web Musings of The Global Traveller

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Singapore Airlines new first and business class

Just a quick report on the new first and business class which I have now experienced. As I posted when the new Singapore Airlines product was launched, the key feature is width. The seats are very wide, as are the screens.

The first seat is like a supersized skysuite (747 first class seat on Singapore Airlines). I found the seat very comfortable if not a bit too slippery - I ended up using 3 pillows to wedge myself into the seat, somewhat unsuccessfully. The huge screen is a bit disappointing as the movies and programs are not in wide-screen format thus look a bit odd.

The business seat (no longer called Raffles) is also comfortable. I had good fortune to get a bulkhead seat - it looked like the others could be claustraphobic despite the width thanks the the design.

The IFE had a few bugs, as any new system does. It was a little slow to respond, but not as slow as Air New Zealand's avod for example. I thought the 2x and 3x fast forward was a nice improvement, but the Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand 2x, 4x and 8x work better. The menu was simple and intuitive. I missed the time remaining that the older Wisemen systems showed when pausing, fast forwarding or reversing. I hope they can add this.

The bathrooms are nice and stylish. The first one is huge (for an airline bathroom) with throne facing forward. A minor design flaw is to have the cloth towels above the tissues, meaning the open tissue can get dripped on.

The food is much the same, but the cutlery, crockery and glassware have changed. I liked the new plating for satay.

Gotta dash.

Seasons greetings

Wishing all my readers a happy festive season and all the best for the new year. Travel far, travel wide and travel well.

PS. While I am taking some time off I will be continuing to post over the holidays.

Friday, December 22, 2006

PA announcements early hours of the morning

Despite not being able to get any work done I decided against sleeping the few hours until my next flight - that way there is no chance I'll oversleep and miss the flight. The last of the flights for the night has long departed and most of the handful of lounge users are trying to sleep. So it came as a surprise to hear a few calls over the PA.

In flight phones

Filling in time in between flights (the work I intended to do kept crashing :-( ), I was reminded by a post by Muse of Fire that Qantas and Emirates are rolling out onboard phone service early next year. Perhaps there could be a phone section in the hold? I'm still not looking forward to it.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas travel woes

On my original travel plans I would now be caught up in the mess of London's fog flight disruptions - already 3 days of massive cancellations and delays, and looking like it will be another 3 or more days before flights return to normal. Fortunately for me my plans changed.

I can but imagine the chaos in the busy travel period that is the lead up to Christmas. Hopefully most get to where they need to be in time.

The best thing for those caught up in it is to keep yourself informed and be aware of options available to you. Do you really need to take that trip? Can you take the train a day early instead? Can you rebook on another airline? If transitting through a London airport can you connect at a mainland europe airport instead?

Best wishes

BA seat selection update

In an earlier post I mentioned that British Airways had changed it's seat selection policy. BA has now clarified that one world sapphire and emerald elite members should have access to the same seats as BA Executive Club silver and gold members respectively. It may take a bit longer for the IT systems to resolve this.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Airport weather current and forecast

Thanks to a Flyer Talk thread discussing current delays and cancellations in the UK for freezing fog, I found a website that has lots of useful airport weather information for many airports all around the world,

For example, right now at Denver International Airport the weather is "heavy snow and blowing snow and freezing fog" - so I'd expect major disruption to air traffic. The forecast shows improvement tomorrow. This info is taken off official airport weather reports and forecasts but with the codes translated into english to make it easy to read.

I've also learned that Great Circle Mapper has some weather information if you search on airport information.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Travel agents sue airlines over fuel surcharges

It isn't only passengers that are unhappy with airline fuel surcharges. A group of Australian travel agents are suing several airlines for lost commissions. (Source SMH) One of the arguments used relates to fair trading (Australian Trade Practices Act), which if successful should be good news for most passengers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Qantas sale

The Australian newspaper is reporting the sale of Qantas on a rebid by private equity buyers less than 24 hours after their first bid was rejected.

Watch for lots of changes to Qantas. Slightly worrying, Macquarie which owns Sydney airport will now have a significant stake in the airport's biggest (by far) customer.

Carry on liquids ban spreads - to Australia

From late March 2007, Australia will adopt the new EU rules against liquids in carry-ons.

The fact they have announced the introduction of a security policy to take effect in 3 1/2 months time highlights just how much of a farce this is. Obviously there is no real risk since if there was it would be implemented immediately (or indeed already).

UK travel woes

In the past year air travel to/from/in the UK has gotten harder (and in many other places too). We have seen and experienced:

  • the August bomb plot, and the resulting no liquids rules
  • carry-on restrictions - none at all in the immediate aftermath of the bomb plot, and now limited to 1 small piece with no extra personal items
  • massive delays at security everywhere

But it looks like it will be getting worse next year, not better. Here are just a few things coming in the next few months:

  1. From December 5th British Airways changed it's seat selection policy. There is confusion on how it is working - apparently computer programming doesn't yet match the stated policy, but it appears losers are those flying business class and non-BA One World elites who have less access to pre-selecting seats than before. Some discussion on Flyer Talk here.
  2. British Airways will be limiting the weight of each piece of checked baggage to 50lbs/23kgs. With the low limit on carry-on luggage, expect more passengers to be hit up for excess bag charges (and to buy a new bag at the airport) - a whopping £120 per longhaul flight. This change was proposed for earlier this year but was cancelled after the bomb scare, but will now occur from 1 February 2007.
  3. As previously posted, Air Passenger Duty (APD) will double from 1 February 2007 to a maximum of £80 per longhaul departure. Unfortunately this increase will be retrospective, applying based on date of travel not date ticketed - so expect big queues as airlines attempt to recover the extra taxes at check in.
  4. A discussion on Flyer Talk on a threatened British Airways cabin crew strike, possibly next February.

The combined effect of all these changes is to make air travel through UK much more unpleasant, especially relative to continental Europe. I think it is time to start learning the airport tips and tricks for Paris CDG, Amsterdam and Frankfurt; and forget about London LHR.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Getting the same crew

As a frequent flyer I often get the same crew, especially when flying a smaller airline. However this weekend it seemed I was stalking (or being stalked by) a cabin crew member whom I had on 6 flights over 2 days (out of 10 flights flown). Another crew member I had on 5 flights (only some of the flights were the same). Yet another crew member I have flown with lots of times before was on 3 flights. So between these 3 crew members I had a familiar face on all my flights.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

UK passenger tax to double

As if they weren't steep enough already, the UK passenger tax will be doubled from 1 February 2007 (refer about half way down the Pre Budget Report). So tax on premium cabins for longhaul flights will rise to a whopping £80 each - ouch. The justification given is to tackle climate change by reducing aircraft emissions. Somehow I can't quite believe the UK Government will put the money raised to climate change initiatives and nor will the extra tax reduce travel by much.

Indeed, it could actually increase travel as savvy travellers make some flights out of UK are shorthaul with a connection to longhaul travel from the EU. Watch out for advertising in the UK along these lines from Air France KLM, Lufthansa, etc.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Christmas season travel

Normal travel patterns go out the window around Christmas / New Year, especially in the Southern Hemisphere where it is also summer break.

Savvy travellers know that to book flights and accommodation for popular destinations at this time of year you need to plan well ahead. It isn't uncommon for people on Flyer Talk, for example, to book longhaul business and first class awards for Christmas / New Year 330 days out when the awards are first released.

Conversely, business travel drys up which means last minute bargains can be found on some routes. An opportunity for that last mileage run to requalify frequent flyer program (FFP) status, or to escape the relatives?

Here is a selection of tools that can help the savvy flyer pick up award and paid availability (note an understanding of what booking codes mean and how they work is needed - watch for a later post on this).

  • for Star Alliance (*A) FFPs, sign up to Air Canada Aeroplan or ANA Mileage Club and use the online award search - no mileage is needed in your account (warning United Mileage Plus in particular has much reduced availability compared with other *A FFPs)
  • for One World FFPs, sign up to Qantas Frequent Flyer and use the online award search - no mileage is needed in your account (warning less than half of all one world destinations are included in the search engine, although the most common ones are all there)
  • I am not sure if Sky Team FFPs have a similar lookup - if a reader knows please contact me using the link
  • for paid bookings check out Expert Flyer (can also find awards on Qantas and fare listings plus rules), or Seat Counter (can also find awards on United and Northwest - expect more to be added), or T & T (set up a profile with expert mode switched on or use login "flyertalk" and password "tandt"), or Availability Public Backup.

No one system is perfect however with practice in interpreting these tools do give a good guide as to whether that award or paid fare is available.

I'll post some explanation of booking codes soon.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Weather impacts again

Apologies for the lack of recent posts. I have been travelling (doh) and had very limited internet access. It made me realise how much I take for granted being online regularly.

The past month I have had more weather impacts on my travels than I've experienced for a long time. Fortunately none too serious.

  • I've been locked in during delay while airport isn't closed (see earlier posts here and here).
  • On another occasion, flying in to the same airport, I had several hours delay due to the flow on effects of weather delays earlier in the day. Eventually the flight was cancelled when the pilots and cabin crew ran out of hours. Fortunately this time the wait was at an airport with an airline lounge which I had access to, and thus hardly an endurance. However the airline gave me poor options to use the ticket - stay overnight at their expense and continue the next day (which I could not use since there was a reason the ticket was a same day return), refund which the airline worked out as a token amount, credit for another ticket to the same token amount, or use the flights any time within the next year. This last option isn't as reasonable as it sounds as I need to pay my own way to & from this airport, and to use the flights there needs to be availability in the special booking class. Despite my having top frequent flyer program status with that airline, and willing to be flexible, the airline was unwilling to offer a solution I was happy with.
  • Flying a different airline, to a different airport, we made our way to within a few hundred feet (yes that close) of the runway with no visibility in heavy rain when the pilots pulled out and returned to the airport we just left (which was the closest practical one). In stark contrast to the above case, the airline offered me a new trip from my home airport, ie not just replacing the lost sectors, even to the extent of allowing the rebooking into a higher booking class (within the same cabin) when my original booking class was unavailable on a new date that was convenient for me.
  • The most recent case had me on tenterhooks when check in was closed for an extended period with the airline unsure if the aircraft for our flight would even be able to arrive. This had least impact of all with only a minor delay in the end.

So the moral is, weather delays can happen at any time, and I am experiencing an unlucky spell. Hope it ends soon.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

US APEC Business Travel Card update

An update on my earlier post. The US entry to APEC Business Travel Card scheme is being fast-tracked. Apparently from 19 November card holders will be able to use air-crew US immigration lanes. All normal visa formalities will still be required (at least for now).

It just goes to show that things can quickly be improved for the traveller when there is a will.

Monday, November 20, 2006

US to join APEC Business Travel Card

Business travel in the Asia-Pacific region will soon get a little bit easier, with the announcement that USA will join the APEC Business Travel Card. This means business travellers from Asia-Pacific will find it a little easier to enter USA, and US business travellers to Asia-Pacific will also find it a little easier.

The APEC Business Travel Card provides visa free entry to many countries bordering the Pacific Ocean (subject to some conditions), and just as importantly for busy travellers provides express immigration lanes.

I haven't seen any information on whether non-US APEC Business Travel Card holders visiting US will still have to get fingerprinted and eyescanned on entry. At least it is a start.

An update on Boston TSA common sense - still none

Thanks to Upgrade: Travel Better for the heads-up to this story on Smarter Travel. I posted a month ago about my experience with Boston (BOS) TSA and the liquids rule. It seems they are still up to tricks, with Smarter Travel's report of being made to buy a quart sized bag (clear and ziplocked of course) at the nearby newsstand due to having a much larger one. Fair enough you might think? Except the contents were 2 3-oz items - clearly much less than you could fit in a quart-sized bag.

So where has the common sense gone?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

EU proposes airline emissions controls

The European Commission has proposed all airlines flying in or to the European Union be subject to emissions controls from 2011. At the moment airlines are excluded from the Kyoto Protocol, which sets carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions targets for countries in an attempt to reduce the effects of global warming.

Details of the proposed airline controls are sketchy but we can be sure that if adopted they will lead to higher prices for passengers and air freight.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

US + America West + Delta = Delta?

US Airways, still in the process of completing its merger with America West, has made a bid for much larger Delta Airlines.

There are still lots of hurdles to pass, but if it succeeds at least one airline alliance will lose an airline, for Delta is a member of Sky Team and US Airways a member of Star Alliance. I agree with Upgrade Travel Better that it is likely Star Alliance would lose out - Delta is both a larger airline than US Airways (even after the merger with America West) and a more significant contributor to Sky Team than US Airways is to Star Alliance. There may also be a direct impact on United Airlines which has lots of codeshares on US Airways - will these remain in place with an enlarged Delta?

Star Alliance and Sky Team frequent flyer program members counting on mileage earning or elite status benefits on US Airways or Delta flights from mid next year would do well to keep informed of the merger progress in case they need to switch flights to get the benefits.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Frequent flyer mileage expiry

Those who are addicted to frequent flyer miles should make sure any valuable miles don't expire unused. In some (most) frequent flyer programs (FFPs) miles do expire eventually (or in some cases the program may close your account for inactivity).

I find it helpful to review all my FFPs each year in November to make sure I have enough time to stop anything of value going to waste by expiring. Putting it in my diary means I know I'll check it every year.

Expiry policies vary widely - with loss of miles after 3 years of inactivity being a common policy. Some programs are much more restrictive, and indeed the trend lately is to reduce the validity period of those hard-earned miles. Check out this thread on Flyertalk (and this one for non-US frequent flyer programs), or your FFP website for the rules for your miles.

For those too lazy to diarise a FFP expiry check, some (paid for) services will do it for you - such as Mileage Manager.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Call roaming in flight

We've known for a while that it has been coming, but this week Emirates confirmed the launch of in-flight mobile phone service from January 2007.

Calls will be treated as international roaming and limited to 5 live calls at any one time.

Nonetheless I am not looking forward to it. At the moment, flights are one of the few places you can avoid the problem of the phone loudmouth. Having someone sitting nearby who hasn't switched their phone to silent and get lots of calls on a 12+ hour flight will not be pleasant, especially if their ringtone is Crazy Frog.

Will flyers be able to request a phone free zone?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fare smorgasbord or nickel and diming?

The Cranky Flier writes how Air Canada has increased transparency in their domestic and trans-border fares. They've done this in a couple of ways.

Firstly, and I don't think this is particularly new, by creating 5 fare categories (Tango, Tango Plus, Latitude, Latitude Plus and Executive aka business Class) and making explicit what is or isn't included in each. Air Canada isn't the only airline to do this.

For example Qantas offers Red e-deal, Super Saver, Fully Flexible and Business. However, Qantas isn't quite as user friendly as Air Canada in that within each fare category there still are several booking classes, and in the case of Red e-deals some are mileage earning on partner frequent flyer programs (eg American Airlines AAdvantage) and some are not. In a case of user unfriendly design, the actual booking class is only shown after payment has been made. (Tip - you can make a guess as to booking class on routes where multiple flights have different availability within Red e-deal fare category, look for a slightly higher amount for mileage earning on AAdvantage, but this tip only works when both flights are both jets or both props since taxes differ by aircraft type.)

A better example might be Air New Zealand. They have fare categories Smart Saver (non mileage earning), Flexi Saver, Flexi, Premium Economy Saver and Premium Economy, Business Saver and Business. You can find out exactly what is included in each fare category before booking by looking up fare info.

But, Air Canada has now taken the transparency approach to another level by offering a smorgasbord of options. Don't care about the miles, save a few dollars. Want checked baggage, pay a little more. Pay to pre-select a seat. And so on. While this may appeal to some travellers, such a nickel and dime approach seems to me to be a race to the bottom and part of a trend of full service airlines trying to mimic low cost carriers (LCCs) to remain competitive.

Will it catch on? I hope not.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Another map tool

I came across yet another map tool, Platial, thanks to a post by gokubi. I've been playing around with it a bit and it looks quite useful and very easy to use (tip - to include a location on your map make sure the "add to mapname" box is checked!). You can see a map I've created showing the airports I have visited/will visit in 2006 (click on the 2, 3, and 4 below the places box to display the rest of the icons). In most cases entering just the airport code the map centered on to the right place, although there were a few missteps. As more people use the site it should bring up more locations already entered - currently there is a bit within US but not so much elsewhere.

I haven't used much of the functionality, but from browsing the site I can see several ways it could be used combining maps, directions, place information, venues and schedules, etc. I can see myself using it to arrange meetings, dinner, etc in unfamiliar surroundings. The software crashed a couple of times and I'm still having issues trying to incorporate a map in this blog (uses Blogger Beta so perhaps not fully supported yet) but overall pretty good I think.

As a side benefit of my playing I got some useful street maps for the neighbouring area of some unfamiliar airports which will make it easier for me to get around.

Locked in update

A few days ago I posted about being locked in at the airport. I got a half-hearted answer to my email from a Customer Care Executive (what a title!) thanking me for my feedback, assuring me they are "putting every effort into minimising delays", but not directly addressing my questions.

I've experienced a similar apathetic response with other airlines in the past couple of years. It does make it seem that form letters rule and it is too much effort to deal with customers' issues (real or perceived).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Carry on restrictions spread

As feared the carry-on restrictions are spreading - this time throughout European Union (EU).

From 6 November there will be restrictions on liquids to almost match the US requirements I previously reported on. I say almost match because of course the US requirement is 3oz containers in a quart ziplock bag, while the EU requirement is 100ml containers in a litre ziplock bag. Hopefully common sense will prevail that the same bags and containers are good for EU and US.

This is not an unexpected development with several countries already having adopted restrictions on liquids (including some unofficially - yes Germany that means you!).

But wait, there is more. By 17 April 2007, the EU will be adopting the UK's restrictions on carry-ons, both size and quantity. Namely a carry on must be no bigger than 56cm x 45cm x 25cm - in the UK these figures are inclusive of handles, wheels etc. It remains to be seen whether the EU will interpret the same way or allow slightly bigger carry-ons (ie the body of the bag has those size limits).

And, worst of all, the EU has agreed to adopt the only 1 carry-on item rule of the UK. This is terrible for business travellers who will be forced to check in bags for short business trips since the one item of carry-on is a laptop bag which cannot fit all they need.

These changes are a major backward step for traveller convenience without necessarily improving security. For example why would an unopened bottle of duty free bought at one airport suddenly become dangerous at the next airport on the itinerary? And with the EU requirements becoming more closely aligned to the US there is that much less pressure to relax them.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Directory of official tourist offices

I stumbled across the Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory. It lists a lot of countries and regions within countries. I looked up a few places I'm familiar with and it seems to have the official tourist offices listed (with links) correctly. I am not sure if it has all countries but it certainly includes a lot - even tiny Mashall Islands are there. (Unsure where the Marshall Islands are? Check out the highlighted region on the map below.)

Map courtesy of Wikipedia

Luxury travel

I recently posted about Singapore Airlines new business class and first class product launched on their new 777-300ER aircraft.
It will come as no surprise to those who know me that ever since I have been plotting a way to rearrange my travel to experience this.

First Class looks to be quite a step up on the luxury scale from my more usual travel (left).

Business Class (note the Raffles name is being dropped), shown left, is also a step up from current business class.

Pictures from Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand.

Singapore Airlines will initially fly the new 777-300ER between Singapore and Paris CDG, then Singapore and Milan and Barcelona, and also one of the Hong Kong flights each way. I've managed to rearrange my travel and book one of these. Fingers are now crossed for clearing a frequent flyer mileage upgrade to first.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Locked in, again

A few readers may recall some months back I wrote of the time I was locked in an airline lounge. The other day I was again locked in at the airport, this time along with 90 other passengers.

We'd board the flight slightly late due to the airport putting 2 packed 737 flights scheduled for the same time, through the same tiny gate with only one screening station. We headed to the end of the runway for take-off. When we waited there for more than the usual 10 seconds I knew something was wrong. Sure enough the captain comes on the PA to announce due to low cloud surrounding this mountain airport we won't be taking off any time soon and return to the gate. Strangely, another airline's flight managed to take off straight away?

After sitting in the aircraft for a while we were asked to leave and go into the terminal. At the gate we were locked in the gate lounge for over 2 hours with nothing but a pay water & soft drinks machine, some chairs and a view through picture windows of the low cloud and rain outside.

Only after a couple of aircraft had successfully landed, were we allowed to reboard and take our flight.

While I can see that the airline wanted everyone in one place in case the weather suddenly cleared, given the cloud was set in it surely wouldn't have hurt to let the passengers out into the small terminal or alternatively make arrangements for food, hot drinks, etc to be brought into the gate?

This odd episode in my ongoing travels ended okay for me (although others weren't so lucky missing onward flights), but left a sour taste as could have been handled so much better and a nagging question of why we had to be delayed at all.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Small airports

I love small airports. Small airports may not have the amenities of larger airports, and may require flying on tiny aircraft, but there are lots of reasons why I love them.

Someone recently asked me whether their 20 minute connection at a small airport was safe - would they make their onward flight? Would their checked bags make it? I said, and this may well come back to bite me, that not only is 20 minutes sufficient for easy connection but there is also enough time to visit the airline lounge should they wish to do so. Simple, no fuss connections - great.

Contrast this with larger airports. At some, depending on the airline(s) and terminal(s) involved, even a 2+ hour connection has a chance of passenger and/or their checked bags not making the onward flight. Los Angeles LAX and London Heathrow LHR spring to mind as banes for travellers like me who often cannot fly point to point.

Another reason I like small airports is that you can virtually guarantee that checked bags will arrive within minutes of landing, and a gate to exit time of 10 minutes would be considered unusually slow. Great for people in a hurry, like me.

Yet another reason is the staff (moreso in the really small airports with only 1 or a handful of commercial flights a day). In this age where corporate policies rein supreme it is refreshing to find helpful staff willing to bend the rules in the name of good old fashioned customer service. For example allowing check in for the flight less than 15 minutes before departure (since the aircraft hasn't yet arrived at the gate it is hardly going to delay the flight!). Great for those who sometimes run late, again like me.

With a much lower number of aircraft movements, small airports do not suffer the fate of larger airports (hubs especially) whereby delays compound into bigger delays. Great for people frustrated by delays, or who have tight schedules.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Travel planning

Thanks to the Geeky Traveller I now have another tool for planning future trips. It's called TripTie. It is based on the idea that it is easy planning when you have an example of a trip someone else did - I can vouch for that! From a quick play it seems to be easy to use, although I do have some concerns about security of private data (you can enter in reservation details and private notes etc although these are not viewable by others).

It looks like a good online replacement for various notes and files I leave myself in my email. I haven't yet checked out how shareable the info is - it may be useful allowing others travelling with you or left behind to have access to your full details.

It has only been up a few days and already has 300 trips loaded. So may not take long to get enough mass to be truly useful. User added tags should assist searches.

At the moment the site focuses mainly on the land component of travel. I wonder if this will change over time?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


No, not those kind of enhancements.

I've made a few changes to the blog which will hopefully improve useability. I'm still coming to grips with the software so there may be a few more tweaks to come. Please send me suggestions or feedback - you can now do this by clicking on the contact me link near top right. This blog is for you.

Security inconsistencies

A peeve of mine, and probably many other frequent travellers, is how the security arrangements are supposed to be there for our safety and yet there is a wide range of treatment and rules. This is particularly annoying for international travellers who have to cope with sometimes marked differences by country. Surely the same belt or shoe or laptop or whatever, doesn't suddenly become more dangerous just because I am in USA instead of say Australia?

For example a selection of security arrangements on my recent travels.

New Zealand - jet flight not to USA
No need to take anything off to go through the walk through metal detector (WTMD), no need to take anything out of bag to go through xray machine (XM).

New Zealand - prop flight
No need to pass through security at all.

Australia, Singapore, Spain, Argentina - not to USA
No need to take anything off to go through the WTMD although I put my wallet in my bag as a precaution, no need to take anything out of bag to go through XM.

United Kingdom
Take off belt and shoes for the WTMD and put watch and wallet in my bag, no need to take anything out of bag to go through XM, no liquids allowed.

Take off belt and shoes for the WTMD and put watch and wallet in my bag, take small liquids out of bag and put in clear ziplock bag to go through XM, in several places debate over whether the zip on my bag qualifies as ziplock (geez), said bag plus small liquids confiscated at Boston (BOS).

Take off belt for the WTMD and put watch and wallet in my bag but shoes stay on, no need to take anything out of bag to go through XM.

Chile - not to USA
No need to take anything off to go through the walk through metal detector (WTMD), no need to take anything out of bag to go through xray machine (XM).

Chile - to USA
No need to take anything off to go through the walk through metal detector (WTMD), no need to take anything out of bag to go through xray machine (XM). Extremely cursory manual check of bag (largely consisted of opening up).

The only thing that is consistent is the inconsistency.

Unlimited pass not attractive second time around

Some readers may recall last year a Flyer Talker, mtacchi, used an Air Canada unlimited travel pass to great effect - earning 1 million miles within 2 months (Flyer Talk thread and blog).

It seems Air Canada and Aeroplan, whilst happy at the time to bask in the unexpected press coverage, now wants to make sure that no one else can emulate his feat. Their latest unlimited travel passes come with fixed mileage earning (based on fare type of the pass), regardless of how much use. The fixed mileage is a paltry amount - for the highest fare category only 15,000 miles a month.

Given the other restrictions on the passes, eg travel not allowed on Mondays or Fridays, it is hard to see where the market for this product may be. Air Canada please lighten up a little - it isn't likely many have the time and patience to do what mtacchi did (and in any case some of the new restrictions bite also).

It isn't attractive to businesses due to the need to pre-pay and restrictions make it uncertain whether they will get value for money. It isn't attractive to mileage runners with a pathetic return well over 10+ cents per mile. And it is expensive for the weekend leisure traveller.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Experimental Travel

An article in this month's Silver Kris magazine intrigued me as it struck a chord.

In the words of Joel Henry who came up with the concept "experimental travel is travel with constraints that at the same time liberate you from the limitations and expectations of classic tourism"

What does it mean? Perhaps it is easiest to explain by way of example (there are lots of different variations - see for a bigger list).

A-Z travel. In a town or city, find the first and last streets alphabetically and travel between them (doesn't necessarily have to be a straight line between).

Airport travel. Spend 24 (or 48) hours at an airport. Enjoy the lounges, shops and eateries. Watch the ever changing departures board.

Counter travel. At famous landmarks, take pictures in the opposite direction (ie with your back to the landmark).

K2 expedition. Go to the place located at map reference K2.

As with a lot (all?) of travel experiences, Lonely Planet has a guide.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Singapore Airlines big on width

The product for Singapore Airline's new 777-300ER was unveiled yesterday and the common theme is width. Yes there is new version of Kris World (complete with office software!), new bigger screens, and various other changes. But the standout is the width of the seats in Business Class and First Class, at a whopping 30 & 35 inches across respectively!

This is a bold move when other top airlines are focussing on getting true lie-flat beds, and greater length.

Some pics from their website - first, business and economy.

Anyone want to sponsor the Global Traveller for a first hand report? ;-)

Monday, October 16, 2006

My experience with liquids in carry-ons

Firstly a big apology for the lack of recent posts. I've had a hectic few weeks cris-crossing the globe, and while I've had lots of ideas for blog entries, time to put them down has been so very limited. I'll try to make it up to you.

Frequent travellers know or suspect many of the current security rules are farcical. I want to outline just one aspect (for now) - the liquids in carry-ons. Different countries have different rules, and these have changed over time. I'm reporting here only on my recent experiences based on the rules then in place.

The following countries had no restrictions on liquids other than flights to certain countries (eg USA), and the small liquids I had in my carry-on were no issue at screening - Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Oman, Singapore, Spain.

In Japan and Chile there were signs at the screening station mentioning liquid bans but unclear whether this was for all flights, or only those to USA. They didn't have a problem with the small liquids I had in my carry-on.

The UK had a ban on liquids other than sealed duty free and certain medications. I did in fact have a small bottle of toiletry which went undetected in no less than 3 transits at London Heathrow (LHR), each transit including full screening.

The USA allowed small containers of liquids as long as screened separately in a single small zipped plastic bag. The same small bottle of toiletry (plus other items from airline amenity kits) were okay at the first 3 screenings within US. At the fourth screening in Boston (BOS) they were all confiscated for no apparent reason other than the officer said they weren't allowed. The person screened before me had many large containers of liquids that were put in several plastic bags, and allowed to retain them. Such inconsistencies and making up of rules is part of the reason thinking travellers abhor the current security set-up in the USA. I subsequently got more liquids in a new zipped plastic bag (yes BOS took the bag as well), and these went through 2 more screenings within US without problem.

I hope that common sense will eventually prevail, but am not currently optimistic.

Monday, September 25, 2006

US carry-on restrictions eased a little

Some more good news for global travellers this week - this time for those travelling to, through or from the US. TSA has announced 2 changes to the liquid ban:

  1. Liquids bought airside (after security) may be brought onboard. (Canada already made this change).
  2. Small liquid toiletries are now allowed. Bring them in a clear plastic zip-top bag for separate screening.

While it is still more restrictive than pre-August, it is a step in the right direction. Here's hoping other countries with liquid bans also relax the rules quickly.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Airline surcharges in USA

As an update on an earlier post, thanks to Upgrade: Travel Better for the welcome news that inclusive airline pricing is to stay in USA.

Meanwhile the surcharge nonsense continues to get worse and worse elsewhere. Some recent tickets I've bought had surcharges of 3-4 times the base fare.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

UK carry-on restrictions eased a little

As reported on Flyer Talk the UK carry-on restrictions have been eased a little. Instead of only allowing a ridiculously tiny 45cm x 35cm x 16cm, from this Friday you can take up to 56cm x 45cm x 25cm. Yay. This change is in the nick of time for me personally.

However it isn't all good news. There is still a ban on liquids and gels, unsurprising really until US lifts it's ban. There is still a strict limit on the one bag, no extra bag for first class, business class and elite status passengers. And still no extra personal items (eg laptop) can be carried on.

According to the BBC, musical instruments are an exception to the size and single piece rule. Thus there is hope that the rules will be further relaxed for everyone that isn't a musician.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Changing schedules

I'm not sure why but some airlines are bad at informing passengers of changes to the schedules affecting bookings made but not flown. Earlier this year I had a flight cancelled by Lufthansa which I only found out when turning up for check in. The latest one was a significant schedule change by Qantas affecting several bookings by up to 4 hours. Fortunately I found out quickly and so was able to tune the bookings more to my liking. Had I left it until closer to departure there may not have been availability to make changes and I may have been stuck with the default.

With over 100 flights booked but unflown, schedule changes are bound to happen. I probably should pay more attention than I do. Ideally the airlines would send alert emails every time. The next easiest way to check schedule changes is to log on to the airline website and review your bookings. Some airline websites are good at showing all the bookings and even highlighting changes (usually with a message please contact the airline), while others are not so good.

For example Qantas shows all bookings associated with your Qantas frequent flyer number, regardless of where you made the booking and highlights the changes - that's good. However, credit your airline mileage to another FFP (frequent flyer program) and the flights are not shown.

Singapore Airlines shows all bookings (this is a fairly recent change - they used to only show bookings made online) but doesn't seem to highlight changes at all. Some of the "manage my booking" functions you'd expect also only work on bookings made online.

Air New Zealand is the opposite extreme with very limited functionality. Not only are bookings not displayed, but you have to enter the record locator (6 character booking reference) and your email address and phone number. Even then it only works for bookings made online. They have a long way to go to match best practice!

Fortunately you don't need to rely on airline websites to check your bookings. Some online travel agents will show all your bookings made through them, and highlight changes. Zuji is an example of this. Also each CRS (computerised reservation system), sometimes also called GDS (global distribution system) but I'll keep it simple by referring to as CRS here, has an associated website where you can check bookings made with airlines who use that CRS - as long as you know the record locator and your name.

So which CRS do I need to check you may ask? While they are interconnected it is best to look up the home or native CRS of the airline you are flying. This will have the most up to date and complete information. So on itineraries involving multiple airlines you may need to check more than one system - even though you might see all the flights on the first CRS you check, the information may not be correct.

For a selection of airlines, here is the native CRS.

  • Amadeus (Check My Trip) - Air France, Iberia, Lufthansa, SAS, Continental, America West, British Airways, Qantas, South African Airways, (Opodo), (Expedia)
  • Apollo/Galilio (View Trip) - United, Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Alitalia, KLM, TAP Portugal, (CheapTickets)
  • Sabre (Virtually There) - American Airlines, All Nippon Airways (ANA), Cathay Pacific Airways, China Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Dragonair, EVA Airways, Garuda Indonesia, Malaysia Airlines, Pakistan International Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Royal Brunei Airlines, Silkair, (Travelocity), US Airways, American Trans Air (ATA), Midwest Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Air Malta, Frontier Airlines, Aeroflot, (Expedia)
  • Worldspan (My Trip and More) - Delta, Northwest, (Expedia), (Orbitz), (Hotwire), (Priceline), Swiss

Note, however, that some airlines have their own CRS with no way for the public to view bookings (other than on the airline's website where available) - eg Air New Zealand.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The waiting game

After the news last week that UK carry-on restrictions were to be relaxed from this coming weekend with an announcement Tuesday, comes the inevitable let-down. No announcement yet and rumours of more delays through next week at least.

As it happens, my first trip through UK since August is next week with multiple transits. So now I'm playing the waiting game. As previously posted, I do have a plan B since the current restrictions are more than a minor inconvenience.

I wish this trip was booked on Star Alliance since I could then easily avoid UK altogether, but unfortunately at the time of booking One World suited better so I am stuck with multiple transits through London.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Emergency phone numbers

Inspired by a post on The Frequent Flyer blog, I want to take a moment to talk about emergency phone numbers.

We hope we'll never need to use them, but emergency numbers can be lifesaving. The number is easy to remember, right? Unfortunately each country can have their own number or numbers - just because 911 is used in US doesn't mean 911 will work elsewhere. For example in UK it is 999, in Australia 000 and NZ 111.

Here is a link to the Wikipedia page on emergency phone numbers, but I like the fact my GSM roaming service texts me the local numbers on arrival to a country (where available).

The network is down

4 words you don't want to hear when you're waiting between flights and have some work to finish off. Even more so when you planned a lengthy connection just so you could get that work done in peace in the lounge and be ready when you arrive at the destination.

This is exactly what happened to me recently. I did find a work around, thanks to having access to another lounge even when not flying that airline, but it wasted a lot of time and so I didn't complete as much as I'd hoped.

It did serve a purpose though - as a salient reminder not to be too reliant on using the amenities of an airline lounge en route. I often use the time in transit to send off those emails I ran out of time to do before I started the journey, look up info for the destination or meeting, and print things off (like maps and other useful arrival info). Maybe next time I'll be a bit more organised in advance.

Cheers and happy travels.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Carry On Luggage Update

Since 10 August I've had a few flights in and between various countries. My experiences with security have been very mixed.

Some places in Asia-Pacific region there are no changes, except for flights to US or UK having no liquids or gels. Where duty free is available, there is an extra check of the boarding pass to see if flying to a restricted flight - in which case the duty free booze must be delivered sealed to the gate. Screening is no different to normal, nor is check in. I understand from friends that there are some countries in Asia that also have no liquids rule - eg Philippines.

Whereas my first trip to North America (post 10 August) I experienced the effect of the restrictions for the first time. Extra questioning at check in. Secondary screening at gate and mandatory pat down :-( No footwear through the WTMD (walk through metal detector), not even those paper foot covers or ultra-slim plastic slippers. In Vancouver airport, the airside water fountains were even disabled - forcing thirsty passengers waiting for their flight to pay for an overpriced drink at a retail outlet or drink from the bathroom (yuk). The only positives were that queues everywhere were shorter (less people travelling) and with much less carry-ons (by some people) boarding was almost as fast as in Asia-Pacific region.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Taking Things for Granted

Return Check In

The airlines I fly most often allow passengers travelling without checked baggage for a short return trip to check in for the return leg at the same time as the first leg. This is a boon for those short on time. It is also good for odd circumstances - like when you visit Singapore and want to return to the airport in the middle of the night when the check in desks are closed, having the return board pass enables you to make use of the 24/7 immigration facility.

I am so used to doing this that I recently got a surprise when a certain airport/airline combination was unable to do return check in for me. Less useful time for me.

Preferred Seats

Everyone has a different preference for seats. Savvy travellers will even have different preferences according to airline, class of travel, aircraft type and seat configuration.

Most people like seats in 747 upper deck exit row, since this row has the most leg room and space of any (for the relevant class of travel). So I was surprised on a recent flight that a passenger insisted on being moved out of the exit row. In case you are wondering the flight was almost 100% full so it was not a matter of wanting to move to a row with an empty seat beside him.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Are You Prepared?

What a difference a day makes!

Seemingly the travel world is in chaos with new restrictions in place in UK and USA. Personally I think some of the commentary and opinions is a bit over the top. Lets see what unfolds over the coming days and weeks before predicting the end of travel as we know it.

Anyway, I don't want to dwell on the current restrictions but instead it got me thinking a bit and I want to share some of my thoughts. As a frequent traveller I take a lot for granted without even realising, and it has taken recent events to make me pause and consider.

I'm well aware that rules and regulations can change at any time. For example I've posted before on the UK carry on and checked baggage changes. However, I had in mind that these changes would be announced in advance. How prepared am I for changes that happen while I am on a trip?

Through a stroke of good fortune on my part I happen to not be travelling right now. But I could so easily have been in the UK on a trip in the midst of the chaos.

I certainly didn't have a plan for how to deal with things that some travellers are currently having to face. Let me give some examples.

I often bring local wine with me as gifts, always as a carry-on. These are unobtainable in many other countries and thus appreciated. However, with a ban on liquids in carry-ons I would be forced to choose between leaving them behind, putting them in checked bag and hoping they don't break, or sending them on as freight. Seems straight-forward enough decision to make - if high value then freight otherwise dump. It is not worth the risk of a breakage ruining the rest of my baggage. But what about if the rule was imposed when I was already en route? Sound far fetched? Not really - this is the same as a complex itinerary where different rules apply to the various flights. Once I've managed to lug the bottles half way through I may be more inclined to freight them the rest of the way. There may still be logistical issues, like do I have the full address (or can I get it in the short transit) and is there a suitable method to freight the bottles in the small time available?

Another example, is being forced to check my mobile phone and laptop. (At the time of writing this is the case for UK flights.) As with many savvy travellers I rely heavily on my phone and/or laptop to keep in touch and manage last minute changes - especially during irregular ops, or if my work needs suddenly change. Being forced to check these in I lose a means of staying in control. Do I know the phone numbers for the elite line of my frequent flyer program or do I rely on my phone's memory? Is there a payphone I can use to rearrange schedules or do I have to endure a long queue at the gate agent for instance? How will family, work and friends stay in touch? On many itineraries I can spend 30 hours or more in airports and on aircraft as I wend my way to the destination. That is a long time to be out of all contact.

For the past several years I have only checked bags when essential (eg on very small aircraft), and have refined my baggage so that I can manage with just carry ons even for most extended trips. If I now need to check this on more trips, the every day risk of lost or damaged bags becomes more significant to me. It is all very well knowing you can make that 30 minute connection in say Munich by running, but the trip may be ruined (or pointless if on business) if your bag gets left behind. Do I need to review my itineraries for tight connections? Is there anything I can do to mitigate the problems if my bags don't turn up for a few days? Can some things be sent on ahead? Info stored on a laptop perhaps saved to a web-based location where it can easily be retrieved.

This is just a few examples of the thoughts running through my mind as I realise, no I am not prepared but I think (or hope?) I can cope.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Grounded and stir crazy

I'm still grounded and going a bit stir crazy. While it has been nice having so many overseas visitors lately it isnt the same as doing some travelling myself.

In the meantime I've had to be satisfied with a few minor travel related things.

I've been experimenting with ways to get around certain restrictions on bookings on an airline website (mainly to do with connections and turnarounds). It's annoying when a website has rules built into it that don't appear to have any basis to them (eg requiring much more than legal minimum connection times). Some I managed to work out okay and others I'm still working on.

I also have finally gotten a tape measure to check my carry on size will be okay in UK with their new rules. Good news - it is small enough (just barely on the longest dimension). That's a relief as I mostly try to travel without checking bags. Although a bit of a worry that a carry on that has successfully travelled some 600,000 miles, and is by no means large, is almost too big for the new strict rules.

Lastly, I've also spent some time organising accommodation for upcoming trips. Ouch - one destination is much more expensive than my last stay there. Another I'm struggling with communication since I don't speak the language and time zones are most unfriendly so painfully slow dialogue.

I'm looking forward to an upswing in travel again. No doubt will start counting down the days soon.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Seeing a familiar place through fresh eyes

Sorry for the lack of recent entries. It's been a hectic time but getting back under control again so hopefully will be posting more regularly now.

Over the past few weeks I've had lots of overseas visitors. It's been great seeing a familiar place through fresh eyes as I've shown them around. It has made me realise just how much I take for granted. We've been very lucky with the weather - near perfect while the guests were here. And good company is always appreciated.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Red Eyes

This year I seem to have had a lot of overnight flights - already 34 nights spent mostly on the plane! As I prepare for yet another red eye flight I thought it may be helpful to readers to pass on my tips to endure the trip.

A red eye is a short overnight flight, leaving late evening and arriving early in the morning. Mostly they are eastbound. I'm sure there are definitions around but this will do for me.

With a flight time of only a few hours it can be difficult adjusting to the time change and sleep is guaranteed to be short (unless you are an insomniac anyways).

  • I try to eat well before the flight and resist the temptation to snack in the lounge or onboard.
  • I try to be in a darkened environment with no real exercise of body or mind in the couple of hours before heading to the airport. This way I am sleepy at the start of the flight.
  • I may have a drink or two at the lounge to induce sleep, avoiding coffee and coke.
  • I try to find somewhere quiet in the lounge or airport. Blaring tvs or announcements aren't good.
  • I'll select a window seat, or a middle aisle seat - so that I won't be disturbed by a seat mate getting up for the toilet or food and drink.
  • In the pre-departure ritual I'll ask the flight attendant to not wake me for a meal.
  • I'll find a comfy position in the seat and shut eyes straight after the safety announcements. Sometimes I'll bring some eye shades which I've found to work, or other times I won't bother - I don't find them comfortable so they don't always work for me.
  • Assuming I am still awake after take-off I'll shut the window shades so I won't get woken up by the dawn light.

Now off to follow my own advice - cheers.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Connexion by Boeing Going?

Catching up on some news posted at blog Upgrade: Travel Better I read that the future of the wireless internet Connexion service is uncertain with Boeing reportedly looking to sell or close down the division. A need to drive up usage may explain the recent increase in sproiking of the service with free minutes and discount codes for suitably equipped flights. While these offers are not new, in the past few months there seems to be an increase and I'm also getting stuff posted & emailed by airlines rather than just offered at airport gate lounges, and appears to be a more concerted effort.

I must say this news surprises me as I see more and more people using the service - both as the equipment rollout covers more aircraft and also more awareness of it amongst frequent flyers.

Stay tuned for more news.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Is There A Doctor Onboard?

As has happened all too often this year again I hear the call "is there a doctor onboard?". I don't know whether travellers are getting sicker or airlines are being more careful in a litigious society, but it seems to me that this announcement is being made more and more often. A few years ago the call for a doctor was very rare (at least on my flights), yet this year perhaps one in six longhaul flights has the call.

Personally I hope to never need medical attention in the air, nor for any travel companions. However it is very reassuring to know that in most cases a doctor is willing to help out should the need arise. The airlines are also doing their part - in this most recent example Singapore Airlines gave the doctor an upgrade from economy to first class for helping out. Not only is this rewarding a kind soul but is also recognition that without the help of medically trained passengers there is a risk of needing a costly diversion en route.

Heres to all the selfless doctors and nurses who help out in the air.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

BA Announce Major Changes to Carry On and Checked Luggages

It's been a busy few weeks travelling and a few close shaves with major weather delays. I've also had some unplanned burning of a lot of miles for a funeral and a honeymoon (no, not mine). But I digress, the topic for today is British Airway's upcoming changes to both carry on and checked baggage allowances including (apparently) strict enforcement.

I reported over a month ago that changes were coming, and now it is official - both emailed and on BA's website. From July the weight limit on carry-on goes, but strictly 1 main piece plus a smaller personal item able to be fitted under seat in front. Carrying a bag, briefcase and umbrella/suit bag (or even my favourite some duty free)? Under the new rules that will be one too many. From October checked bags will be limited to 23kg (50lb) per piece, and 1 piece for most passengers (2 for travel to/from USA & Canada, and 2 for first/business/world traveller plus). Over the weight limit and you'll need to remove items, get an extra bag and if over the maximum number of pieces be charged a hefty fee (120 pounds for longhaul!).

All reports to date are suggesting enforcement will be strict (and not only at check in, security will be assisting the airlines) with no room for leeway. It remains to be seen whether this will be possible, but it is concerning enough to many regular flyers who have come up with lots of bad scenarioes. Eg see Flyer Talk's BA forum discussion.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Nose Glued to the Window

The day was one of those pristine flying days. The routes featured stunning scenery. Yes - I had my nose glued to the window all the way.

From take off over the tranquil harbour, banking to fly low over rolling farmland and then out past rugged surf beaches and over the wind whipped sea. Then we fly almost directly over the top of the classic volcanic cone that has featured in some movies as stand-in for a more famous volcano. Again across a body of water and peaceful sinuous tongues of land reaching for the sea. Over mountains with a light dusting of snow on the tops and a view across the rift valley and long fault escarpments and across the strait to the other main island. More rolling hills, these barren and bare, and valleys with forest plantations, which give way to the wide open plains. The flat expanse covered by a patchwork of fields and windbreaks and crossed by many meandering braided rivers which contrast against the arrow straight roads and rail tracks. As we circle the airport to land we get views across the city and estuary to the broad flanks of the twin extinct volcanoes jutting into the sea and the large circle of the coastal lake beyond.

The next flight is, if anything, even more scenic. A large mountain range dominates the horizon on one side, and on the other is the gentle open sweeps of a huge bay where plain meets ocean. At first we are flying along the great plain but soon we reach the first of the fold hills, the barreness apparent even through the light snow cover. As we steadily head inland the ranges grow on either side of the aircraft - low at first but steadily becoming higher and higher. We pass canals and dammed lakes, the water shining an irridescent turquoise thanks to the glaciated water running off the peaks. Big river valleys reach deep into the mountains. As we begin our descent the land shines brightly, the schist and mica outcrops reflecting the strong sunlight, as does the snow on the tops. Now the mountains appear close on either side of the aircraft and the pilots' hard work becomes apparent. We pass close over ridges as we descend towards the bowl containing the airport. Skifields break the emptiness of the mountains underneath while deep canyons are scarred by tortuous ribbons of roads cutting into the heartland. Today the flight path is different from the usual approach and we burst into the confined basin above the airport, below the peaks towering on each side but far too high for landing. The pilots expertly spin the aircraft in a pirouette around the sides of the bowl as we sharply descend to final approach over a small hill and across the swift deep river and all too soon we touch down.

We have a small delay in departing as we wait for another aircraft to take off, there being no taxiway and only one tug to push back, and also wait for a landing aircraft. As we wait we admire the view and say farewell to the lovely town. The taxi down the runway is short and we spin around at the end before immediately rolling for takeoff. We lift off very quickly and steeply climb above the lake, banking as we go around a modest hill and thankfully avoiding the mountain a short distance away on the other side of the lake. We keep climbing to clear a rugged mountain range that appears to leap out from the lake beside the airport. The snow is still high on the range but soon the slopes will be packed with skiers. The great mountain range appears to the side and stretching out in the distance ahead of us. The cloud is banked up far on the windward side but our side is clear, protected by the great range. The highest peak, fittingly, pierces the clouds with its distinctive shape. As we retrace our path across the mountains, hills and plains, the sun sinks lower in the sky. The mountains casting shadows for hundreds of kilometers until eventually the sun sets. The silhouette of the alps is both striking and familiar as we descend to land. The city lights cast a glow before us, while in the distance are pin pricks of light from smaller townships.

This was a great day to be flying.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Disrupted Sleep

Normally I dont get affected much by jet lag. Over the years of extensive longhaul travel I have learnt to regulate my sleep to minimise the effects (some might say I had plenty of practice with the boozy life of a student).

However, the last few nights I have struggled to settle in to a normal sleep after several short trips to North America, Asia, Europe and Australasia over the last few weeks. So far the usual tricks haven't worked so I'm looking for something to break me back into my normal cycle.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

News by Phone

For the third time in a month I got phone and text messages from worried friends and relatives in relation to a significant disaster or event near to me before seeing or hearing the news from the media. The world seemingly is getting smaller and more connected 24/7 and around the globe.

This time it was the tragic Yogyakarta earthquake. Staying with friends in Bali we fortunately did not feel anything, and other than being touched to give a donation, were not affected.

Earlier in May it was the false alarm of a tsunami from a Tongan earthquake. This earthquake was in the middle of the night but the tsunami alert was reported widely around the globe. The removal of the alert took longer to be notified and the NZ Civil Defence has had to review its performance, or lack of.

And last month I got some calls about the riots in Kathmandu from some people who had forgotten I had changed my travel plans to spend more time in India.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Personal Velocity

I came across the article Living at Jet Speed the other day (reprinted from Newsweek). It referred to personal velocity - a measure of how fast you travel on average every hour of the year. Take your total travel distance (flying, car, train, bus, etc) and divide by 8760 (the number of hours in a year).

The author, Joshua Ramo Cooper, had a personal velocity in 2005 of 45.8 miles per hour. I came across a few other references - William Arruda 28.3 miles per hour, and a few mentions on Flyertalk in the annual travel summaries some people post.

2005 was a big travel year for me and my personal velocity was 42.8 miles per hour, or faster than the speed limit in the built up parts of my city.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Travel, travel and more travel

Oops it's been a while since my last blog entry. Naturally I have been travelling a lot, some planned and some unplanned.

Air New Zealand
In the past month I have experienced Air New Zealand's new longhaul product in both business class and premium economy. I think the new business premier (on all 777-200ERs and by now most 747-400 aircraft are also refitted) seat is great. Coupled with Air New Zealand's excellant service, new audio-video on demand (the flight path has some nifty graphics) and fine New Zealand wines and food, this product is about the best business class I have tried and better than some airlines' first class. I even found that they have printed a wine guide featuring all the business class wines and, perhaps mindful that many passengers won't be familiar with the New Zealand wine scene, a background to the different regions and varieties.

But it wasn't all good news as far as I was concerned. The premium economy was disappointing and did not live up to the hype. Yes it is more comfortable than economy (extra leg-room and recline - the seats are still narrow), but I did not feel it was worth the significant extra price charged.

Unplanned travel
I have recently redeemed an award for the most points per flown mile that I have ever had. And yet I still consider it a good value award. The death of a close relative just before I headed off on a longhaul trip created a few scheduling headaches (on top of all the other emotions). Not only was my own schedule a tricky one involving many thousands of miles and several time zones, but I also needed to arrange (much shorter) travel for others to ensure they could attend the funeral. Fortunately my existing ticket would see me close to the place where the funeral was held without needing to change it.

Last minute fares for the short extra legs were ridiculously high, as expected, and no bereavement fares were available. So I used some miles to get a couple of last minute awards. Yes I could have used the miles for longhaul travel where it would have higher value, but the saving of a large and unplanned cash outlay was worth it, and enabling others to make the funeral when they wouldn't have otherwise was priceless.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Mega Frequent Flyer Miles update

Earlier I posted that BMI has improved their earning for Diamond Club Gold members. Once they pass 55,000 status miles the excess status miles get converted to redeemable miles at a one to one ratio. Since BMI already has great earning rates in first and business classes this improvement means earning can be as high as 625% miles (not counting any promos or minimum mileage).

Initially there were some reports that the bonus would be limited to 25,000 miles. According to information posted on Flyer Talk there is no limit to the bonus miles.

For someone who flies a lot in first and business class, and is based in Europe, BMI Diamond Club looks very attractive. Great earning rates and decent redemptions (miles plus cash options in particular). I do, however, have a couple of concerns.

  • BMI seems to have an uncertain future with ongoing difficulties financially and operationally
  • There have been reports that award availability is being restricted for BMI Diamond Club members

Whether or not I choose to take advantage of this, I congratulate Diamond Club for this innovation. For once we have a real enhancement.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Baggage Crack Down in UK

Anyone who's flown much knows there is a wide range in baggage limits and also how much they are or aren't enforced by the airlines, both for carry-ons and checked baggage. In most places the enforcement is up to the airlines - at check-in and again at the gate. Some airlines are very strict (for example Qantas) while others are very lax (for example most US-based airlines I've flown) in enforcing their own rules.

Some airports, such as Melbourne Australia, have airport people checking carry-ons for size and weight before security or immigration, but generally if the airline has accepted it (or you have shiny metal baggage tags) they let you go through even if you have slightly more than you should.

But this may be about to change. The British Airport Authority (BAA), which runs most of the main airports in UK, has announced that from October strict new rules will come into effect. Before then they will be trialling the rules on certain airlines and flights.

I'll put the new rules about checked baggage to one side, since many airlines are in the process of changing their allowances anyway (at least for trips including North America where the piece concept applies). For carry ons, the BAA intends enforcing the size limit and number at security, including at transfers. In the case of London Heathrow this means a passenger may have arrived off an intercontinental flight with their carry-ons, then queued for a lengthy time at Flight Connection Centre security, only to be told they have to check their carry on and please clear immigration to do so. This seems absurd and can't possibly help the UK airports compete with the european hubs.

So I am going to watch developments with interest. While I dont go overboard with carry-ons, I would still be inconvenienced through greater queues, flights delayed to accommodate pax caught in queues or forced to clear immigration when they shouldn't have to, etc. If implemented as it has been reported to date, then I'll be looking to shift more flights to european hubs. I had been expecting to fly via London Heathrow more often now that Air New Zealand's new business premier is rolled out and especially with their London to Hong Kong flights starting later this year.

Monday, May 01, 2006

25 Years of Frequent Flyer Programs

Inside Flyer has a nice article online (free) on the early days of frequent flyer programs at American, United, Delta, TWA, Braniff and Northwest. An interesting insight - and gee things have changed a lot.

Friday, April 28, 2006

We Don't Know How Lucky We Are

Sometimes when I get down because of some annoyance or inconvenience I have to stop and think for a moment to appreciate how lucky I am.

I don't live in poverty, unlike so many others less fortunate. Even such things I take for granted like water and electricity are not as freely available elsewhere as I might suppose. For instance last week in Delhi I was astounded to read in the newspaper that on average residents have only a few hours of electricity each day and only 1% have all day electricity.

Sure enough, even the big hotel where I was staying had frequent brief generator failures and one uncomfortable hot night when the air-conditioning failed.

I don't know how lucky I am.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Firstly, an apology for the lack of blogging lately. I've been on a very hectic schedule across 5 continents and 11 countries. I should get back on track later this week.

Secondly, an update to the delay I mentioned. The airline gave us a room at local hotel (about 15 minutes by taxi, the nearest reasonable hotel), a credit for a meal plus 3 minute phone call, and transport to and from the hotel. Thumbs up so far. They rebooked our wakeup calls to a ridiculously early hour of the morning (only a few hours sleep possible) and cancelled the pre-ordered taxis, replacing with a bus for all the non-locals. When we arrived back at the airport immigration wasn't yet open so we had to wait a while, a sign we got back too early. Thumbs down.

The flight itself was okay although I think we lost a meal (went from supper plus breakfast to breakfast only with some odd suppery choices!). The crew were great - they had the same disrupted schedule as the rest of us.

I'll be back soon.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Time is an Illusion

Somehow I manage to fit in more when travelling than I do when at home. It's as if the change in timezones has slowed down time and thus allowed more to be done.

A case in point this weekend in Perth. After an enjoyable day in the sun listening to jazz and blues at the West Coast Blues N Roots Festival at Freemantle, I still found time to stop in the city en route to the airport to fit in some shopping and even a haircut.

But it wasn't until I was back at the airport that time came back to reality with a thump. Flight delayed probably 9 1/2 hours. Ahh - that knocks out my next two flights also. It's at times of irregular ops that airline can stand out for great (or bad) performance. I'll post an update on how it works out.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Class Comparison

Inside Flyer has an article this month comparing economy, business and first class.

"First and business class equates to more space, better service and faster
mileage accumulation, but all of this comes at a price -- be it in the form of
money or mileage redemption. We tell you when it's worth parting with your cash
or miles for an upgrade and when it's best to stay put."

No surprises that more space is the number one reason given for choosing business or first class. The article includes a summary table of frequent flyer mileage accrual on various programs in each class - discount economy, economy, business and first. However, the table omits to mention each FFP has its own definition of what is included as discount economy. I was also disappointed the table didnt include some more european and asian programs - there are several programs that offer much better earning rates for business and first class than those shown (eg Lufthansa Miles and More).

Travel to Remote Places

This recent thread on Flyer Talk has given me some great ideas for off the beaten track locales to visit. However, it also got me thinking about what remote means to different people.

There seems to be a wide range of interpretations including:

  • far away
  • hard (or expensive) to get to
  • unpopulated (or low populated)
  • rural
  • wilderness
  • less developed
  • somewhere few people have been
  • somewhere few tourists have been

That then lead me to wonder - if its somewhere you can get to as a tourist, is it really that remote? Does publicly commenting on a spot make it less remote - perhaps not now but over time? If its easy to get to, except for regulations or other bureaucracy limiting visitor numbers, can it still be considered remote?

Does perception of remoteness vary according to what you can see or hear? For example, if your in a wilderness area and there is a main flight path overhead which you can see aircraft flying, or a highway behind that hill which you can hear traffic travelling, is it still remote? Conversely, if you are in a secluded spot in a major city park or reserve and unable to see or hear any sign of the city, is that remote?

Are there any places that are truely remote left?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Update: Lifetime Hotel Status

Since I posted the Best Western lifetime Diamond offer the other day, the promotion has been expanded to include a few more countries (thanks to Flyer Talk's sdsearch for finding this). I wonder what they class as Asia?

From the Best Western website,

Celebrate Best Western's Diamond Jubileeby earning Diamond Elite status for life!

Stay 60 or more qualified nights at any Best Western hotel worldwide in 2006 and you will earn Diamond Elite status for life, which rewards you with 30% bonus points* with each qualified stay and more. No registration required. Simply book your next stays with us to get going!

Diamond members residing in Holland and Norway earn 15% bonus points. AAA/CAA Preferred Gold Crown Club members will earn additional 10% bonus points as part of their program benefits. Offer valid for Gold Crown Club International ("GCCI") members residing in the US, Canada, South America, Central America, Mexico, Asia, the Caribbean Islands, Norway and Holland only.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Cool maps

I like seeing where I've been or where places I see mentioned are. So I've been playing with a couple of online map tools. The map above is from World66 and is very easy to use. Simply check the boxes of the countries or states you want highlighted. World66 has maps for world, US, Canada and Europe.

Another one is Frappr. It's powered by Google Maps, so is much more powerful and flexible. I've added an example to the bottom of my blog, but haven't yet gotten the hang of all the bells and whistles.

A favourite of many folk on Flyer Talk is Global Circle Mapper (GCM for short) which shows routes and great circle distances - very handy for planning purposes. Here is a link to an example showing part of a trip I did earlier this year.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Lifetime Hotel Status

As part of their 60th anniversary promotions, Best Western is offering lifetime Diamond Elite status for 60 stays in 2006. Offer valid only to residents in US, Canada and the Caribbean.

BW doesn't seem to have such a good reputation in the US, but some of the international properties (eg in Europe) are great.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

User Pays, or Phone/Sales Office Surcharges

In this day of user pays it seems everything has a cost and that cost is often passed directly onto the consumer. For example many banks want you to use online and automatic teller machines, and charge extra for using facilities at bank branch. Fair enough if it is more efficient electronically, in my view it is fine to charge extra for other methods of getting the same service as an encouragement for the consumer to help reduce costs.

Some airlines also have user pays, in that online paid tickets get lower fares than using phone or sales office. Some airlines even provide a lowest price online guarantee, although the ones I have seen (eg British Airways and Air New Zealand) have some onerous terms that make it hard to claim the guarantee - see a Flyer Talk discussion of British Airways' Price Promise for example. But I digress. These discounts for online bookings are, I think, fair enough. The consumer has a choice in the method of booking and is incentivised to choose a lower cost channel - everyone wins.

Some airlines also charge more for awards booked over the phone than those booked online. This I have difficulty in accepting. Most frequent flyer programs' online award bookings are limited to own metal, certain origins and destinations, limited routing or stopover option complexity, etc. If you have no choice but to use phone to make the award booking then why should the consumer be penalised for the lack of online functionality? How much do these airlines collect in extra mileage cost or $ surcharges for not providing online functionality to book the full range of awards on offer? Doesn't this create a perverse incentive for the airline/frequent flyer program to not improve their website? I dont think that is right.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A380 at Asian Aerospace

A couple of weeks ago (is it that long already?) I was lucky enough to visit Asian Aerospace in Singapore. The feature attraction being the Airbus A380, which is due to go into commercial service starting with Singapore Airlines later this year.

Up close the aircraft is huge. Despite this, the nearly empty A380 flew some amazing maneouvres and seemed to be much quieter than other large aircraft. Certainly much quieter than the military aircraft on flying display immediately beforehand!

Here are some nice photos by RtOaNn.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Travel Rage and Changes Ahead for Surcharges in America

Travel Rage

The other day I mentioned an example of travel rage at an airport. Of course drivers are not immune and road rage is increasingly common. I was reminded of this while walking at rush hour. A bus driver sat on his horn for 10 minutes despite seeing perfectly clearly that the car in front could not move more than a foot due to the traffic. What did he hope to achieve? Did he really think a gap would miraculously open up in the clogged road just because he tooted his horn?

In the space of a couple of hours I saw several other cases of drivers who showed signs of anger at other road users. Its no wonder society is becoming more stressed if every second of time and every foot of space is so tightly contested for no purpose.

Changes Ahead for Surcharges in USA

Travellers in Europe have long known to watch for promotional airfares that can be as low as €0.01 or 1p only to be hit by surcharges that increase the fare to €100 or £100, or more. At the moment travellers in USA have the benefit that advertised fares must include all surcharges, except any true taxes.

As reported in many blogs (including as a couple of examples Upgrade: travel better and Christopher Elliott), the US Department of Trade is considering relaxing the advertising rules.

This is a step backwards and against the trend in some other countries which have, or are in the process of, tightening the rules so that airfares advertised are inclusive. An incomplete list of some countries that are increasing consumer protection in this way:

Unless I've missed news of it, strangely the European Commission doesn't seem to have misleading advertising on its agenda with the current Directive having been in place since 1984 and last amended in 1997.

Here's hoping the US Department of Trade does not decide to relax the current rules.

Monday, February 27, 2006

A first for me

A couple of days ago I experienced an odd travelling first (for me). I was locked into the airline lounge!

We were in transit on a lightly loaded flight, the only one operated by this airline at this airport for several hours. When the flight was called for boarding I took a minute to gather my belongings and head out of the lounge, when I found the lounge doors locked. There are some times when it would be great to be locked in, but not this day for I really needed to make the flight.

Fortunately a cleaner was able to let me out a back door (and that didn't lead to the other side of security and immigration) and so no harm done. The lounge warden had just started looking for me as they wanted to close the aircraft doors to push back. What I dont understand is how the lounge warden failed to see that one passenger had been left behind. Its not as if I was in the toilet or shower at the time boarding was called, and thus difficult to see.

Happy travels everyone.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Why does travel bring out the worst in some people?

Yesterday I saw a fellow passenger throw a tantrum at the lounge wardens because she didn't get her preferred seats. She was yelling so loudly that even through the doors between lobby and the main part of the lounge you could still clearly hear her. She was still going strong when I left to board my flight.

I'd like to say this was an isolated incident, but somehow there seem to be proportionally far more of these types of occurrences relating to travel than to every day life. I think some people get caught up in perceived entitlements and forget that travel is just a means of transportation.

The perks like being able to choose your own seat, or economically upgrading as a reward for loyalty, are not what really matters. The most important thing is to get from A to B safely, on a schedule that best suits and is affordable. Anything else is gravy.

Why do some people think its okay to be rude when travelling?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Fuel Surcharges - not all bad?

Since my previous post on fuel surcharges I've come across an alternative viewpoint that they are not all bad.

Not all bad?

The explanation used was that fuel surcharges are refundable, whereas the base fare is not on non-refundable tickets. Unlike most US-based airlines, many cheap tickets on other airlines are non-refundable. So a $100 base fare plus $50 fuel surcharge may be better than a $150 base fare plus no fuel surcharge, if you need to refund.

Does it stack up?

This sounds plausible, but I am not convinced. If there is a high chance of needing to refund, or change flights, you generally just pay a bit more for the more flexible and refundable fares. Granted you could save some money depending on the fare difference between refundable and non-refundable if you often need to cancel.

But most times you (hopefully!) dont need to refund, in which case there is no difference on a paid ticket between $100 base fare plus $50 fuel surchare or $150 base fare.

However, most frequent flyer programs (again apart from US-based ones) charge fuel surcharges on award tickets also. So the existence of a fuel surcharge effectively devalues the miles in circulation. This is because the frequent flyer programs did not reduce the number of miles needed for an award when the airlines introduced fuel surcharges or subsequently raised them (several times so far).

The way fuel surcharges have been generally structured - an amount for domestic/short haul and a much higher amount for long haul, and on a per flight basis - means it doesn't matter if you use miles for short trips or long trips. Your miles are worth less in both cases.

My conclusion: there may be some circumstances where fuel surcharges are beneficial to the consumer, but I think there are far more circumstances where they are not.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Lunar New Year

The other day I went to the Lantern Festival to mark the end of lunar new year celebrations. It reminded me that just a couple of weeks ago we had a great time in Singapore with friends to welcome in the year of the dog.

None of us had planned anything but somehow we all came together at the last minute from various corners of the globe. Sometimes its nice to be able to take off for a weekend, leaving your worries behind, and kick back with some fellow travellers.

It did seem surreal, though, returning to a deserted Changi airport at 4am, with the bored immigration officers and empty halls. (We had already collected our onward boarding passes before leaving the airport, which saved waiting for check in to open.) Once airside we could see the airport slowly come to life for the new day and the new year. Its quite a different perspective from the normally bustling interface between land and air that is an international hub airport.

I do recommend that every traveller at least once spends a night at an airport.

Have a nice day.
The Global Traveller

Friday, February 10, 2006

Mega Frequent Flyer Miles?

I've had reports that bmi Diamond Club is adding a new benefit for their Gold members. Once you reach 55,000 status miles in a calendar year the excess status miles get converted to redeemable frequent flyer miles at one to one ratio. There's a rumour this may be capped at 25,000 miles converted per year.

If there is no cap then it is a fantastic benefit for those flying a lot of long haul first and business class on Star Alliance. Diamond Club already offers 300% miles for first class and 200% miles for business class, plus 25% status bonus.

With the new benefit the earning is upped to 625% for first class and 425% for business class - once a Gold member has reached 55,000 status miles for the year. I'm not aware of any other frequent flyer program that is as generous as this for standard (non-promo) mileage earning. Obviously the benefit is not worth nearly as much if its capped to 25,000 miles.

Note bmi Diamond Club membership is restricted to residents of UK, Republic of Ireland, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Spain.