Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Candy Stripes


2012
05.01

When you’re dashing to your plane, do you ever take the time to look-up?  I’ve noticed some pretty cool architecture in my travels and wondered if any of you might recognize the ceilings you’ve passed under.

This one will be tough for most Americans, but it’s so bold that I thought it’d be a fun place to start this series.

bold lines

For the answer, use your mouse to highlight this line – Shanghai

 

Diamonds Are Forever


2012
02.22

As I was passing through JFK the other day, one of the Delta agents looked at my boarding pass and said “Ooooh…Mr. Diamond, please step this way. You know, diamonds are forever!” I chuckled and said “No, just through the end of the month.” Sadly my new Medallion credentials arrived in the mail yesterday, and I’ve been demoted two levels due to my lack of travel last year. How will I survive as a lowly Gold Medallion in ATL?!?! Yea, I know; I’ll be fine. Given the routes/times I travel, I rarely saw domestic upgrades anyway. But for international travel, I’m going to miss the System Wide Upgrade certificates I got as a Diamond/Platinum. And the customer service I’ve been getting as a Diamond is truly remarkable! I haven’t been as low as Gold in four years. Wish me luck. 😉

Shanghai Airlines


2011
06.11

I took my first flight on Shanghai Airlines on this past trip, flying from Wuhan to Shanghai on our way to Tokyo. They’re a wholy owned subsidiary of China Eastern, but maintain their own branding. As far as flights go, it was fine. We managed to get an exit row (no clue how), so there was plenty of room. A nice ride.

It's beautiful up above the pollution.

I thought you should know that I don’t ALWAYS get  to ride up front.  And if you think US airline food is rough…try an inter-China flight sometime.  This looks like a nice plate of noodles and mushrooms; not so much.  By mid-day I was hoping for some caffeine, but water was the only drink offered.

Noodles with mushrooms, and some "pork"

The Airlines Shouldn’t Have Caved


2011
06.09

By now I’m sure you’ve all seen the video of two soldiers on a Delta flight whining about being forced to pay excess baggage fees.  This a joke for several reasons.  As of last week, Delta had the most generous policy in the airlines.

  • *Delta allowed every soldier traveling “on orders” (read: official business) to check at least three bags for free.  This isn’t just limited to deployment to war.  If a soldier goes to a military conference in Lake Tahoe and wants to take his ski gear, he’s got plenty of space.  If he’s going The Pentagon for meetings, he can carry all manner of personal gear at no charge.
  • *Those bags could way up to 70 pounds, exceeding the 50 pound limit imposed on civilians.
  • *They could check three bags for each of their family members traveling with them, or traveling without them while relocating.
  • *Active duty military traveling for personal reasons (not military business) were allowed to check two bags for free, while everyone else pays for the first bag.
  • *Military members are welcome to board the plane ahead of the masses, in order to ensure they get space in the highly coveted overhead bins.

Right, Delta hates the military.  *pish*  I don’t begrudge our military men and women these benefits, but I do think it’s terrible to make such a big fuss because:

  1. The government pays for the soldiers travel home, and will pay any excess bag fees the soldiers have to pay for “out of their own pocket”.   That translates into “the taxpayers pay for”, not “the soldier pays for”.
  2. Soldiers are not required to carry that much stuff back with them on the plane.  They may choose to, but their unit will gladly return their belongings for them.  They may not want the unit to bring some things back, for various reasons, but that’s a choice they make.
  3. Just because some Army clerk types on your orders that you’re authorized to carry four bags doesn’t mean the airline has to let you do that for free.  Those same orders authorized you to fly…but that doesn’t mean your seat is free.  Those orders just mean that the government will pay for a seat and carriage of four bags.
  4. The guys in the video pulled on your heart strings by saying that “my fourth bag was my M-4 that I used to protect myself and others”.  Cry me a river.  Your other bags certainly contained items that weren’t so essential and could have taken a slower trip home, but you chose to haul it back yourself.

I have friends and family who serve (or have have served) in the military, and I have the utmost respect for the sacrifices that they make in their service.  But these two soldiers have really stuck it to the airlines, who didn’t have the backbone to stand up and say “excuse me, sir, but I think we go to great lengths for you already.”

PS  Thanks to a couple of friends for making me think through this a bit further.  The failure here is really with the paper pusher who wrote the orders with disregard for airline policies.  These soldiers were only doing what they were told they could do.  I would never expect them to go read an airline’s baggage policy.  They did what soldiers are trained to do; follow orders.   They were just trying to get home to their families; I get that.  I don’t blame them for being frustrated about having to pay the fee (till they are reimbursed), but I wish they had turned their frustration on those responsible, instead of the airlines.

Overnight to Hong Kong


2011
06.06

I’m home from my week-long trip to China and Japan, and am excited to share some of the great experiences I had on my trip.

The week started off on Saturday morning with a flight from Atlanta to Detroit, then on to Hong Kong.  I was actually on the same plan for both legs of the flight; one of Delta’s “long range” 777-200LR’s.  These are equipped with these ultra-sweet lie-flat seats.

Delta's Lie-flat Seating

All laid down and ready for a nap.  The nice blanket and pillow are excellent!

reclined for sleeping

This is the last seat in the forward cabin (there are two business class cabins in front of coach).  What’s cool about this seat is that there’s nobody behind me.  That means I got an extra little “table” (see triangular spot by my left elbow, and there’s a coat closet to the side of me which provides some privacy.  The photo was taken by Doug Sonders, a photographer who happened to be sitting in front of me on the DTW-HKG leg.  Nice to meet you, Doug!

this is how I roll

The flight from ATL-DTW was rather uneventful.  Frankly I don’t remember anything interesting to say at all, but I suppose that can be good.  :)

Then I had a short layover in Detroit; about an hour before re-boarding.  I strolled around the terminal a bit to stretch my legs before the long flight, and then had a snack.

our chariot

The dark spots on this window are from the terminal windows in Detroit.  All of the glass is covered in these little polka dots.  From about 10 feet away you don’t even notice them…they act almost like tint to lower the light level inside.  But when you get close, it’s a bit uncomfortable to look through.  In any case, the point of this photo is to show the MASSIVE engines on this 777.  If one engine goes out, the other one has to keep 278 passengers + crew/luggage/supplies in the air for at least three hours.

Delta has the very nice charging stations throughout many of their terminals (these are in Detroit).  You can get both 110V and USB (5V) power.

Charging Stations

The long/straight McNamara Terminal has two trams that run back and forth down the length of the terminal.  They use a single rail, and pass each other using a bypass at the center stop.

DTW Tram

They didn’t serve any food on my 11:00 flight from ATL-DTW.  :(  I was on the plane from 10:30-13:15…yea, who’d want to eat then?  But on the plus side, I had plenty of room to enjoy some yummy snacks in the Sky Club.  :)

SkyClub Snacks

After a last minute update on the wifi and a couple phone calls, I was back on the plane.

These are the seat controls.  Just super.  It’s really an amazing seat.  You can adjust the back-to-knee length and the head rest angle.  There’s a lumbar support that can be raised/lowered and inflated/deflated.  And there’s a “massage” mode where the lumbar automatically moves up/dn/in/out.  A++

Mission Control

Mission Control

As soon as we leveled off on the way to Hong Kong they started meal service with a cocktail, while I enjoyed some light reading.

oh nuts!

No peanut filler here.

Quality

For the appetizer course, we had tomato soup and seared tuna.  Maybe an odd combination, but both were very good.

Appetizer Course

Clear skies above an icy Hudson Bay.

Clear & COLD

Since you’re flying with the sun, it’s daylight the whole flight.  People pretty quickly pull the window shades down to keep glare off the TV screens, but I love to keep looking outside.  After your eyes are acclimated to the dark cabin, opening a window to broad daylight and a snow/ice covered landscape is blinding…but well worth it! :)

Ice

Ice

Dinner was served next, which reminds me of something.  While we were still on the ground, the purser came around taking dinner orders.  She approached me and said “Mr. Garrett, I noticed that you’re a Diamond Medallion member and wanted to thank you for your business!  We want to make sure you get your first choice for dinner tonight.  What would you like?”  While I don’t enjoy being singled-out in front of other passengers, it was a nice gesture and I appreciated it.  She was very busy at the time, and she went out of her way for me…which was nice.  This was in stark contrast to my flight home where the purser came by and without so much as a “hey, how y’all doin’?” simply looked at me and asked “chicken or beef?”  Not “Could I bring you the parmesan chicken or the beef tenderloin?”  Not “What can I bring you gentlemen for dinner?”  I’m not joking when I say that this woman would have been fired from a TGI Friday’s on her first night.  She was just that bad.  But she’s a former Northwest flight attendant, so shot got where he is because of seniority.  Sorry; rant off.

I chose the shrimp scampi, asparagus, and saffron rice.  The shrimp were quite excellent and the asparagus was cooked just right, but the rice was paste.  2 out of 3 still beats the snot out of coach food!  :)

Dinner

For desert I had a little cheese (I turned down the strawberries and bleu cheese), a hot fudge sundae, and a glass of port.  Mmmmm.

Desert

We flew way up north through the Arctic Circle, further north than I’ve ever been before.

Arctic Circle

The mid-flight snack was served about midnight.  We were served cold grilled salmon and roasted chicken, with some brie, bread sticks, salad and a piece of chocolate.  Light enough that you could go right to sleep, but filling enough to tide you over till breakfast.

Midnight Snack

For those of you Risk fans, these are the mountains of Yakutsk.

Yakutsk

I stayed up till after 2:00 am Eastern time, then laid down and crashed.  I slept right through breakfast; never had the first clue they were serving.  I woke-up as we had begun our descent.  The excellent crew brought me some orange juice in-lieu of breakfast, and the pilot made a memorably smooth landing.  Well done, Delta!  This was a great flight!!!

I had no reason to stay in Hong Kong this trip, so I took an airport “limousine” service (a 6 passenger mini-van).  The service I use is called SkyLimo on the Hong Kong side and Trans-Island Limousine Service on the mainland side (with a W logo?).  It costs $170 HK  (about $22 US), which is more expensive than the train or big bus…but it’s a VERY convenient service.  They take you through HK immigration without even getting out of the car.  Then they drive you across the border and drop you off at mainland immigration/customs.  You fill out your form, run through the line, and they have another van waiting for you on the other side and take you right to your hotel.   After such a long trip, it’s well worth the extra few bucks.

The Panglin Hotel in Shenzhen is quite comfortable, so long as you enjoy sleeping on a pile of bricks.  I could sleep on a Chinese sidewalk at rush hour, so this is no problem for me.  :)  Seriously, though, it’s very simple, but clean and comfortable, with free wired internet service.  That reminds me that I need to post about my Lenovo laptop’s “MyWifi” feature, which allows me to create my own wifi hotspot from a wired connection.  This is perfect for keeping my iPhone connected when I don’t otherwise have wifi.  More later.

My Room

They even have a little sitting area.  Too bad I don’t have anybody on these trips to sit and chat with.

Sitting Area

Well, that about covers the trip over.  The following day I visited the local botanical gardens, but that’s another post.  Good night all!

Heading to the Tropics


2011
05.27

No, I’m not going to Destin, or on an Caribbean vacation.  I’m headed to China and Japan for a week.

Here’s the plan…Atlanta to Hong Kong (via Detroit), Shenzhen to Wuhan, Wuhan to Tokyo (via Shanghai), and finally Tokyo to Atlanta (via Minneapolis).  That’s 17,438 miles, on 7 flights, with 44+ hours of scheduled travel time.  Yea, that’s an entire weeks work for most people, just in the flights alone.  Ah, the glamorous life, right?

Red = Day 1, Blue = Day 4, Yellow = Day 6, Green = Day 8

But don’t get me wrong.  I love this part of my job.  Working directly with customers in challenging environments is what really drives me in my job.  Plus, I don’t expect any sympathy since I was able to upgrade the long-haul legs.  On the way over I’ll be on a 777-200ER, in Delta’s new lie flat seating.  It’s a window seat and and aisle seat all in one!

Photo courtesy of Delta

World’s Worst Airports


2011
05.26

Bing Travel did a piece on the world’s worst airports, and since I’ve flown through many of them I wanted to share my thoughts. I also noticed that America has 7 of 15 on the list. I’m not sure whether to be proud of that or not. haha

Worst weather: Chicago O’Hare International

It’s true; O’Hare can get some nasty weather. And being such a big airport, weather makes a big mess. Avoid this by flying through Midway instead. It’s closer to the city, and a much better traveling experience.

Worst delays: London Heathrow International

I’ve only flown through here once, but had the opposite experience. I was flying from Brussels back to ATL. In order to get a reasonable fare, I had to fly through London by going into Heathrow and out of Gatwick. The weather in London was terrible; as foggy as one would guess it to be, and thus there were many delays…but not for us. I’ll never forget looking out the window of the plane as we were descending, with the air so thick I could barely make-out the wing tip. As we were dropping, I kept waiting for us to break-out of the clouds. I looked back inside the cabin for just a split second and SLAM! we were on the ground.  Even as we’re moving down the taxiway, you could hardly see past the wing; no joke…pea soup thick.  The pilots landed using an instrument approch and I heard that the plane had some kind of infrared camera that’s used on planes that make a lot of trips to London. We skipped to the front of the landing line, since lots of planes weren’t equipped with this gear and had to circle. Score! Since I flew out of Gatwick, I don’t have any idea what the departure delays looked like from Heathrow.

Worst delays: Newark Liberty International, N.J.

I travel to Newark a lot, and the delays are legendary. The first problem is air space. You’ve got Newark, LaGuardia, and JFK all within a 10 mile radius. That’s just not enough room for three airports, two of which are major international ports. Plus you’re right on the coast, so you get the weather associated with that. Flight time from EWR-ATL is 1:40, but flights are usually scheduled for 2:30 because everybody knows you’re going to taxi for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Hardest to navigate: Phoenix Sky Harbor International

Sky Harbor was a completely un-memorable experience for me. I went with a pretty big group (Hi, Adrian!), which might lead to issues…but I seem to recall coming and going pretty easily. If you can read a map, you’ll be fine.

Hardest to get to: Beijing Capital International

I’m confused by this one. Yes, PEK is out away from the city a bit, but they have a nice highway that’s a straight shot into the city. It may be time consuming, but it’s not “hard to get to”.

Dirtiest: Jakarta International, Indonesia

“…all the same problems as Moscow’s airport — and it’s in the tropics, so everything festers.” LOL I think I’ll try to avoid that one.

Most crowded: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International

Being my home airport, maybe I’m numb to this. Yes, it’s crowded. But I think the layout works well for managing this. They complain of long lines that I’ve just never experienced.

Ugliest airport: McCarran International, Las Vegas

The slot machines really are a bit insane.

Worst overall runner-up: John F. Kennedy International

You know the stereotype of rude New Yorkers that you see on TV? That’s who runs the airport. Need I say more? OMG What a ridiculous excuse for a modern airport! The layout is terrible, but could be manageable if the employees were helpful or the signs were informative. I fly through JFK because it’s easier to get international upgrades through there than flying directly from Atlanta. But the reason the seats are empty is that nobody else wants to fly through there either!

Worst overall: Paris-Charles de Gaulle

Can I get an “amen”?!?! CDG is indeed terrible. On my first trip to Europe, I was headed to Stockholm, with a connection through Paris. Our Delta flight from Atlanta was running late, but we hit the ground about 30 minutes before the Stockholm flight. Both legs were codeshares with Air France, so they knew we were on-board. There was a group of six of us all on the same itinerary, and we literally ran through the airport and got to the gate 10 minutes before the scheduled departure, only to find that the plane was GONE. They hadn’t just closed the doors. The flight had apparently left 10 minutes before we got there….a full 20 minutes early. Everyone else was there, so they figured they’d just move on along. They knew that six customers were on the way and would be there in time for the scheduled departure, but they left anyway. Thanks for that! So after a 9 hour flight, we had to wait 5 hours for the next flight to Stockholm. The Air France customer no-service people were obnoxious. They would pretend not to speak English so that they didn’t have to talk to us. They refused us access to the Air France lounge, telling us to go sit on the metal benches for 5 hours. And to top it off, they lost my luggage. I got it the next day, but after that experience I vowed to avoid CDG at all cost. So now unless I’m stopping in Paris, I fly through somewhere else. I guess we’re all happy; I don’t want to be there, and they clearly don’t want me there. :)

World's Worst Airports

Trusted Traveler Program


2011
05.23

Atlanta area consumer advocate Clark Howard is speaking out in support of a trusted traveler program, following the recommendation of Tom Ridge, former Secretary of Homeland Security. I’m 100% behind this! As a nation, we’re spending 8 BILLION dollars per year year on the TSA, and they’re spending the vast majority of their time and resources searching business travelers, 6 year old boys, and elderly women. We need to adopt a system that will allow travelers to submit to a thorough background check, then be allowed to move through security much more quickly, with none of the invasive body scans, pat downs, etc.

A “trusted traveler” should be able to put all their stuff on the x-ray belt and walk through a magnetometer. If you don’t set the thing off, there’s no need for further scanning the person. Their luggage should go through a scanner (with liquids still in the carry-on and laptops still in their case), and if they don’t see anything alarming, off you go to the gate.

The reality is that even if Joe Business Guy did put a pocket knife in his luggage, or smuggled along a full size can of shave gel *gasp*, you still don’t need to worry. He’s not a terrorists, and isn’t going to do anything with those items.

Here’s a link to Clark’s video. What do you think?

TSA Frisks a 6 year-old


2011
04.15

There’s no way I’d allow my 6 year old to be frisked.  This is sheer lunacy!  The terrorists who threaten our airlines are Muslim men.  Period.  There has not been one single solitary shred of evidence, or even SUGGESTION, that someone was planning to use 6 year-old Caucasian girls to smuggle weapons aboard a plane.  The TSA is so afraid of “profiling” that they blindly put a CHILD through a search procedure that involves touching her breasts and genitals. No way; no how. The TSA is out of control!

Here’s a link to the video, if you can take it.

Delta Did Me Right


2010
12.09

On a recent trip to NJ, I had a Garmin GPS and a flashlight stolen from my checked bag.  I almost NEVER check a bag, even/especially on long trips to Asia.  But on this particular trip I was going to play tennis with some guys from the office, so I needed to bring some extra stuff and it just seemed easier.  What I should have done was put the GPS and light in my carry-on.  But I was lazy, and dropped it in the checked bag as I got out of my car.  And as fate would have it, some jerk in Newark’s baggage claim stole them.  I know it was there because despite the Priority tag on the bag, mine was one of the last on the belt.

I didn’t notice this till I got the keys to my rental car and tried to pull-out the GPS.   It wasn’t right on top, so I reached for the flashlight (clipped just inside) to help me find the GPS in the dark.  But the flashlight was gone, too.  I took the train back to the terminal and went to the Delta baggage office.  They were closed for the night (it was nearly 1:00 am) but there was a phone number on the door.  I called and was told to download a claim form from the website.

I dutifully filled-out the form when I returned from my trip and had access to my old receipts.  I faxed (what’s that?) it off to Delta fully expecting them to say “You travel how often?  And you put something of value in your luggage?  Sorry, your incompetence is not our problem.”   Instead I got an e-mail saying that they were reviewing my claim and would respond in 6-8 weeks.  Within only about 3 weeks I got a letter in the mail saying that my claim was approved and I’d be getting a check in a couple weeks.  Lo and behold, the check arrived just a couple days later!

I don’t know if they’re this nice to everybody, or if the $20,000+ I’ve spent with you this year affected the outcome.  Regardless…thank you, Delta!