web Musings of The Global Traveller

Sunday, July 29, 2007

How Walkable is your Hotel?

A thread on Flyer Talk alerted me to a (new?) website that is handy for travellers. The website is called Walk Score. Plug in an address (say the hotel you are considering staying at) and it assesses the walkability of that address - based on nearness of grocery stores, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, etc. While not geared to travellers it is of interest (at least to me), for not only does it give a score but it shows you on a map the nearest places and lists the distances to those places.

Hopefully some more traveller friendly factors can be added, such as access to public transport systems.

For example, Hilton Times Square gets a score of 98 out of 100, while Courtyard by Marriott JFK gets a score of only 43 out of 100.

Currently it does not work too well with non-US addresses, although they advise they are working on it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

BAA warning that it will fail to meet service standards at London Heathrow

Oh dear. Still more than 8 months before London Heathrow's (LHR) new T5 terminal opens, and days after news of proposed extra security rules there is more bad news. BAA (the airport operator) is already warning that it will not meet the minimum service standards required by it's regulator, the British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) (source Times Online). Apparently BAA is fined if they don't meet certain standards, and would like this waived during the lengthy opening and terminal shuffle process. It is dreadful to think their current performance is somehow deemed acceptable, let alone the significant worsening that BAA is warning of.

It is particularly nasty of BAA to compare the terminal shuffle (which they've been preparing for years) with a terrorist attack (which normally has no advance warning). For the sake of all travellers who must endure Heathrow, I hope the CAA finally starts acting with the teeth that it's regulatory powers provide and does not cave into BAA's request.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Virgin America finally starts selling tickets

After a very long wait, Virgin America has finally started selling tickets. The first flights are between it's San Francisco base and Los Angeles LAX and New York JFK on August 8. There is a nice launch sale, but perhaps not as stunning as might be expected. Several airlines have already responded with sales of their own.

At first their website was overloaded, but it seems to be working okay now.

I'm holding off making a booking at the moment, since I want to see whether the schedule changes, their on time performance and early reviews. This is particularly important if, as I will be, connecting to or from other airline's flights. All the fares I could find so far are non-refundable. Virgin America will need to provide more flexibility if it wants to attract lucrative corporate business.

A frequent flyer program, called eleVAte, is planned. Details are sketchy but it does sound similar to the Australia based Virgin Blue's Velocity program - earning based on revenue. No restrictions on awards. Award cost likely based on available fares.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Weighing it up

The Flight Wisdom entry on accuracy of airport scales (following a recent Consumerist article) reminded me that often I notice at check in that the scales register a kilo or two (or a few pounds) before I even put some bags on. Sometimes you're lucky enough that is showing a negative figure when empty.

If flying an airline that takes excess baggage seriously (or limits carry-on by weight), it can be very worthwhile to take a second and check the reading before putting your bag(s) on the scale. Excess baggage charges can be very expensive (more than the cost of some cheap airfares), with many airlines basing the charge on a percentage of full fare (the sky high airfare that almost no one pays).

Updates on travel, Qantas lounge and proposed new (worse!) UK security rules

Sorry for the lack of recent posts. I'm fine but have been much busier than expected. Whenever I thought I'd have some spare time to blog something else would crop up.

Naturally I haven't stopped travelling. Mainly in the Asia-Pacific region, and on several different airlines. Since my last entry I've visited the Qantas first lounges in Sydney again and some of the service kinks I initially reported have been ironed out. However, I almost missed my flight last time I was there - they forgot to call it (all the other flights were announced) and I lost track of the time. Fortunately I realised the time and rushed to the gate just before I would have been offloaded, and I did not delay the on-time departure of the flight.

I have a crazy schedule in the coming months, which I'm trying to piece together at the moment. On current plans I'll average more than a flight a day for the next 4 months. I'm not flying every day, but some places I visit require multiple transfers to get to.

Proposed change to UK security rules

The new British Airways terminal T5 at London Heathrow, which is due to open early 2008, will apparently not have segregated domestic and international passengers. Supposedly this is for flexibility and to assist with access for BA's 5 T5 lounges, but I suspect the real reason is to maximise the number of shops that travellers must pass (and thus increase BAA profits).

As a result domestic passengers will need not only the usual photo ID but will also get fingerprinted and have their photo taken (source Times Online). Non US citizens already face this on international flights arriving to USA, but this would seem to be a first for domestic passengers.

Be prepared for longer queues. It's a shame that a brand new terminal is set up in such a way as to require additional security rules - as if there aren't plenty already.

Photos by Heathrow Airport and Wikipedia.