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Rantings from 35,000 feet

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25th June 2008

9:02am: moving on
I've been annoyed enough by the LJ posting interface (and lack of various free options for more convenient ones) that I've moved.

My travel rants will continue (with much more regularity) over at:


See you there!

15th May 2007

3:04pm: I hate people
So many airports (including ORD) are very short of electrical outlets.
Maybe a pair per gate or worse gate area that has 2-3 gates.

I see a pair and a guy sitting next to it. Can I share the outlet? No, he's got two things plugged in. Next bay over... one guy, two outlets, he's using both. Next bay, two empty outlets, a woman sitting near them. Mind if I sit here (in the empty end seat next to her, closest to the outlets) and use the outlet? "Well, I was going to plug in and start up a movie in just two seconds". Were you going to use both outlets? She begrudgingly agrees that it would be okay for me to use the second outlet and makes motion of moving her luggage cart -- moving it where it completely blocks the aisle between the seat and the outlets. Fine, you stupid bitch, I'll find another outlet to use.

I hate people.
1:05am: as if I needed another reason not to fly Delta
Had to make a pretty trivial change to my flight tomorrow (well, cancel one and replace it with another).

One hour and six minutes on hold waiting for a freaking human.

Never again.

6th May 2007

3:51pm: Why I *loathe* flying from EWR
Newark airport sux rocks.  The main reason is that the slightest wind causes them to stop all incoming traffic indefinitely.

Like today, I'm waiting for a plane from ORD which I will fly from EWR to ORD.

The plane left the gate (late) and is now sitting and waiting to be cleared to fly to Newark.  According to the FAA:
Due to WEATHER/WIND, departure traffic destined to Newark International Airport, Newark, NJ (EWR) will not be allowed to depart until at or after 2:45 pm CDT.

That was at 2:15 CDT.  Now that it's just past 2:45 CDT, the message changed:

Due to WEATHER/WIND, departure traffic destined to Newark International Airport, Newark, NJ (EWR) will not be allowed to depart until at or after 3:15 pm CDT.

I feel really bad for people on that plane -- they are in the penalty box on the tarmac at ORD (I've been there lots of times) probably looking our their windows on the AA flight that's in the same position alongside them, and maybe a CO flight or two...

I'll eventually head for the airport on the assumption that they will let the planes in sooner or later (today) and until then I can use the RCC...  But still, this sucks.  Especially because I only have a few hours in ORD tonight before I have to fly off to YOW tomorrow morning...   :(

4th May 2007

11:58pm: CO 1177 BOS-EWR
The problem of traveling from BOS to EWR (Boston to Newark, NJ) is that the only airline with non-stops is Continental. I usually like to take the Acela Express (Amtrak's idea of a high speed train from Boston's South Station to New York's Penn Station in 3 hours and 30 minutes).

The problem was I had to return my rental car at the airport, and I would have to transfer at Penn Station to a very slow New Jersey Transit train during rush hour, so Continental coach it was.

Last minute one-way ticket wasn't cheap ($300) and I almost sprung the extra $50 for First class because I remembered the 31 inch pitch of CO's coach seats (I've been spoiled in UA's E+ and AA's exit rows) but then I remembered the actual flight is like 50 minutes and decided to rough it out.
Plus F was sold out because CO upgrades their Elite's for free so, of course that leaves them with no F seats to sell.

The flight was okay, on time and all, but the bitch in front of me just had to recline her seat all the way which left the back of it about 16 inches in front of my nose, and I'm not farsighted but I couldn't even read the paper anymore.

So I *swore* no more non-E+ non-exit row non-bulkhead coach for me.
Problem is I'm booked on a non-stop Delta flight SLC-BOS and that's almost five hours and if it's like this, with my knees wedged into the seat in front of me... well, I'd have to kill someone.

Time to go get a mileage upgrade on that flight. I mean what else am I going to use Delta miles for? I don't need to go to Atlanta any time soon.

By the way, CO gate lice are just as stoopid as any other airlines. Everyone lines up like it's SouthWest, and then of course when they call EliteAccess Platinum, Gold, Silver, regular all these people have to move (so their idea of moving is leaning 3 inches to the side).

The one nice thing was I got EliteAccess for buying full fare, and I got a coupon so that next time I buy full fare on CO I can get a confirmed complimentary upgrade to first. Cool beans, that's the only way I'd fly CO again!

Oh, after all this, two seats in F were free. That's bad IM!

25th April 2007

4:24pm: and waiting, and waiting, and waiting
My track record for on-time depatures with UA is getting worse and worse. And what's worse, my track record for hopping on the right flight is also getting weaker.

Example 1: Last week, Flight 179 BOS-SFO, last one of the day, 6pm scheduled departure. I carefully check that the plane arrived on-time, but then it turns out that we don't have a co-pilot and one is coming up from IAD (deadheading presumably as UA has no pilots based in BOS). Problem is his flight which should have been in at 4:15 is way late. So we're going to be late. An hour and a half late or so.

I reject getting on the 6:05pm LAX departure because that would connect me to the last LAX-SFO flight and at best would get me to SFO two hours behind schedule but at worst might strand me in LA.

Then we find out that for inexplicable reason the co-pilot was pulled off of that flight arriving at 7:15 and is now on a flight arriving at 8:24 or so. Well, okay, still we'll probably only take off two and a half hour late (since they can board without him) and maybe even pick up half an hour in flight (as other Westbound flights have been).

Here's the problem though. By the time the co-pilot gets to BOS he's been on duty too long to make it all the way to SFO so they schedule an unscheduled stop in DEN to drop off this co-pilot and pick up another co-pilot. So now we end up in SF about four hours late. Ugh. Still, it's been worse.

Now today, I fly into PHX first thing in the morning, get here a few minutes early, have a great meeting, get back to the airport and see my 3:35pm depature showing on-time. Cool. Except then I notice the incoming flight hasn't left SFO yet. And now we're posted as having 4:25pm departure, but incoming aircraft isn't arriving till 4:54 so I know they are just throwing darts at the clock as this plane has gone mechanical and no one really knows when it'll get here.

Eventually they post an official arrival at 5:24pm with a 6pm departure which lasts all of 15 minutes before I notice that the plane STILL hasn't taken off from SFO and we get an updated depature time of 6:50pm which coincidentally is when the next and last non-stop to SFO is departing. I've long since called the 1K desk and I have a seat reserved on that flight as well, so it'll be a fun dilemma if they start boarding that flight and mine may or may not be boarding at the same time...

Hard to believe I had a total of two flights all of 2006 that were more than a full hour late. At least ones where I had to wait for the flight for more than an hour (usually if I see a delay I'll hop on an earlier flight).

I guess 2007 is making up for that with several cancelled flights, a couple of diverted flights and at least a dozen flights that were delayed more than an hour, and it's only April!!!

6th April 2007

2:09pm: After ending March with about 52K miles year-to-date (40K on UA the rest on AA with a single leg on DL) April is weird with no trips scheduled anywhere till the last day of the month...

28th March 2007

11:23am: AA transcon first class
Got upgraded to F on AA BOS-SFO on Tuesday night. For the most part it's pretty comparable to UA F on the same route -- pretty crappy seats though much better than Y, mediocre to inedible food.

However, there was one thing on AA that was worlds better than on UA. The pillow. It was a large, nice, firm but soft pillow, with a nice smooth real pillow case. A world above the crappy UA blue pillows.

So far this year I'm 6/6 in AA upgrades as Platinum (though Feb 28th) and 2/4 in upgrades as Gold (since March 1st).

On UA I'm 1K and out of 31 upgradable legs (four were in CRJ-200 with no F class) I missed upgrades 6 times. Of the upgraded legs two were complimentary, the rest took various upgrade coupons.

25th March 2007

9:27pm: Upgrades on American and flying during spring break
Flying during Spring Break sucks. Or rather Friday and Sunday flying in March and April sucks, since it's always spring break somewhere. Today's flight to Boston (from SFO) on AA was packed, but I got lucky and the middle seat in Emergency row next to me was one of the only empty seats on the plane.

However, I do want to bitch about American's way of upgrades, which suck compared to United. The problem turns out that you can request your upgrade when you book the ticket. Then if it doesn't clear before you check in, you have to again request the upgrade when you check in, but you can only do it at the airport! Pshaw! On UA it just carries you over to gate control if you haven't already cleared keeping your place in line based on when you got added to the list (within your status, of course).

Since I'm no longer Platinum on AA (only Gold and that's probably where I'm going to stay) it's kind of moot because either the plane will be packed (no upgrade for me) or first will be half empty (upgrade no matter when I get added to the list).

Still, it makes no sense to me and several AA GA's couldn't really explain to me why and how it works (and I'm sure they didn't really understand it themselves).

20th March 2007

3:58pm: A380 in ORD today!
I completely forgot that today is the day A380 landed in ORD. I was on the inter terminal train from economy parking and overheard someone say "380" and all of a sudden it came back to me!

I pulled out my camera and grabbed a quick shot of the huge plane:

Won't get a chance to fly it for a couple of years still though...

15th March 2007

10:57pm: IrrOps
While waiting for my 5:34pm departure from AUS back to ORD I noticed that the 1:35 flight was showing as having a 5:37pm departure - sucks for those people. Just in case I logged on to http://www.flightstats.com which is a great site for tracking what planes are coming and going to/from where to see where my plane was and sure enough it had left DEN for AUS 48 minutes late. No way were we getting an on-time departure with only 35 minutes scheduled for a turn around, so I asked about getting on to the "earlier" flight. I had already been upgraded to F but luckily they had several open seats in F on the other flight and I got one.

What amazed me is the cheerful upbeat FAs that were working the flight I was on. Normally when there is such a major delay they are dealing with such grumpy passengers (who may know it's not the FA's fault but have no one else to take their frustrations out on) that frequently it rubs off on them or they get defensive in anticipation of being blamed by yet another load about the big delay. But these two were in a good mood, polite, efficient and in general very pleasant to be around for almost three hours.

I had gotten a little box of chocolate truffles at the Hilton (being diamond VIP they tend to leave you little goodies in the room) and I gave it to the FAs for having such a hard job. It's amazing how grateful they are for such little gestures, they thanked me a bunch of times and seemed to really enjoy them.

14th March 2007

11:55pm: Getting to Austin
Surprisingly, even though my flight to Austin was oversold (a 70 seat regional jet) in all classes, I got an upgrade to F along with two others, and we went out with 15 empty seats in Y. I overheard the FAs discussing it they were very surprised since it appeared there were no mis-connections.

There was a mis-connection when I got to AUS though. I was staying at the Austin Airport Hilton (for, like $300/night as there wasn't much else available in town) and they totally did not distinguish themselves. First I called for a shuttle at 10:55 (they are exactly 1 mile from the airport) and was told it'd be there in two minutes. 15 minutes later I called again and a different person who had no idea one was previously requested said one was on the way and would be there within a minute. 10 minutes later, I'm totally steaming and this time they try to tell me that the shuttle went out three times and I must have missed it or was waiting in the wrong place.

Of course the whole time I was standing in the same place the shuttle finally showed up at (10 minutes later) and I could have walked to the hotel and back in all that waiting time. I understand mix-ups sometimes happen especially with 11pm being their shift change, but to outright lie and tell me that they sent the shuttle three times (there was NO way to miss it, as the airport just isn't that big, plus two other people were waiting with me most of the time and looking out for it) that's just completely unacceptable.

I gave their manager an earful about it the next morning. Supposedly they are going to give me some extra Hilton points to "make up" for it, but I'd have rather had 30 minutes of extra sleep.

I did have an excellent FA on the flight down, so much so that I gave her one of those GTEM (going the extra mile) coupons UA gives to their 1Ks to hand out.

12th March 2007

1:51am: So far on my shit list this year:
UX in MSN for making up crap about flight departure times
Hertz in EWR for having a bad attitude and acting like they are doing me a favor by getting me my car
Hilton Gardon Inn in Mississauga Ontario (near YYZ) for randomly adding about $25can to my bill after I departed (allegedly for breakfast that my cow orker and I had there, but I had a free breakfast coupon, and he paid for his with a CC.)
Delta for being idiots and insisting on the $25 to confirm an earlier flight when it's about to depart with lots of empty seats.

8th March 2007

10:17pm: Texting to post
I texted a post to here almost 20 hours ago and nothing. That's disappointing because if I could rant from my Blackberry, I would rant almost in real time! From planes... from airports! That is, after all, what this blog is for!

I inexplicably was suddenly able to book that sold out flight to Austin for next week. I actually thought I would have to utilize the United MP 1K benefit where you can buy a ticket on a sold out flight as long as you pay full Y fare for it.

7th March 2007

11:31pm: After 68 degrees and sunny in Atlanta, 8 degrees and sunny in Boston is rather
a shock to the system! Boston RCC has good snacks though -- gold fish!

What the hell is going on in Austin on March 15th? I can't get a flight down there the night before! Definite downside to last minute work schedule... can't always get on a good flight, can't get a good seat, etc...

6th March 2007

11:31pm: Delta sucks
Atlanta drivers are terrible. They constantly change lanes to the more crowded
one and then promptly hit the brakes hard to slow down. What is up with that?

Delta sucks. I'm glad they are going out of business. I was booked on a
rather full 4pm flight and got to the airport by noon. The only way they
would put me on the 12:45 flight which was 3/4th empty was if I paid the
$25 change fee. No standby at all. No more Delta for me -- my schedule
is crazy enough that I'm constantly changing my plans and having to save
all the stupid receipts for these fees is annoying (work pays for work
flight changes).

5th March 2007

11:30pm: The Quiet Room?
A couple of weeks ago I discovered the "Quiet Room" at the Red Carpet Club
in O'Hare (C-concourse, it used to be the smoking room). At the time I
should have written up a rant about the asshole who was in there on his
cell phone -- the sign says "Quiet Room, no Cell Phones!" I go "hey
there are no cell phones, it's a quiet room". And he's like "Oh, thank you",
gets off the cell phone, and gets on his next call on one of the two regular
phones left in the room. Why the hell did they do that? I could have smacked
the guy.

Anyway today, I get there and it's nice and quiet for a while but then a
guy sits in a seat right on the other side of the glass and gets on the
phone. He's got one of those booming voices and he's facing the "quiet
room". D'oh!

That RCC had fresh strawberries in the snack area though, awesome!

31st December 2006

11:58pm: 2006 year end summary
2006 has come to a close... Here's the summary of my year in travel.

Miles flown: 210,000 or so. that's business and leisure.
United Frequent Flier Miles cashed in this year: 400,000

Airlines flown: UA, US, AA, DL, CO, NW, WN, B6, LH, SQ, BD, KL, EI, AC, 9W
(for those who aren't into airline codes: United, US Air, American, Delta, Continental, NorthWest, SouthWest, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Singapore, British Midland, KLM, Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Jet Airways India and TED plus various other mixture of commuter subsidiaries).

Of the above the number I had to look up the code to: 4.

US States visited: 22 + District of Columbia
Of those ones I've never been to before: 2 (AL, WI)

Hotel stays: 57 plus a six week stay in corportate housing apt in Boston.
Hotel/corp apt total nights: 128

Cancelled flights: 1 (USAir LGA->MHT)
Flights delayed by more than 1 hour: 2 (both ORD->YOW!)
Redeyes: 7 (6 international)
Countries visited: 12
Of those countries I hadn't been to: 4 (Korea, India, Slovenia, Ireland)

Being able to look forward to another year of the same: Priceless

14th August 2006

10:37am: How not to get left behind
Here's a travel tip for you guys...

When you're confirmed for a good seat and are standby on an earlier flight and the earlier flight is showing late but the confirmed flight is showing ontime and now only 20 minutes later, go ahead and take the earlier standby crappy seat anyway, because when one flight is delayed to SFO they all are delayed.

And when the gate lady tells you that the earlier flight has wheels up 11:42 (and your later confirmed flight has 11:59) don't believe her and get on the flight anyway, otherwise you will be sitting at the gate, watching the earlier flight depart at 10:03 and know that you'll be arriving SFO almost two hours later all because you assumed that they know how to read their own damn monitors.

P.S. can't even use Red Carpet Club and their high-speed connection because "hey, stay near the gate for the next hour and a half, because we might call you to board early!"

4th August 2006

12:34am: Frequent Flier tips and tricks
One of the biggest keys to comfortable flying is shooting all the angles... Here is a copy of my Frequent Flier tips and tricks that I had written for some of my coworkers after my first 100,000 miles this year (that was back in June)...

Everything you need to know about shooting angles when traveling.

This job will take you places. Lots of them. Most of them are only
reachable by an airplane. You will fly a lot of miles. Make the most
of them.

Many airlines have joined up into uber frequent flier programs, so to
make the most of your miles, make sure you dump your miles into as few
programs as possible, which will allow you to reach award levels quicker
as well as reaching a preferred status with the most airlines.

There are three major groups of airlines out there:

Star Alliance (United, USAir, Lufthansa, etc)
One World (American, Alaska, Cathay Pacific, etc)
Sky Team (Delta, Continental, NorthWest, KLM, etc)

Pick an airline within each group and join its frequent flier program.
Then whenever you're flying with a partner (a member of its group) use
that airline's FF number. Your miles will be redeemable for flights
on any airline within the group (usually).

Personally, I joined United, American and Delta as these are the three
airlines I fly the most and when I fly USAir, I give my United number,
Continental I give Delta number, etc.

The key is to make Elite level -- this gives you lots of bennies:
earlier boarding, better seat selection in advance, bonus mile accrual
opportunities, separate lines for check-in, etc. Flying 25,000 miles
in a year will get you to the first level, 50K to the second level.

A little known trick is to take the fast-track to this level. If you
have flown half way to your mile goal by June 1st, you can call the
airline's FF program and ask to be fast-tracked to Elite status. For
example, when I flew 25K miles on United, I called and they made me
Premier Executive for the rest of the year (normally 50K level). Same
for flying 12.5K and getting Premier level. Unfortunately they won't
fast-track you to their top level (Premier Executive 1K). American
has a fast-track challenge program all year -- fly 5000 miles (that are
not deep discount) in 90 days and make Gold, fly 10,000 in 90 days
and make Platinum. Call and ask. Usually they will be open to matching
another airline's Elite status. Having made Premier Executive on United
I called AA and Delta and asked them to match (they did).

Things that will make your long flights more tolerable:

First and foremost is seat selection. The site http://www.seatguru.com
will become your bestest friend in the world. Their seat description
for all airlines and planes out there is about 98% accurate. There are
few things that give me more joy than getting a seat with an extra foot
of legroom for an overseas flight (other than getting an upgrade to
business class, more on those later).

While AmEx will let you pre-select your seat, there are two things to
be aware of. If your FF number indicating you are Elite isn't in the
system properly it won't confirm your "P" preferred seat. Sure, it'll
let you select it, but then when you go back to the record, it'll have
you in the middle of the back row. AmEx tends to have this problem
the most with United FF# for USAir reservations. I usually just call
the airline right after getting the confirmation that the booking was
ticketed, have them add the FF# and have them select me a preferred

The other trick is to know which airlines will assign seats in emergency
row in advance to their preferred fliers (most of them, these days).

Some airlines (Delta) will let you pick your own seat on their website.
Others (United) will let you call them and have them assign you an
exit row in advance. In all other cases the correct strategy is to
check-in online for your flight exactly 24 hours before the departure
time. You can tell which rows are exit rows because they will usually
be colored/coded differently. In addition, have SeatGuru handy in case
you miss your window of opportunity for exit row seats.

Once you make Elite status, upgrades to First/Business class come into
play. Remember that only one class of service upgrade is possible,
into First in a two class cabin, and into business class in a three class
cabin (wide bodies, like 747s, 777s, 767s).

Most airlines start tossing free upgrades your way either in the way
of upgrade certificates (all electronic these days) of outright free
ones (Delta). Usually it takes 5 or 6 E-Upgrades to the East Coast
(each is good for 500 miles). Once you reach higher levels, you will
start getting regional and system-wide certificates (United). You can
also use FF miles for upgrades. Delta will actually upgrade you for free
once you are elite if there are unsold and unbought first class seats.
The way to maximize your chance for an upgrade is to request it on the
airline's website as soon as your record is ticketed. It will automatically
clear when available. But remember, first class isn't all it's cracked up to
be so save the upgrades for flights where you didn't get a bulkhead seat
or for those long red-eyes.

If you are based in San Francisco, United will be your carrier of
choice. Make sure you get to Premier ASAP as that will give you access
to "Economy Plus" the front 6-16 rows on the plane that has three extra
inches of legroom. You wouldn't think it would be such a big deal but
it will make a difference between being able to stretch your legs and
having bruised kneecaps from their being wedged into the back of the
seat in front of you.

If you'd like information about whether you can plug in your laptop or
your headphones, SeatGuru has that information also. In a nutshell:
Delta has the old-fashioned two-prong headphone jack (they sell their
headphones for $2 and then you can keep them) and United has regular
1/8th inch plugs. For power, United has EmPower in Business and First
class only and even then not on their short haul planes. USAir has
EmPower in either every seat or two for every three seats depending on
the plane. American has scattered power (12 volt car adapter) on
various planes (SeatGuru will help with picking the right row) and
Delta only has power on many of their new planes (under each seat). There
are exceptions to all these (for example, United's P.S. services between
SFO and JFK) but generally don't count on having power during your flight.

The best way to simplify your travel is to do it carry-on only. Not
checking luggage helps in many ways: no waits to check it, no wait to
get it back, it never gets lost and if you have to change flights at
the last minute you can. Nothing is more frustrating than to find out
that the only reason you can't go on an earlier flight is because your
bag has already been tagged for the later flight which is inexplicably
delayed three hours.

I'll let you figure out yourself how to pack for a one day trip, but
for two to five day trips, I like the Kensington Contour Overnight
Notebook Roller (list $129, usually available at www.ebags.com for much
less with free shipping). It has an easily accessible computer
compartment with a protective sleeve (so you can zip out the whole sleeve
when you are forced to gate check the bag on little prop planes) a
separate compartment for clothes and a back set of pockets which is
designed be used for shoes but I normally use it for various power and
computer accessories. I actually used this bag for a two week long
international trip, so it's bigger than it might appear at first.

For power, I like the iGo Juice (list $120 available at most radio
shacks). You can get tips to charge just about everything (it comes
with a tip ready for our ThinkPad notebooks and you can get tips for
everything from Treo to PSP for $10-$15 each). It also lets you plug
in into regular outlet, EmPower plug or car cigarette lighter.

Now that you've arrived at your destination in style, most of the
time you will head straight for Avis Preferred desk (as per our travel
policy, use the Wizard Number provided). Occassionally I have found
Avis (and Hertz) to be ridiculously overpriced so I'm also a member
of Dollar FastLane (join for free on their website). I like Dollar
because they drop you off at a row of cars in the class you reserved
and then you can pick any one of those cars.

You will now find your way to your hotel. I got Tom Tom Navigator
maps for my Treo (pending possible change to a different phone, don't
run out and get this unless you'll want to keep some Palm based device
with you) to find my way around without depending on rental company
maps. If possible you reserved a Starwood property (Sheraton) to get
preferred rate and points for our company, but if that wasn't an option,
joining Hilton HHonors (Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampstead Inn,
Embassy, Homestead, others) and Marriott Rewards (Marriott, Residence
Inn, Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Towne Suites, etc) will cover just about
every place you'll ever go except Ottawa and Santa Monica. HHonors
actually lets you link it to your United FF account and get points
and miles each time you stay. Marriott gives you points good for
future free nights. Even more importantly, reaching elite status will
get your upgrades to better rooms and some other freebees.

Red Carpet Club can be handy when you get to the airport early, but it's
not worth the $$$ in cash -- I usually use my miles to join. If most
of the time you are flying something other than United or USAir, don't
join Red Carpet Club, consider Crown Club (Delta) or Admiral Club (AA).

3rd August 2006

4:53pm: why rant here?
So I've been traveling a lot this year.

In fact, in the first three months of 2006 I flew over 60,000 miles. I've been to four continents this year, flown fourteen airlines and stayed at many look-alike hotel rooms.

I frequently want to rant about some particularly dumb aspect of how people run their business. I figured might as well do it here as anywhere else as I'm tired of trying to keep spammers out of my movable type blog... If it works out, great, if not, I'll try blogger next...
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