web Musings of The Global Traveller

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.