it is still only 7pm in the evening on Boston time.  True confession: I am a secret addict of the day flight.

Bags of the Future (Are They Four Wheel Bags?)

I have a confession to make.

I switched from my Briggs and Riley two wheel 20-inch carry-on bag to one of the four wheel bags: the Samsonite spinner.  I made this move because I didn’t want to pull my bag around the airport when I could have it ride by my side in the four-wheel mode.  The four-wheel mode changed my life from zipping through airports to walking to train stations.  Everything became easier unless there was carpet.  Agghh.  Carpet is your enemy with the four-wheel bag.

Frankly, four wheel bags have a few issues.

On a trip from Tel Aviv to London, I was waiting in the jet way that has a little tilt to it, and somebody behind me asked a question.  I took my hand off of my bag, which also had my Tumi backpack perched on top, and as my hand left the bag, the bag took off.  I looked around in horror as a poor woman was attacked by my bag.  The heavy four-wheeler knocked her completely over.  I tried to hold her up but if that was not enough, her glasses flew off, her hands were flailing, her passport dropped on the floor, and my backpack finished the job as it landed straight on top of her head.  If I had been driving in traffic, I would have been arrested for failing to be in control of my vehicle.  As it was, I helped her back to a standing position feeling really embarrassed and told her that it was all my bag’s fault.  I felt a sense of shared responsibility.

These bags do roll around.  If you are in a train, they roll away from you, if you’re in the bus connecting around the airport, they are unreliable.  I figured to myself that there must be a bag that has brakes.  In the meantime, I had dusted off my Briggs and Riley bag and much to my bags surprise I gave it a second chance.  Yeah my arm is hurting me a little more but the danger of uncontrolled roll with the four-wheeler is not there.

So I did some research. The only bag that I could find that had the potential to not move in its standing position with spinner wheels is the unbelievably overpriced Rimowa luggage.  When I say overpriced, I mean the 21-inch multi-wheel bag is a cool $850.  Yes, I know that this provides “a sublime fusion of fashion and lightweight durability” plus apparently it has “intelligent interior design to make it an indispensable travel companion.” But the key feature here is that it has protective feet to guarantee that the suitcase will stay in place when you prop it up right.  No hit and run problems!

My only question is that when I buy a car with four-wheel drive, frankly it has brakes just like the two-wheel models.

Usually there is not an extra surcharge for brakes; it’s just part of the deal.

So why is it that for the added brakes and to look maybe like a movie star, I have to spend $850 on a piece of baggage that really has little interest for me beyond storage capability and ease of movement through an airport?  Just a question desperately looking for answers and remembering with horror the incident in the Tel Aviv airport when my four-wheel vehicle went out of control on the jet way.

TSA Woes

Pietro Place TSA Peter Jones

The news on the street is that summer is going to be a lot of fun when you are traveling around US airports. More fun than ever before actually and here’s the reason.

TSA have reduced their staff by 2,000 people.

So, those long lines that we already encounter are getting longer and longer.  Tempers will get testy and maybe the smiles on the TSA team will start to turn upside down.

So, what’s the deal?  In these tense days of super sensitivity on issues like security and safety, why cut back?  It seems that TSA thought that there would be such a massive uptake in the TSA Precheck approval applications, that they could save some resources for something else.  TSA approval is $85, so it seems that they saw an opportunity for revenue.  It is as simple, though, as putting in an application and scheduling an appointment.  If you already have Global Entry, you are automatically considered as part of TSA Precheck.  It means that you don’t have to remove clothing when going through a screening, nor remove your toiletries.  It’s a massive time saver because they have a line expedited especially for you.

So, what’s the problem?

People are just not signing up for it whether it’s a privacy issue, general laziness, the price, or just a lack of knowledge that it actually exists.

But now they are paying for…or rather we are paying for it if we don’t have TSA precheck.  My advice if you are traveling domestically this summer is to get with the program.  It’s one of the few things in life that is worth the price!

Images courtesy of http://blog.tsa.gov/2016/01/tsa-2015-year-in-review.html and https://www.myheritage.org/news/more-passengers-are-flying-tsa-free-and-thats-a-good-thing/

Droning On

Let’s face it; flying is not what it used to be.

We pile into a tube, we wait sometimes for an hour on the runway, and we hover with trepidation over a busy airport waiting to land. We do all of that increasingly on a jammed plane with no empty seats available for breathing room and staff that appears to care less and less about customer service. Then add to that the natural fear of flying that lots of people have.

My daughter, for example, is in a perpetual state of angst for the entire flight.  My mate Sergio in Italy who flies all over the world has to close his eyes taking off.  It’s understandable. When you think about it, it doesn’t seem natural that we are all sitting in a metal object watching videos and having a beer at 35,000 feet in the air knowing that this thing weighs, without the 200 passengers inside of it, about 770,000 pounds!  So that adds a minimum, judging by today’s girth issues, another 40,000 to 50,000 pounds with the luggage! And there are only two engines that our lives depend upon!

Of course, it’s good to know that the incidence of imminent danger on an airplane is less than driving a car, walking to work, taking the train, or riding a bike.  I get that but it still feels a bit weird.  And then I read that with the increased sale of consumer drones, there is the ever increased likelihood that there will be an accident involving a drone and an airplane.

Consumer drones? Are you kidding?

In fact there was a drone incident just the other day at Heathrow Airport in London.  A British Airways flight coming in from Geneva hit by a drone as it came in to land.  Thankfully nothing happened but do we really need this kind of toy in the hands of casual consumers?  It’s bad enough when a flock of geese gets sucked into the jet engines when the plane is landing or taking off.  But to have a drone hit an aircraft either accidentally or not is alarming.

Let’s discount the isolated incidents of pilots who carry hangovers on the plane (thank goodness for the breathalyzer!) and the occasional crazy passenger who creates havoc with the flight attendants.  Let’s not even mention the occasional flight attendants who create havoc with passengers!  But seriously, who needs drones?  The news that my son-in-law law just received a drone from his dad wasn’t reassuring either!

Let’s get drones back to what they are meant for….oh hang on….killing lots of people in faraway places without risking too much collateral damage.  I’ve taken it off my Christmas list to Santa!

Image courtesy of http://aviationbuzzword.com/you-can-now-file-a-flight-plan-for-your-drone-operations-to-alert-nearby-pilots/

Upgrade or not to Upgrade

To Upgrade or not to Upgrade

For all of those passengers that are lucky enough to sit in the business class or first class section of an airplane, you may well imagine how important you are to that airline.

Airlines are trying to sign you up for their frequent flyer cards, give you their Silver and Gold cards, and adorn you in incentives because you happen to be sitting in the part of the plane that makes money and they want you back. They are using all of their tricks to sway you in the decision to upgrade or not to upgrade. Those airline seats that you occupy have been well thought out and optimized for your comfort, convenience, and their dollars.

Not to say that if you are in the back of the plane, it’s all misery.

There is a trickledown effect due to the fact that the airlines are smarting up the front of the plane. After all, you do not want class warfare at 35,000 feet in the sky.

Well never mind because in the front they want your business and they are prepared to pamper you. But it is going to cost you money. A round-trip transatlantic fare in first class on British Airways costs between $16,000-$22,000, business class around $7,000, premium economy around $2,200, and lowly old economy about $1,500. So you can imagine how much money these guys are making on that tiny piece of space given the fact that you are sitting in the same cylindrical tube as everyone else.

When you look at that value proposition, you have to say that economy is a pretty good deal. I mean seriously, who is paying $20,000 for a first class seat when you can find a deal out there for $1,000 in economy. If you fly between London and Boston, you are on a 5 hour and 50 minute flight. I do not care how good the service is, I can always find a sandwich, a couple glasses of wine, and a decent movie or two to wind my way across the Atlantic while I think of how I saved $19,000 on a bit of extra leg room, a very average meal, and a wash bag that you wouldn’t even re-gift. Incidentally, in business class, the wash bag on most flights is something that amazes me even more. It’s like how could they design a bag with so much space and so little in it? Where do you find toothpaste that small? Why the socks? I have my own socks and if I go to the bathroom truly I am going to wear my shoes. Guys are messy!

So differentiating the front of the plane is critical to these guys.

There are three kinds of configurations at the front of the plane. There is the yin-yang design that BA employs, the staggered herringbone that Virgin employs, or the “stacked-V’ of other airlines. Have you ever wondered why if you are sitting in business class on a plane, such as BA, that you are facing a person that you do not know and awkwardly trying to figure out how to put the screen up between the two of you without looking to offend? Ever wondered why when on a Virgin plane that the shape of the seats is in a fishbone? It’s feast or famine here. You are either lying flat down or sitting straight up. There is no in between. Then there is the Delta setup where everyone mysteriously is fitted in a certain way so that you never actually see too much of the person next to you…thank God. The reason they do all of this of course is because they can give you more room, your own space, and more importantly they can fit more of you in that huge expanding revenue-generating area.

Designing airline seats for business and first class is an art within itself; creating a space that feels like your own space with a flat bed and video screen with endless options for watching TV and movies. Not long ago in 1995, British Airways introduced the first flat-bed seat in first class, and in 1999 introduced it to business class as well. Up until then, business class passengers had no advantage other than a slightly better meal. Nowadays the game is played around bed, board, and beyond! At the higher end, airlines compete for your business with lavish meals including caviar in first class. They entice you with a goody bag that contains scents, oils, and perfumes from boutique distributors. New 32-inch video screens (bigger than some we have in our kitchens) are being introduced into a private cabin. On real long hauls in first class you now get a shower (of course!) plus a potential for a double bed. Just when you thought you got your marriage around twin beds you can now bring it back again!

Image courtesy of DesignBoom.com: http://www.designboom.com/design/singapore-airlines-first-class-interior-design-by-bmw-designworks/

Virgin America sold to Alaska Airlines

I’m not a Virgin Anymore (Virgin America sold to Alaska Airlines)

Virgin America has just sold out to Alaska Airlines.

Richard Branson, who owns only a clear 22% of Virgin America, felt so bad about it that he wrote an open letter concerning the takeover.

He could not do too much to stop it because some of his take was in the form of non-voting shares. This effectively reduced his influence in a sell deal to that of a spectator. Because he is not an American, according to USA law, he was never allowed to have majority ownership. Still, he remains optimistic about the airlines’ future. As he put it, “Besides the turbulence and headwinds, the journey remains thrilling and joyful and I look forward to more future flights with virgin America.”

In many ways, the takeover makes sense. Yes, Virgin is a great brand and Virgin America was a cool airline to fly on. The banter on board, the groovy lounges, the reception, everything was pure Virgin. The only weakness of the original Virgin America set up was that the curious bystander often wondered why they could not link Virgin America to Virgin Atlantic for international travel. Now with Alaska, they simply add much more domestic connectability.

Frankly, now that Virgin America sold to Alaska Airlines the brand is going to become diluted.

Alaska might be famous for its onboard cuisine if you fly in business, but beyond that it is pretty much bog standard. In other words, you get what you pay for. Alaska could only benefit greatly from the bounce of the Virgin brand as they go head-to-head with the Southwest and Jet Blues.

It’s all about consolidation. Airlines are making bigger profits, oil is cheap as chips, the seats are shrinking, the food is sucking even more, and Richard just walked away with a cool half billion dollars.

The same thing kind of happened on Virgin Atlantic.

In 2012, Branson said that he could not survive competitively unless he had an alliance. There was talk of aligning with British Airways and Singapore, but in the end it was Delta who picked up the mantle – the largest airline in the world married a virgin!

Essentially, Delta picked up all Virgin slots and 49% of Virgin Atlantic. It gave both airlines more access in a highly competitive market and it gave Delta a hot card to play against its transatlantic nemesis, British Airways. Imagine this, now there would be nine daily round-trip flights from London to JFK and Newark and 31 peak day daily flights to London! More importantly, for Delta fans, you get the chance to visit the groovy Virgin lounge as opposed to the abysmal Delta one where they won’t let you bring in a desperately needed sandwich because they are scared you will compare it to the rubbish you are getting inside. So there are benefits. Although currently Delta flies into Terminal 4 at Heathrow whereas Virgin is in Terminal 3, so you need to have a 10 minute limo service to connect you between the lounges! Not so good.

In the end, when we travel on Virgin, we buy the brand.

The brand’s God is Branson. It starts at the counter with the red suited flight attendants and the funky fishbone configurations in upper class on the planes. It is a kind of an antidote to British Airways and it worked. People became Virgin groupies. The lounges are the best and the people that work at Virgin all carry the brand with pride.

So how is the marriage going? It’s probably working well economically but I do get the feeling having dealt with both sets of staff that this marriage is definitely destined for twin beds at the very least and separate rooms in the future. Maybe that’s how marriages last!

Image courtesy of ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/virgin-america-alaska-air-merger/story?id=38143131

Airline Class Warfare

NOT JUST ANOTHER BUM IN A SEAT! (Airline Class Warfare)

Incidentally, if you have not noticed, while the airlines are fawning over the front of the plane, and I mean fawning, (“Can I take you to your seat?”, “Would you like an espresso?”), in the back the seats are shrinking. By that I mean, they are putting more seats in and the width, depth, and pitch are getting smaller.

Planes that started out with a configuration of 167 seats are now putting in 179 seats. On most Boeing 777’s, what used to be 247 seats is now 289 seats. Guess where they are adding? In the economy section. They now have introduced the “skinny seats” to the airlines. Three-quarters of Delta’s equipment is running on a 17-inch seat width. What used to be the norm of a 32-inch pitch has now shrunk down to a 30-inch pitch; that is United’s new standard economy seat pitch. Plus what used to be 18 inches is now 17 inches in seat width. The only good news here is that the depth with the new skinny seats has grown from 22 inches to 24 inches by removing padding from the backrest and removing the extra paraphernalia from the back of the seat in front of you. They have even introduced skinny lavatories. Not the kind of place where you want to hang out with the Sunday newspaper.

Most recently on a British Airways flight, it cost me $55 to pre-book an economy seat for the transatlantic portion. It would have cost an additional amount for an emergency row. If I wanted to sit by the window, there is another surcharge. I have not even made it to premium economy yet! In other words, when you are sitting at the back of the plane with your cheap and cheerful ticket, they have plans for you – squeeze you in, don’t hang out in the toilets too long (after all it may be more comfortable in there than it is in your seat), and glance longingly through to the front of the plane where a carefully screened curtain keeps you at bay from those who want to have nothing to do with you!

But there is good news afoot.

There is a trickledown effect due to the fact that the airlines are smarting up the front of the plane and installing super cool video equipment.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Airlines are upgrading their video selections, their live TV streaming, and fairly shortly we will be able to control our own entertainment through our mobile devices. After all, you don’t want class warfare at 35,000 feet in the sky.  So for the most part when we sit in the back of the plane, the food is a little better than it used to be and there is always that faint possibility that if you travel enough or happen to catch the right person on the right day, you can get upgraded.  Yes…the upgrade!  That moment when your knees go wobbly and this person with all of the power looks at you and says, “We are a little tight in the back so we have some good news for you.”….Yeah right!!   Dream on!  Nothing happens for free anymore. Get back to those seats in the back and prepare yourself with Benadryl, beer, or Ambien.  Who needs a flat seat when you have those things in your arsenal?! And for the extra $19,000 to sit in first class, my two cents are that the economy blues can be suspended with a few tricks. Bring your own headsets, a fabulous sandwich from a local deli, a neck rest, and sync into the comparative luxury of your new skinny seat, preferably equipped with knee guards to stave off the person in front of you.  Don’t forget your Ambien!

Image courtesy of Ready Set Trek: http://readysettrek.com/class-warfare-infographic/

Distrito Federal Pietro Place Peter Jones

The 9AM Flight to Mexico City

Great news for Bostonians. AeroMexico has begun a nonstop flight to Mexico City four times per week.

With departures at a very civilized hour, New Englanders can escape the frigid temperatures and within six hours are in Mexico’s capital.  Formerly known solely as Distrito Federal (Mexico D.F.), the entire sprawl including the D.F. is officially called Mexico City although it is still quite trendy to say D.F.  Of course that’s what I’ve been calling it all the time.

AeroMexico has elected to leave its super Boeing 737-800 airplane on the JFK route and instead offers a pretty old and tired product to Bostonians.  I was in First class, if you can call it that.  The ticket was not that expensive…and it showed.  By the time that the disinterested flight attendant had reached the third row of first class seats, the hot meal was not available.  So it was all down to a yoghurt, soggy croissants and dreary fruit with cornflakes!  God knows what was going on behind in the economy seats but I bet sensible people in the back had stocked up before the flight.  I foolishly thought there would be something awful, but passable, and made an Airplane 101 mistake. It’s a simple rule of thumb really and I preach it all of the time.  But goddamnit I forgot!  Never, under any circumstances, eat the food on an airplane unless you are so desperately hungry that you would contemplate eating an old sock.

The video situation was no better. There were countless reruns of old TV shows that had long left our orbit to be sent to some other part of the world for regurgitation (including AeroMexico!).  But I jest as I was so happy to have a nonstop at my disposal on my doorstep to one of my favorite destinations.  I’ll take a bad seat, a tired meal, and a very disinterested flight attendant over many, many connections any day.


Trains vs. Planes

Trains vs. Planes

A too tight connection at JFK gave me the opportunity to change up my itinerary, grab a cab to Baltimore Grand Central Station, and take the Acela to Penn Station in New York.  I have to say, when you have the opportunity to ride on the train, it is just so much more civilized than flying.  Frighteningly, there is no security, which means you can arrive only 10 minutes (even less!) before the train pulls in.  And the trains are always on time….well nearly!

At Penn Station, I never quite understood how to make the transition out to JFK.  I arrived there and sought out some help.  Fighting the commuter traffic which was rushing between stations and platforms, I managed to connect to the Long Island Rail Road ($10) which sped me out to Jamaica.  At that point, I got off there and took the AirTrain ($5) straight to JFK.  I was at the Delta Terminal in no time at all.  Penn Station to the Delta Terminal was 40 minutes.  No traffic, no hassle, and so I wandered to the Delta Lounge, grabbed a bite, and a beer, and got ready for the nonstop to Barcelona.  Loved that day!

While I was getting ready for my flight, I started thinking about the benefits of nonstop flights.  I have to confess that a nonstop on an overnight journey is optimal.  In other words, if you gave me a chance to fly LA – Rome via London for a chance to get more airline miles on BA, I would say no contest.  I will take the nonstop all the way.  By the way, when can you ever use those miles anyway?  How about practically never unless you don’t work and are totally date flexible.  So taking the nonstop to Barcelona from JFK was a solid winner as opposed to connecting over Madrid out of Washington-Dulles.

Delta has improved dramatically over the two years. They are scoring up there with Jet Blue and Alaskan and have left their other erstwhile competitors in the dust. Wake up American!! The business configuration is better than most, the TV and movie selection is pretty good , and the food and service was fine.  On an overnight flight, I tend to get the food out of the way before I get on the plane.  Once the plane is in the air, I am all about taking some sleeping tablets to grab my five or six hours before we hit the European morning.  I must confess to never having breakfast on an airplane.  I would rather grab the extra hour and a coffee and croissant when I hit land.  Have you ever tasted airline coffee?  It is worse than hotel coffee and that is pretty bad!

Late Flight to Istanbul Pietro Place

A Late Flight to Istanbul

The great thing about flying on Turkish Airlines from Boston is that they have a very late flight at 11:40 pm.  In addition, if you are heading onwards to Tel Aviv, as I was, connections are pretty good.  Package that with a business class fare that is not one of those jaw dropping dreadful price points that make you wonder who ever pays for those flights at full fare, and you have it.  Dinner at a good restaurant in Boston and a late night flight departure is a great way to spend the first part of a transatlantic flight.  The preparation at least is going to be decent!

Turkish Airlines, as I found out, unfortunately did not have flat beds, but staff were pretty good, seats were decent for business class and the rest I simply can’t remember as I took an Ambien! Next stop was Istanbul about 9 hours later.  Istanbul is a funky airport.  Old bits shoved onto sleek new bits makes for a decent transit stop.  Tel Aviv was next on my journey and flight time wasn’t bad.  Actually, service on the Tel Aviv flight and leg room was better than the long transatlantic flight.  They must know we all take Ambien for the long hauls!