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Posts from the Travel Category

Alaska Airlines, arguably the hometown airline of Seattle, Portland, and Anchorage, unveiled a their new brand and livery at an event yesterday in Seattle.

new_alaska_livery
In a blog post, they give details on why they are refreshing the brand and a few insights into why they went the direction they did.

“We’ve added 90 new markets in the past five years. As we continue to grow, we are updating the outward expression of our brand so it shows up bolder wherever we fly.”

Essentially, we now fly Boston to San Diego non-stop and want to make our logo simpler for that market. I get it, it is not like they were going to change the name of the airline or anything. The first thing that stands out to me though is how close the new tail livery looks to some of the low cost carriers and how the entire livery looks a little Southwest-ish. The second thing is what I pointed out to Seth yesterday, the multicolored cheat lines look like the engines are spewing out the Northern Lights.

southwestlivery

Maybe that’s what Alaska was going for. The colors also match up pretty well to the Seattle Seahawks, the Mariners, and Sound Transit System. Coincidence?

I am no branding or livery expert but I just find the new look to be less Alaska and more Spirit/Southwest/Frontier. Maybe that is what they were going for. There is even a hint of Eurowings in there. There is a pretty great breakdown of the entire brand, livery, and other customer facing materials at Under Consideration. Their impression? Underwhelmed.

Overall, it’s not a highly inspiring redesign and rather than double-down on the quirkiness and ruggedness of the brand equity established they have moved away to safer territory.

Maybe Alaska should have gone to an all retro livery… (to be fair, some of the colors do match up)

old_alaska

— Updated at 12:30pm PST

I should add, if employees like the new look and it motivates them to better serve customers, then I am all for it. From the video of the unveiling of the new brand it does seem like the employees are excited about it and that’s a good thing.

Delta, amid the possibility of Tokyo-Haneda airport opening 10 more slots to U.S. carriers, is pitching a fit and threatening to kill their Portland-Narita non-stop flight. This is not the first threat they have made regarding their flights to Narita, just a few weeks ago, they said that their Minneapolis-St. Paul to Narita flight would need to end. That first threat came as a surprise, but the addition of other flights that would need to come to end has not ceased.

The crux of the matter is whether or not the opening up of more Haneda slots to U.S. carriers would be detrimental to Delta’s hub at Narita and their traffic throughout the region. As quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

But Delta contends that, since United and American are partners with ANA and JAL, respectively, the deal tilts in their favor. That’s because United and American could also sell seats on the new ANA and JAL flights, enabling them to offer significantly more seats to Haneda and beyond.

I don’t doubt Delta would suffer a little due to the partnerships that American and United both have. However, is pitching a fit and essentially becoming the kid who quits the game when the score goes to the opposition really the best way to handle it? Delta seems to have a pretty good case to get a number of the slots at Haneda or special dispensation to create a mini hub there, but they would rather burn a bridge by threatening to remove a non-stop international route from cities that have few connections to Asia. Seems like bad business to me.

Haneda is a more convenient airport for travelers ending their journey in Tokyo or continuing on to other parts of Japan as there are a ton of domestic connections. With recent expansions, the number of options to other cities throughout Asia from Haneda has increased as well. The idea of Delta running a hub in Japan and expecting that to last, even without Haneda being opened up more, seems far fetched. I say call Delta’s bluff. Expand the Haneda slots and move forward. If Delta ends up getting rid of Portland-Narita, the Port of Portland should aggressively pursue ANA or Japan Airlines to fill their spot at PDX.

I have a trip coming up soon and I have been debating which routing I want to take to and from the destination for weeks. This always happens. I try to get the most out of the trip by choosing flights that have longer routes optimal for sleeping on the way to the destination and routes that work best for my schedule for the return. On this particular trip I could fly a new carrier, RyanAir, to Berlin’s Schonefeld airport, overnight there and fly Berlin-Tegel to Newark and then onward to Portland or I could fly to Amsterdam, overnight there and then fly to Houston on a Boeing 787-9 (a new type of plane for me) and then onward to Portland.

I ended up choosing the latter flight option because as a few people pointed out on Twitter, wouldn’t I want to avoid Newark at all costs? Well sure, but I love trying out a new carrier and I really enjoy Berlin. The Amsterdam flight will be fine and I am staying at the on-airport property Sheraton so it will be a quick 10 minute walk to get to the check-in counters in the morning, but I am still questioning my decision.

This is the one aspect of travel that I am terrible at, the actual planning. I question myself over and over and over and usually come to a conclusion only to continue questioning myself until I actually take the flight. Then who knows, I may question myself again later.

In any case, here’s to 2016 and seeing new places!

Why isn’t it much, much faster to fly west in an airplane, given that the Earth is spinning at 700-1000 miles per hour relative to its center? This video answers that question and even describes how some routes are faster going west due to upper level winds caused by the Coriolis effect.

This, along with great circle paths are some of the fascinating things about air travel .

Craig Karamin and Ezequiel Minaya for the Wall Street Journal:

Marriott International Inc. said Monday that it has agreed to acquire Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. in a deal worth $12.2 billion that will create the world’s largest hotel company with more than a million rooms globally.

Under the terms, Marriott will forward 0.92 share along with $2 in cash for each Starwood share, for a total of $11.9 billion in stock and $340 million in cash. The transaction has a value of $72.08 a Starwood share.

I can’t say that I am thrilled by this news. I used to stay at Marriott properties almost exclusively and was never all that impressed. There were a few standout locations that I enjoyed staying at but a number of them were poorly maintained or just poorly built (lots of noise through the walls). My Marriott status was Platinum for quite a while but I never saw much benefit from that status and I actually had to deal with Marriott’s rather quick expiry of points more than once.

At the end of the day, these buyouts and mergers are not about you and I the customers but about the shareholders and the health of the business. We will have to wait and see what this means for the different aspects of the rewards and loyalty programs of both hotel chains.

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The NY Times piece on what is happening to the Nazi sites in the historic city of Nuremberg is a look into the conundrum of up-keeping history while not honoring it.

In this city, the rallying point for Hitler, is the largest piece of real estate bequeathed by the Nazis, and a burden only increasing with time.

First comes the sheer physical size: a parade ground bigger than 12 football fields. A semicircular Congress Hall that dwarfs any structure at Lincoln Center. Great Street, more than one-and-a-half miles long, with no structures on either side — a modern Appian Way where the storm troopers strutted between the old Nuremberg of Albrecht Dürer and the rallies idolizing the Führer.

Then there are its troubled history and the far stickier question of what to do with it. “These are not simple memorials,” said Mathias Pfeil, chief curator of historic sites in Bavaria, “because they symbolize a time we can only wish had never happened.”

I have visited Nuremberg quite a few times and the Nazi sites always strike me as a strange intersection of history, hatred, and remembrance. Last time I visited I was with my dad and grandfather and there happened to be a heavy metal festival taking place on the site, with Metallica being the headliner. It was strange to hear metal being played as you read about the horrors of the Holocaust. During my second visit to the city, I even wrote in the caption for this photo about the strange dichotomy at the Nazi rally grounds.

Hitler stood here multiple times to give speeches during Nazi rallies. On this particular day it’s being used for a children’s marathon. The German people are torn on how to use these landmarks, they cannot be forgotten, yet they should not be glorified.

Zeppelinfeld Stadium
So where is the line between teaching younger generations about the atrocities committed in the name of the Third Reich and glorifying it? The story touches on the fact that most Nurembergers under the age of 25 have no historical context with which to view the rally grounds. They have always been there during their lifetime and associated with nothing that resembled war or struggle.

If you do visit Nuremberg, the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände (Documentation Center at the Nazi Rally Grounds) is a fascinating and sobering look at how the Nazi party took hold in Nuremberg, Munich, and finally Berlin. The center also tells the story of the Holocaust, the eventual loss by Germany, and the Nuremberg trials. It is on the site of the rally grounds and you can walk around them after visiting the exhibit.

A couple of stories popped up in my Twitter and Facebook feeds recently and I think they deserve a little attention. Not because they are amazing stories, but because they are titled as “travel hacking” and I think that term deserves a discussion.

The first article is on Business Insider and is about a blogger named Sam Huang and his “round the world trip in first class for $300”. To be clear, Sam is selling something. I don’t know exactly what it is but I would guess it’s a guide to earning miles with a credit card. He clearly sent out some feelers to see if anyone would be interested in carrying his story to hopefully generate some traffic.

Travel blogger Sam Huang recently cashed in his Alaska Airlines frequent-flyer miles for a $60,000 trip around the world, and luckily he took plenty of pictures documenting what it was like.

Right off the bat I see some interesting claims being made. One, this isn’t really a round-the-world itinerary, it’s a one-way purchased with miles and then a return at a later date, also purchased with miles. A true round-the-world goes in one direction around the globe and ends in the same city (or close to it) that the journey began. Secondly, the price seems quite steep. I cannot find anything on the Emirates website that hints at the price for a trip around the world in first costing $60,000. My guess is that Huang priced out each separate segment in first and is quoting the sum as the price of the trip which may or may not be close to reality.

The second story is this one, on Collectively Conscious, about blogger Scott Keyes. I have to give Mr. Keyes some credit as he looks for cheap fares and seems to be focused on travel rather selling a service or a guide to earn free miles.

This is nothing new for Keyes, who told us that he uses his massive collection of credit cards to gain points, frequent flyer miles, and plenty of other member perks all the time. He then turns around and uses those perks on vacations like his upcoming trip that will take him 20,000 miles on 21 flights — all for free.

The strand that ties these two stories together is the heavy mention and use of credit card miles. Both gentlemen use a frequent flyer credit card and use those earned miles for travel, but what neither article seems to touch on is how exactly they are doing it. More than likely they are signing up for cards and then spending enough on the card to earn the bonus miles probably offered for initial sign-up and then eventually cancelling the card. It is a stretch to call this “travel hacking”. The practice is definitely neat and draws in some pageviews, but relying on a credit card to fuel travel is not an easy undertaking but is being sold to readers as a cheap way to get from point A to point B in style (or on the cheap). For some people, cash back cards may actually be a better proposition, for others, a card that gives them points that they can use for purchases might work better. Just jumping into the airline/travel credit card game without a goal or an understanding of the risks, which range from devaluation to closing of accounts, is dangerous and something I discourage.

A telling paragraph in the Keyes story:

Keyes has a few methods to procure his frequent flyer miles, including opening new credit cards that award miles or points, letting airlines know when there’s a problem with his flight, and not being afraid to get bumped if a flight is full.

Opening new credit cards is at the forefront. Complaining about something broken or a problem on a flight I don’t have a qualm with, but it seems to be a tactic that gets abused. The last point about being bumped if a flight is full is a great way to earn airline vouchers if you have flexible plans. Just know that some of the vouchers come with restrictions and make sure you understand those restrictions.

It is sad to see “travel hacking” basically turned into a credit card ad and having people eating it up as a quick route to travel when it could backfire badly. Using multiple cards to earn the miles that are talked about in these articles takes organization and a firm understanding of the terms and how your personal credit rating works. It would be nice if such details were included in these articles and people were made aware of what was really going on.

United Boeing 787
Texas Monthly’s recent piece, “Up in the Air” by Loren Steffy, has left me scratching my head. The by-line is “The 2010 sale of Continental Airlines has left Houston in a holding pattern” so I was expecting a look into dealings with the city or the airport. I braced myself for an investigative long-read.

The first two paragraphs focus on how terrible it was to lose Continental to the merger and then United to Chicago; How cultures are a problem.

As a management consultant, Heiland knew that the biggest hurdle for the two companies wouldn’t be integrating systems, processes, or technology but reconciling their cultures. “When it was announced that the headquarters would be in Chicago, I felt the war was lost.”

Then all of the sudden the article becomes a brief history of Continental. Details about former CEOs and what they did or didn’t do for the airline. All of it reads like a Wikipedia job. Then near the end there is some more meat.

And so, in 2010, Smisek struck a deal. Though he called it a merger, he basically sold Continental to United; the name “Continental” disappeared and the Houston headquarters was essentially vacated. Continental’s management team was supposed to be in charge, but it never took root in the cold climes of Chicago. “The Continental culture was a terrible thing to risk,” Bakes says. “United’s history is one of bureaucracy and arrogance, and it ended up culturally being more dominant.”

I get it, there are definite service issues with United. I’m not convinced it had anything to do with “culture” at either airline but more to do with the management not fostering a relationship with the front line staff and building trust. It has lead to distrust and unhappiness for the people who travelers see first and deal with most in their travels: flight attendants, agents, and other ground staff. Morale has been in the mud and it shows. The new CEO, Oscar Munoz, who is on medical leave due to a recent heart attack, mentioned the morale problems and customer service issues immediately after taking the job.

On another note, the part about the Houston offices being vacated is at best an oversight or at worst, poor research. There are a large number of employees who still work in downtown Houston. Just fly a Chicago-Houston morning flight or an evening Houston-Chicago flight, there are a lot of United employees commuting to or from the Houston office.

The whole article reads like a whine and never addresses the by-line. How is Houston in a holding pattern? If anything, United has helped the city before the merger and after. United has committed to paying for at least part of the renovations taking place at Terminal B and C at IAH. The airline also plays a crucial role in attracting other carriers to the city. Their membership in the Star Alliance means that other airlines can codeshare with them, drawing those carriers to offer service to airports where United is located to connect to surrounding cities. EVA, ANA, Singapore Airlines, Air China, Lufthansa and Avianca all offer service to IAH, building on the connections that United offers. And soon there will be a Houston-Auckland flight on Air New Zealand, another Star Alliance partner.

If United had truly left Houston in a holding pattern, it would have happened in a similar fashion to what they did to Cleveland or what Delta did to Cincinnati. Nostalgia is always fun to discuss and reminisce about, but the Texas Monthly article was far from that. I would have been much more of a fan had Texas Monthly found and licensed a bunch of old IAH and Continental photos and just told the history of the airline and the airport. Instead it was a let down.

Brandenburg Gate
Last week a number of airlines had a sale on business class tickets from the U.S. to Europe. Prices were about the same as coach and the destinations varied by airline alliance but most of the overlap seemed to be Dublin, Vienna, Prague, Amsterdam, London, and Paris. The key was, the tickets had to be purchased by Friday, October 16. We had been looking for options for the spring break holiday and considered some of these destinations as well as a reward I had on hold for Japan for the cherry blossom season. Unfortunately, the timing of the flights to Japan meant we would only have four days in the country and to me, that was not long enough to really enjoy the trip. In addition, the hotels in Japan during cherry blossom season are insanely priced and that made it even less attractive. Since the fare sale did not include any German cities, we decided to fly into Prague and take the train to Berlin for a week.

I ended up purchasing Portland-Washington Dulles-Vienna-Prague for the outbound and Prague-Frankfurt-Denver-Portland for the return. We’ll get to try Austrian Airlines on the longhaul Dulles-Vienna segment, which I am a little excited about, but a little worried about the short duration of the flight. I prefer longer flights so I can rest and try to adjust to the destination’s timezone. There were not many options available by the time I booked, so I went with the new carrier.


All of this came together rather quickly, I saw the fares on Thursday and purchased Friday afternoon. A number of the available destinations have less than stellar weather in March (Dublin) so we were looking at options with better weather (it will be cold in Berlin, but not too bad) and since we know Berlin, it will be pretty easy for us to get around. The other things I was having to take into consideration were airlines. The fare was available on Delta and they have a non-stop Portland-Amsterdam flight. Unfortunately, the outbound was not available but the return was. I strongly considered Delta though, as I would really like to fly them on a longhaul flight.

Overall, I think it will be a great trip. The flight from Dulles to Vienna might be short, but I can sleep on the train. It will be our first long vacation since moving to Portland and we are really looking forward to it. Making quick decisions is tough, but when a good fare comes up, you have to be quick.

Any new places in Berlin we should know about?