web Musings of The Global Traveller

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.