Dec 03

Heli Tour of Seattle

On my recent trip to Seattle my friends and I wanted to channel a little bit of Christian Grey, so we did a helicopter tour, not that I need much encouragement since I love helicopter tours. As an extra added bonus it was Fleet Week and we were flying during an opening of the TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction).

The downside of the TFR is that we were held on the tarmac for quite a bit waiting for clearance. The upside is that we got to see tons of different planes (Blue Angels, Harriers) taking off and landing, so at least the sights were good.

The helicopter tours fly out of Boeing Field which is to the South of Downtown Seattle.  Our tour started over East Seattle, moved over the water between Seattle and Bainbridge Island, than returned back over the city.  It’s offered fantastic views of the city, naturally.  It helped that it was a perfect day, blue skies, warm temperatures.

While the views don’t quite compete with locations like Hawaii (not that many places do), the mountains framing the city, and the water ways that surround it do make for great scenery.  And the iconic Space Needle looks great from that close up.

I’m almost always going to tell you that if you have a chance that you should do a helicopter tour, and this is not exception.  One thing I particularly liked was that we took a 4 seater helicopter, and there were 3 of us and the pilot. It was nice to have a private tour and be able to joke around more freely than when you’re on a big helicopter with strangers.

Aug 27

Carry On Luggage Weight

Have you ever been asked to weight your carry on when you were checking in or checking luggage for a flight?  I’ve had it happen to me twice.

I get nervous when this happens because I’m usually traveling with a laptop and camera, both of which make your carry on heavy quickly.  Most people don’t realize that airlines have a weight limit for your carry on.  Limits range from 13 to 22 pounds, not a lot of weight if you carry things like a laptop and camera equipment.

The first time my carry on was weighted (I can’t remember which, but it was a European Airline) the weight was close enough that they didn’t bother me.  The second time was on Kalula Air in South Africa. I was asked if I had a laptop and when I said yes, they said it was ok and let me go.  I do know a couple people who also had their carry on randomly weighed and just took the camera out, put it around their neck and were fine. With loose rules like this, it makes you wonder why they bother having these rules.  Though, I’m sure they don’t want to be responsible for a lot of electronic (cameras and laptops) equipment that is checked either.

Have you ever had your carry on weighed and was it a problem?

Aug 13

British Airways – Business vs First Class

I know your first thought was, Ummm, of course First Class! And yes, absolutely, British Airways First Class is better than their Business class any day of the week!  But, I wanted to write about whether the benefits of First Class over Business Class make it worth it for the extra money/miles.  My short answer is that for most people, BA Business Class is all that you need. So, what are the differences?

Here are my flight details:
BA0174 JFK to LHR 747 – First Class
BA0045 LHR to CPT – Business Class Cabin

Configuration

First Class had 14 seats. The configuration was window seats in rows 1-5, rows 4 and 5 had a pair of seats in the middle of the plane. The middle seats would be ideal for a couple traveling together. The first class seats are angled; in the case of the window seats they are angled towards the window, which makes them feel very private. 

First Class Cabin

Business Class has roughly 70 seats, the configuration is two seats by the windows, 4 seats in the middle and seats alternate facing forward and backward.  This configuration is nice if you’re traveling with someone, but is a little awkward if you’re seated next to a stranger (experienced this on another trip). There is a divider that goes up during the flight, which does give A LOT of privacy, particularly if you are at the window. However, during takeoff and landing, i’s a little weird. The middle of the middle seats both face backward and provide quite a bit of privacy for couples. These would be great for a couple or a parent/child. If you are in a window or middle seats you may have to climb over someone’s legs to get out. There are a few seats where you do not have to, I suggest looking for them on Seatguru.com, but it seemed the last seats in a section were the lucky ones.

Business Cabin

While a book can distract you from practically staring at your seat neighbor in Business Class, for privacy as a solo flyer, First Class far outweighs the privacy of Business class.  This is less of a concern if you’re traveling with someone. But the real benefit for the privacy would be for a famous person. A max of 14 people and most of them may never even see you. Those are the people who are paying cash for First Class.  And just plain old rich people too.

Comfort

The advantage of the First Class cabin over the Business cabin in terms of seat comfort is: Both have lie flat seats, the first class seats are softer and the Flight Attendants will make the bed with a light mattress pad. The comforter is also nicer.  But I’ll be honest, the mattress pad got all messed up from me moving around and so did nothing for me in terms of additional comfort. The softer seat was nicer. But since I sleep ok on a plane I did not think this feature was worth many more miles or dollars. 

First Class Windows

Amenities

First Class came with Pajama’s, slippers and a nicer amenity kit.  The Pajamas were pretty nice and I’ve used my slippers several times on different trips.  None of it is fancy, but when you’re traveling overnight or on long trips, a change of clothes is nice.  And well, slippers come in handy when you need to use the bathroom midflight. Maybe I’ll appreciate the rest of the stuff in the amenity kit when I’m older, but I’m ok with one good quality moisturizer and then skip the eye cream.

Business Amenity Kit

Food

Food in both cabins is head and shoulders above coach with a wider variety and better quality. I had dinner in the lounge, so I skipped dinner on the plane for my flight in First Class.  But I did have a nice breakfast on both flights and certainly it was better than in business class, but with a selection of breads, drinks, hot foods in Business Class there was a wide enough variety for anyone to put together a good sized breakfast.

 

Business Class Breakfast

First Class Breakfast Fruit

Bathrooms

The bathrooms were the same in Business and First Class. I’ll be honest, this was the most disappointing aspect of First Class, the bathroom really wasn’t much better than in Coach.

Service

In First Class I was served my slippers on a silver platter.  So yes, service in First Class was amazing.  But do I need things served to be on a silver platter?  No, this was way over the top, though it was fun to experience.

Staff was very friendly and helpful in both cabins. With a smaller cabin in First, service was quicker. But then it probably didn’t help that I was in the last seat of Business Class (which was a good seat).

Lounge

I visited the Galleries at JFK and the Concorde Room at both JFK and LHR.  Galleries was much quieter, less crowded and they served very nice hot  meals, quickly.  The only down side was that the spa and showers were located at the Concorde Room which was a little hike from Galleries.  I did find the staff in JFK MUCH friendlier than the staff at LHR, not matter what lounge you were visiting. 

Concorde Lounge LHR

Galleries Lounge JFK

Crissy

 

Jul 25

Flight Diary and Flying

Not too long ago I became aware of a site called Flight Diary.  On this site you can input all of your flights you have or are going to take. It’s a neat way of documenting and commemorating different trips and flights you have taken.fd-logo

The first day I signed up I added all my planned flights for the year and will be going back to add some older flights, I’ll probably start with the more interesting ones first.  My only issue with the site is that it takes quite a bit of time to set it up, you need to add in the flight number, airline, departure and arrival times. I wish it could at least pull the times from the airlines after you enter the date, airline and flight number – that would make it much easier.  But this just means that the site has room to grow.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 9.42.15 AMAfter setting that up I became aware of an App that does a similar thing, Flying. The app is currently in Beta, but does a similar thing as Flight Diary, with one distinct advantage, it syncs with the TripIt App. If you don’t have or have never used TripIt, it’s not an advantage. But, if you do – all you have to do is sync the two apps and all of your flights that are in TripIt will be imported to Flying.  Within minutes I had badges for flying across the Pacific, Atlantic, Equator…  I do want to add a few flights to it from before I had TripIt, but this was an easier start for me.  Either way, both apps/sites are a great way to commemorate your travel.

Jul 16

CarryOn Shame!

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Spud Hilton starting a new campaign to get carryon’s to meet carryon regulations – @CarryonShame

I listened to an interview (that wasn’t over edited) with him, and his heart is in the right place. He thinks that the backlash of the checked bag fees is that passengers are taking it out on each other.

The airline is making you carry your bag on, and to hell with everyone else if it means boarding takes longer and not everyone can fit their carryon on the plane, as long as I can!  With attitudes like that, the TSA isn’t the only problem with flying.

Spud is hoping to bring this issue out more and shame the airlines into enforcing their own rules (which they have started to crack down on). I know we’ve all seen those passengers with obviously too big bags and too much stuff. Lets hope his campaign works!

Oh, and one great tip he has is to take your own measuring tape when you luggage shop, apparently many bag tags lie about the size of the bag it’s attached to. WHAT? The’s BS! Maybe we should crack down on that too!

Jul 11

Novotel Brisbane Airport

Due to my wacky schedule in Australia I ended up flying into Brisbane late the night before my flight from Brisbane home, which meant I needed a place to sleep for the night. While it wasn’t the cheapest option, it was the easiest option; I stayed at the Novotel Brisbane Airport. This is the only hotel on airport property and offers a shuttle service from the hotel to the domestic and international terminals. There is a $5 charge each way, it can be paid in cash or added to your hotel bill.  If you are using this hotel you should check their website for directions on where to find the shuttle at each terminal.

The hotel was actually quite nice and geared towards the business traveler. It was also modern and stylish with lots of plugs for me to charge all my gadgets for my flight home.

The room had a Queen or King sized bed, a desk, seating area, and rack for your suitcase.  Pretty much all you would need for a quick stop over.  I think there was a coffee maker too, but don’t quote me on that.  The room wasn’t particularly large, but there was enough room to move around it.

While there I did have the opportunity to order room service (late flight and lots of repacking to do) and the pizza was actually pretty good for an airport hotel in Australia (I’m a NY Pizza snob).

There is a shopping center adjacent to the hotel. There wasn’t much open early on a Sunday morning, but there is a grocery store and a medical center there.

Check in and check out were easy, and they were happy to help me arrange my transfer back to the airport, as well as let me use all my random spare money to pay off part of my bill.  The hotel was also very aggressive with their wake up call. I forgot about my wake up call and went to the grocery store. When I returned I ran into the guy they were sending to my room to wake up me.  Opps!

The only thing I didn’t like was that they charged a fee to pay off your bill with a credit card.  Otherwise I would definitely recommend this hotel if you have an early flight, long lay over and need a place to crash for the day (they do have day rates) or even a late flight into the city.

Jun 06

Rome2Rio Website

Have you ever planned a trip where getting from point A to point B was not as easy as you thought?  Well then check out the website Rome2Rio.com

Rome2Rio.com allows you to insert your starting and ending point of a trip you’re taking and finds you a variety of different ways to get there, with a focus on the cheapest way.  I haven’t had to use the site yet, but my friend who is planning to do the Camino de Santiago is and his brain was hurting from the different options.  This helped him narrow down the options and helped his thinking about them in a different way.  It also meant he was bugging me less about the options.

Apr 18

Qantas Vs Virgin Australia

While I was in Australia I had the opportunity to fly both Qantas and Virgin Australia domestically. I found both airlines to be very good, but extremely different.  When I booked my flights I paid cash for 2 on Virgin Australia and used miles for 2 on Qantas.  The reason I didn’t pay for Qantas – they cost more.  But, are they better?

The two airlines are difficult to compare because their pricing and products are surprisingly different.  For this post, I priced flights from Sydney to Brisbane on May 8, 2014.  Qantas’ Red Deal price was $145 Aus, and Virgin Australia’s Saver was $135 Aus.  I remember the price difference when I booked being wider, but flight prices are so dynamic that this is not an unreasonable sample.  So how do they fare?


Check In

I really liked Qantas’ check in experience at the airport.  It’s a totally animated system (with one or two employees around to assist) and although I hate to know that jobs are cut for this automation, Qantas made it a good experience.

The Planes and Environment

All Virgin airlines have modern planes with leather seats, mood lighting and in seat entertainment systems. Qantas had fabric seats, regular lights and no entertainment system. Qantas offered a slightly more “professional” feel, compared to Virgin Australia’s more hip feeling.

Virgin Australia

I’m fine without a TV on a short flight, I tend to read anyway.  But I do prefer leather seats.

Entertainment on Virgin Australia

I believe one of my planes on Virgin Australia was very new, it was one of the new Boeing 737’s, it’s nice to know you’re on a new plane, even if it really makes no difference.

Qantas

Qantas

Luggage

I had one free checked bag with each airline, and you would with the fake tickets I booked for this sample.

Food

I’m generally not fussed about food on a short flight, but I do enjoy a drink and a snack.  But Qantas clearly wins this category. When I flew Qantas I always had a meal, and this sample flight included a meal to. On top of that, the food was good! It was a pleasant and welcome surprise.  On virgin Australia though all I got was a drink choice of tea, water or coffee.  It was fine, but still disappointing – no soda, no juice, no crappy little bag of pretzels. It actually felt a little cheap that there was so little choice and no snack – kinda made the american airlines look generous…

My final feelings on the two airlines, I would happily fly either again.  Both provided a good experience and a safe flight.  Virgin Australia offered a nice plane and better environment, but Qantas has a more professional feeling to it and food.  With just a $10 difference, I think my choice might be dependent on a couple different factors – length of flight, if I was mid trip and wanted to avoid purchasing a meal, if I wanted to have a TV to watch (more likely on a longer flight).  Either way, neither will be a bad choice.

Feb 19

Flying Lap Infants

I’ve addressed the “issue” of lap infants on flights several times. Even though I have no children of my own (I have traveled with my own nephews several times), it’s a subject I feel pretty passionate about.  While I understand the financial hardship of purchasing a seat for a small child, one that you may end up holding for an extended period during a flight, I do not believe it is safe. On a United flight this week from Denver to Billings the plane his severe turbulence, injuring several passengers and crew members.  There is also a report of a child flying up in the air during the turbulence, though not injured.

I do believe there is a difference between flying to visit family and taking a vacation – one you may have limited control over (family can be persistent), while the other (vacation) is completely discretionary.  And, if you can’t afford to pay for your child on a flight for a vacation, then perhaps you need to reconsider if you can afford the trip.

Mommy Points wrote a great article about lap infants and their safety this week.  Personally, I’m not a fan of the FAA’s decision to allow lap infants and I wonder what will happen when just one lap infant gets seriously injured on a flight.

Another trend in the lap infant debate is the roll of airlines.  I have heard stories of passengers being pressured into NOT buying a seat for a child under 2.  While the FAA allows this, I don’t think they ever intended to take the option away from parents.  But what about this case with Spirit Airlines that Chris Elliot highlighted a few days ago.  Parents who purchased a seat for their child and were asked to give it up to another passenger due to a broken seat. I can understand the parents wanting to be helpful and maybe even feeling a little pressured to agree, since they were already on the plane.  But why do airlines underestimate the risk? If I tried to book a seat for my under 2 child and the airline pressured me not to, and something happened to the child.  Who am I suing?

While I think this is an issue that will only be resolved by the FAA, I hope it’s not at the expense of a child who is injured.  Until then it is a choice for parents to make, but I do hope they make their decision based on more than just the financial aspect.