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badice.com ~ musings for the masses

At Birmingham Airport in the UK there was a series of days with severe crosswinds in March. The video below is a compilation of landings from one of those days from YouTube user flugsnug. Around 4:40 into the video you can see a United 757-200 departure and get an idea of just how strong the crosswind is, it picks the plane up and pushes it sideways during the climb.

Check out some other crosswind videos and pictures.

Recently, Amazon Prime increased in price from $79/year to $99/year, even for existing members. Of course, there was the usual gnashing of teeth and complaining that usually comes with these types of announcements, but I took it in stride.

Prime has a lot of value for me, most of which centers around the free 2-day shipping and the Amazon Prime Instant Video features. With the recent announcement that a number of HBO shows would be coming to Prime Instant Video, the service increased in value even more for me.

The 2-day shipping feature though is where I really see the value, even at $99/year. When I am on the road and think of something we need around the house or if I forgot something over the weekend, I can open up the Amazon app on my iPhone, order what I need, and when I get home it is waiting for me. Sure, this creates the challenge of having impulse buys but if you have a little self-control, this should pose no problem. It removes the headache of having to fight traffic for something you do not need right away and let’s you focus on other things.

There are a few downsides to using Prime though. For one, you are not always going to get the cheapest price. We were hoping to be able to buy dog food via Amazon Prime but the price is much higher than what we can get the food for in the store. I am sure there are other items out there that are very similar. Secondly, you do have to wait. Next day shipping still costs extra (as it should) so in the cases where you need something really fast, you may be better off picking it up directly from a store. My last qualm is that Amazon Prime Instant Video adds/removes available free content on somewhat of a whim. There are a few shows that I really want to watch (Mind of a Chef) that recently left Prime Instant Video and don’t look like they are going to return anytime soon. It would be nice if Amazon would make users aware of what content would be leaving the free video selection in the near future so that people could watch if they wanted to do so.

Anyway, there is still a lot of value in Amazon Prime for me, even at $20 more a year. Free 2-day shipping is huge, even if you only buy a few items a year, plus the streaming video service has allowed me to get rid of cable and still keep up with the shows that I want to watch, saving me money in the process.

If you are interested in giving Amazon Prime a try, they have 30-day free trials available. This is an affiliate link and I do receive a small reward if you sign up for a trial.

Etihad, the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, has released images and videos of their A380 and 787 products. All are interesting but the A380 first class product is what stands out. In it, there is a single three-room compartment area that can be occupied by two passengers called “The Residence”. Each residence consists of a living room, a bathroom, and a bedroom.

Etihad A380 - The Residence

Etihad A380 Residence – The Living Room

Etihad has posted a video of the Residence layout and general look and feel.

They have also uploaded a video narrated by Dannii Minogue, giving a better feel for what the seat layout and bathroom will be like.

The bedroom will have a full size bed and can accommodate two people.

The Residence Bedroom

Etihad A380 Residence – The Bedroom

The bathroom will have a private shower and plenty of personal care amenities.

Etihad A380 Residence - The Bathroom

Etihad A380 Residence – The Bathroom

On top of all of this, passengers in the Residence will have a private butler.

Starting price? You can look to part with close to $20,000 for a one-way flight between London and Abu-Dhabi in the Residence. Even for what you are getting, for what maxes out at an eight hour flight, $20,000 one-way is mighty steep.

There are a lot of posts out there talking about how amazing this new product is and they all end with “these will not be available as award redemptions”. So, if you want to book one of the Residences, you are going to need to pay cash, something very few of the people touting this product as “amazing” and “groundbreaking” are willing to do. At the $20,000 price point per person, you are coming very close to private jet prices and then you could fit more people and spread out the cost somewhat. While Etihad’s first class private cabin looks really cool and makes for great marketing, I am more interested in the products that I actually have potential to fly. Etihad will also have 9 first class “Apartments” which will still have a ton of privacy and space but will not feature the separate bedroom and the bathroom will be shared with other first class passengers (there is a shower in that bathroom as well).

Eithad A380 - The Apartment

Eithad A380 – The Apartment

Not wanting to drop the cash on first class? Etihad’s new business class on the A380 and the 787-9 looks fantastic and perfectly suited for a long haul flight where I needed to be into work the next day.

There is a ton of space in what Etihad is calling the “Business Studio”. The small flat surface to the side allows you to keep your essentials within arms reach and still have space to spread out.

Etihad - Business Studio

Etihad – Business Studio

Etihad - Business Studio

Etihad – Business Studio

Etihad has also provided another Dannii Minogue narrated video of their Business Studio cabin.

Lastly is the economy cabin which seems to have received some very intriguing features. The first thing I noticed were the headrests. They have a built-in wing on them to allow for leaning into, great for a nap. I do not know if Etihad will do away with pillows because of this feature, but it does allow you to rest your head without worrying about the wing on your headrest collapsing. The other thing you will notice is the inflight entertainment and the power ports in the seat in front of you. This is a huge plus for passengers. Being able to stay entertained and keep your own devices charged is one of my biggest needs when traveling and Etihad has made both of those things of the past with the A380 and 787-9 economy product that they are calling the “Economy Smart Seat”.

Korean Air - 777-200ER

Today is the big day, Korean Air is arriving from Seoul around 8:30am CT, bringing the first non-stop passenger service between Houston and the capital of South Korea. The flight is being operated by a Boeing 777-200 with three classes of service, first, business, and economy. It appears they will be featuring their new product on the route, the Kosmo suite in first and the Prestige sleeper seat in business, both of which are lie-flat seats. The economy seat is also a new product featuring audio and video on demand and power and USB ports available for each seat. The seat map below shows the layout of the cabin.

Korean Air 772 Seatmap

Korean Air has an extensive route network and gives Houstonians another great option for getting to Asia. Seoul’s Incheon International Airport, while far from the city center, is a great airport for connections and offers plenty of amenities, including free shower rooms for transiting passengers. They also offer free tours of Seoul for transiting passengers, which is a great way to see a city rather than sitting an airport waiting for your connection.

I should note that Korean also flies into Gimpo International Airport, the smaller, closer to the city airport, with flights only serving Asian destinations. But, if you are spending a few days in Seoul and then continuing on elsewhere in Asia, Gimpo is a great option with frequent flights and an easily accessible location close to the city center.

This is a fantastic option for travelers to get to Asia. Of course, I wish it was Asiana Airlines with their ties to the Star Alliance and United, but another carrier at Houston offering more flights is never a bad thing.

The Korean Air flight departs Houston for Seoul at 10:40am and arrives in Seoul at 3:10pm the next day. Current summer prices on the route range anywhere from $1500 round-trip to $2000 round-trip in economy. Korean Air is a member of the Skyteam airline alliance.

Portland, Oregon

Houston, I grew up on your suburban streets. You have been my home for the better part of 25 years. But, it is time for a change. We’ve grown apart the past five or six years, my work taking me to Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and D.C. for most of the week. I would return on Thursday evenings and enjoy a fun weekend. That has happened less and less the last couple of years and I blame you. You have grown too big too fast and I long for the Houston of my youth. Not only have you grown, you have become more expensive, yet added little in the way of benefits. All of this, coupled with the heat, has made you less enjoyable.

So, my family and I are leaving for greener (literally and figuratively) pastures in Oregon. We are giving up the 100 degree summers for 80 degree summers. We are giving up Saturday afternoon traffic for Saturday afternoon hiking. We are giving up newscasts where the nightly report is a shooting or stabbing for a nightly newscast where the big story is “What to do with all that cauliflower”. We are slowing down. We are going to enjoy life and our city, not have our city rush us from one place to the next, trying to keep up with the Joneses.

We are giving up this:

Houston Skyline

For this:

Multnomah Falls

Yes, the news is true. We are leaving Houston for Portland come July. With my work being focused on traveling to customer sites, we can be based anywhere there is an airport. We are ready for a change of scenery. We are ready for somewhere where 30 minutes away we can go for a hike and see waterfalls like Multnomah Falls pictured above. I am willing to put up with rain and gray days for the opportunity to have summers that are spectacular and give my family the ability to be outdoors most of the time.

This has been a long time coming. We had our hearts set on moving to Berlin but I was not able to find an opportunity with my company there, so we started exploring cities in the U.S. We have always loved Portland and on our most recent trip back, we knew it was where we wanted to live. It is a big city that doesn’t feel like a big city. The downtown is well laid out, the people are friendly, and the weather, even when it is raining, is pleasant.

Of course, we are sad to leave our family and friends in Houston, but we will certainly be back to visit. This decision was not an easy one but we do believe we are doing what is right for us as a family.

That is all as far as Portland news is concerned. Now back to your regularly scheduled travel post!

I am a sucker for this kind of, in Jeopardy terms, potpourri. Priceonomics has a short piece on why UPS trucks do not make left turns. The most telling part:

UPS engineers found that left-hand turns were a major drag on efficiency. Turning against traffic resulted in long waits in left-hand turn lanes that wasted time and fuel, and it also led to a disproportionate number of accidents.

UPS even has a page describing the practice of no left turns and they expand on the above idea.

What we found: A significant cause of idling time resulted from drivers making left turns, essentially going against the flow of traffic. From there we explored routes where these turns were cut out entirely, and then compared data.

The use of data to make a decision that goes against logic is what I love. UPS leadership was experimental enough to say “we are going to implement this and see if it works” and then study the results from that test. There are a number of very large companies that I have worked with that would immediately balk at this idea. They almost go through stages of grief (sans depression) with ideas like this.

  1. Denial – the companies claim the data is wrong or that it is flawed
  2. Anger – the workers who are responsible for causing the data become upset that someone found out about their poor work habits
  3. Bargaining – to get out of making a change, people start tossing out different ideas, none of them good
  4. Acceptance – “I guess we’ll just have to do it”

Then there are the companies who do the complete opposite. They implement a terrible idea based on bad data, or their understanding and interpretation of good data, and it blows up in their face. Once that happens, they become very adverse to ever trying a new idea again. We need new ideas backed by data and I think it’s awesome that UPS took their data and made some interesting choices that have paid off.

Seth has details of the changes. The big changes are in the AAnytime Awards, or awards that have more availability across dates. There are now three tiers of AAnytime Awards with the highest tier being exponentially more expensive than the lower tier. US Airways also upped the price of the sweet spot on their reward chart, US-North Asia rewards go from 90,000 miles to 110,000 miles.

The biggest news out of this seems to be American releasing the chart with no announcement and making the changes effective immediately. That is definitely not the most customer friendly way to do business and is different than the announcement from other airlines regarding similar types of changes.

I think this is the beginning of the end of the American Airlines love affair that a lot of travel/airline bloggers seem to have. American is going to start to fall in line with what the other carriers have in place for elite programs and reward bookings and people need to prepare themselves for that.

SAS has announced they will start a new flight from Stavanger, Norway to Houston on August 20, 2014. This flight has been rumored for a while (no it’s not an April Fool’s joke) and it looks like it is coming to fruition. With ExxonMobil and Shell both having large facilities in Houston and Stavanger and Exxon’s Dallas campus, the flight is a great way for these companies to move their people between offices and offshore operations centers.

The flight will be operated by a PrivatAir 737-700 in an all business class configuration with 44 seats. The service will operate every day of the week except Saturday.

I will definitely be trying to move one of my reward tickets to Europe to this flight as soon as it becomes bookable later this month.