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Happy New Year!

I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions but as we enter 2017 I did want to share some goals I have for this year. Things that I hope to accomplish and hopes I want to strive for.

  • Take more photos. I was looking through my 2016 albums and realized that I did not take nearly enough photos, so I am challenging myself with a goal of taking at least one photo a day and posting it on my Flickr page. I posted the image for January 1 below.
  • Travel more. My travel in 2016 really fell off for a number of reasons but I would like to get back to seeing the world. A few of my destination goals in 2017 are the Balkans, Georgia, Namibia, Laos, Vietnam, and Japan.
  • Read more. I have let reading really fall by the wayside over the last few years but my goal in 2017 is to read 50 books. I will be tracking my progress using Goodreads’ challenge tracker.
  • Donate more. We have a few causes that we love helping and it is a hope and goal of mine in 2017 that we pursue those more closely both monetarily and with our time. I also want to be a source of encouragement for others to participate and contribute in charity and caring for those who are less fortunate.

So, those are my goals for 2017. I hope to post some of the photography work here, but definitely keep me honest via that Flickr page. Not seeing a new photo in a while? Send me a note on Twitter. What are your hopes and goals for 2017?

Recently I waslooking for a ticket to Hamburg in late January and had a found a decent deal on United via Newark. Today I went back to book it and found that the non-stop Newark-Hamburg flight was no longer being offered. Turns out, United is seasonally cutting a few routes, including Houston-Munich and Newark-Hamburg. The cuts will run between January 8 and May 5, 2017. Confirmation of these cuts was made by the United Twitter team.

The transatlantic market must be much softer than the airlines are letting on. Both Newark-Hamburg and Houston-Munich were year round options for the last few years. Has the economy dipped so much so that they just aren’t selling as well? For me it is an inconvenience. I really wanted to fly the route this January but it looks like I will have to wait until summer to get that cool line.

If you are booked on one of these flights during the listed dates you will likely no longer see the affected segments in your reservation but the automatic rebooking engine should list a new option soon. If you are unhappy with what you are rebooked on, give United a call with options that you find acceptable.

Delta Airlines announced that they would be rolling out new uniforms for 60,000 frontline employees. The new uniforms are for check-in and gate agents, flight attendants, and below the wing employees such as cargo and ramp staff.

Delta Airlines New Uniforms 2

New Delta Uniforms 1

The uniforms have been described as “high class” and “elegant” by Delta and reporters. And yes, the uniforms are a very nice change, but the hype around them seems a little over the top. I think it gets to me because it simply seems like a distraction from the fact that travel on U.S. airlines in economy has become a rather bleak affair. It is an illusion of fancy in an industry that has become anything but; Basic economy fares and less legroom has become the norm. Yes, I know, fare prices are on the decline domestically, but that comes with the added expense of the ancillary fares, which airlines are attempting to increase.

I think the fancy new uniforms speak to a larger trend in modern consumerism. I don’t mean to go existential but it feels like we’re giving up what matters for what looks good, not just in airplane amenities but in everyday life. Maybe it is time to take a step back and realize that the substance of what we enjoy and cherish is more important than the window dressing.

By now I am sure you have seen Casey Neistat’s video documenting his recent experience in Emirates First Class after an upgrade. If you haven’t, I have embedded the video below.

I appreciate that Casey shared the experience via his vlog. Showering at 35,000 feet is one of the coolest features of first class Emirates (and now Etihad). That said, the episode was a little click-baity. The headline is definitely attention grabbing but what is the reality of people paying $21,000 for a first class ticket? The general assumption is that high level executives and the independently wealthy are the ones filling the best seats on the planes and while that might occasionally be the case, for the most part, people are not paying full price.

Airlines can price the first class cabin at whatever they want, the higher the price, the more of an exclusive feel. Behind the scenes though, airlines are discounting those seats for companies that have large corporate contracts and releasing the seats for rewards or upgrades. So yes, there might be a few people out there who actually pay full price for first class, but the reality is that a lot are paying far below the published price you will find on a website.

The video is definitely a great look at Emirates’ first class product and all of its features. Casey didn’t really know why he was upgraded and I wonder if it had something to do with his Boosted Board being confiscated by security at the Sydney Airport.

Edit, not too long after posting this story, Cynthia Drescher clued me in on a great theory of why Casey was upgraded:

According to U.S. Representative Walden’s website, the House has unanimously approved the Treating Small Airports with Fairness Act. The act name is kind of cheesy but essentially it would bring back TSA screening to small airports that lost service at the beginning of 2013 and has a commitment from an airline for service.

The TSA Fairness Act would require the TSA to restore screening services to any airport that lost service after January 1, 2013 and that has a guarantee from a commercial airline to resume service within one year. There are currently at least six airports nationwide that have commercial airlines seeking to resume flights after undergoing a temporary gap in service, but are being denied TSA security screening and personnel. Instead, the agency directed the airports to allow passengers to fly unscreened to their next destination, and undergo screening there.

Klamath Falls is one of the closest airports to Crater Lake so this change will make it easier for tourists to make it to that lovely attraction, not to mention the rest of southern Oregon. If the act passes in the Senate the airline that has already been tapped to operate the Portland-Klamath Falls service would be PenAir, who has already started a number of routes out of Portland and is partners with Alaska Airlines.

There is no date for when the Senate would vote on the legislation, but I will definitely be on the look out for its passing.

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!

The Man Who Flies Around the World for Free

Rolling Stone did a feature on Ben Schlappig, creator of One Mile At a Time, and it’s definitely interesting. In typical Rolling Stone fashion, I am sure it was edited and in some cases sugarcoated to make the story more intriguing (I for one have never heard of “the Hobby”), but it’s a good read. There is tons of insight into the frequent flier community, including this:

Early editions of Petersen’s magazine featured stories on deals from obscure carriers; instructed fliers on how to duck airline countermeasures; and showed readers how they could win a thousand free miles by subscribing to magazines like Esquire. By 1993, Inside Flyer had 90,000 readers. Two years later, Petersen took the community online as FlyerTalk.

And this:

For some, the game has evolved from a wonkish pastime into an ends-justified obsession with beating the airlines — less Rain Man, more Ocean’s Eleven. While the game’s traditional methods remain technically legal, these Hobbyists — imagine them as the Deep Web of the Hobby — use tactics that routinely violate airline terms and conditions, techniques that can span a gradient from clever and harmless to borderline theft. (Schlappig concedes that he pushes the rules but insists he is careful not to break any laws.) Take the practice of “hidden-city ticketing” — booking your layover as your final destination, like buying a ticket from Point A to Point C, then sneaking away at B — or “fuel dumping,” a booking technique that confuses the price algorithm to deduct the cost of fuel from a ticket, often at an enormous discount.

I decided to read the Flyertalk thread that talks about the article and it was painful. A lot of personal attacks aimed at Ben and his story made it hard to read. I’ve only met Ben a few times and he’s a nice guy, I don’t agree with everything he writes or the idea of pushing credit cards on readers to receive the sign-up bonus, but I am a little jealous that he gets to fly around to really cool places and do it in premium cabins and makes a living from it. I think anyone who is a frequent flier and says they aren’t jealous of some of Ben’s travels is lying to themselves.

For me, doing a full time schedule of around the world travel, even in premium cabins, sounds good on the surface but is something I would probably really struggle with. I like having somewhere to come back to, a base of operations. But I would definitely love to fly premium cabins to exoctic locales more than I do currently.

Just a few days ago it was was announced (speculated) that EVA Air would start service to Houston in June of 2015. On the heels of that, ANA, one of two major carriers in Japan, announced that they will start service to Houston from Tokyo-Narita starting in June of 2015.

ANA Boeing 777-300ER; JA736A@HKG;05.08.2012671eb

ANA 777-300ER By Aero Icarus

Airlineroute.net is reporting the following schedule, which matches what ANA announced in their press release:

NH174 Tokyo-Narita to Houston departing 11:15am arriving 09:30am [Daily]
NH173 Houston to Tokyo-Narita departing 11:20am arriving 03:20pm(+1 day) [Daily]

The service will start June 12, 2015.

Based on the seat distribution that ANA points out in their press release, 8 First Class, 52 Business Class, and 190 Economy Class seats, it looks like they will send the following 777-300ER configuration to Houston. Their economy class seating does have a premium economy section, but more importantly, they have 9-across in regular economy in what most would consider an odd seating arrangement, 2-4-3. This certainly does not mean that from time to time ANA won’t send one of their more denser configurations to Houston, but their schedule has a nicely fitted aircraft planned for the service.

ANA 777-300ER Configuration

The flight will more than likely use Terminal D, which at this point, really needs a makeover when it comes to lounge options and amenities for passengers. The terminal does not have a ton of food options and walking to Terminal E or C, where such options are more plentiful, is not a quick trip. There is also one lounge that is shared by Star Alliance carriers in Terminal D. It is windowless and the last time I was there it was packed to the gills. I have heard it has been expanded but have yet to see the improvements.

Given United’s recent removal of their second daily flight from Houston to Tokyo-Narita, this route announcement is a little surprising. United had trouble making money on the route using a 777-200ER, which is smaller than the plane ANA plans to use, and had trouble again when the service moved to a 787-8, an even smaller aircraft. Clearly United initially saw a need or they would not have started the second flight. So what prompted this shake up?

United and ANA are put of antitrust immunity joint venture across the Pacific. This allows them to share both revenue and risk on new routes. If one carrier thinks it can market a route better or run a route better, then the airlines discuss it and come to an agreement. In this case, I think ANA sat down with United and pointed out that the latter had dropped a number of services out of Tokyo-Narita, namely Bangkok, and that they, ANA, could do a better job of handling a second frequency to Houston while expanding the coverage in Asia. On the flip side, ANA can provide a lot of connecting traffic to United’s mid-morning departures out of IAH to places like Latin America and the southeast United States.

ANA touts this in their press release citing two route increases, Bangkok and Singapore and they include the following table pointing out southern Asia points that can reach the U.S. via Tokyo-Narita using this new service.

Asia-U.S. Network

That’s really the kicker. You can leave Singapore or Bangkok on one of the midnight flights to Tokyo and connect directly to a flight to Houston.

I have to believe that ANA feels that they can market the service better to south and southeast Asian cities better than United can, especially with United’s recent market retreat there. United simply does not have the presence it used to in Asia and if an Asian carrier can convince travelers to fly with them and share that revenue with United, I am sure United is happy to let them do it.

One tidbit not present in the press release is whether or not United will keep their Tokyo to Singapore service. The flight frequently goes out full and for flyers coming from the east coast of the U.S. it’s an easy connection. I can’t imagine United getting rid of the route, but then again, I didn’t see this ANA service to Houston as being possible, so anything could happen.

It is definitely great for Houston to have more international carriers coming into Terminal D. I want to see how it plays out as oil and gas prices continue to tumble. If the market in Houston contracts a little and consolidates, will all of these flights be sustainable? Only time will tell.

*EVA has now made an official announcement of the Taipei to Houston route, so no more speculation.

It appears as though the much rumored EVA Air Taipei to Houston non-stop service is now official. Well, it’s loaded into the schedule it seems.

Airlineroute.net is reporting that the flight will start on June 21, 2015 and will have the following schedule:

BR52 Taipei to Houston departing 10:00PM arriving 11:25PM [Sun, Tue, Wed, Fri]
BR51 Houston to Taipei departing 1:15AM arriving 5:55AM (+1 day) [Mon, Wed, Thu, Sat]

The actual first flight will be on June 19, 2015 and that flight will arrive at IAH at 5:45pm. My guess is that this flight is timed as a positioning flight to get the aircraft to Houston to operate a day later while still allowing daylight for the press and local officiants to give their speeches.

Taipei to Houston is just under 8,000 miles and will take 14 hours and 25 minutes. The reverse, Houston to Taipei, will clock in at 15 hours and 40 minutes due to winds.

As far as service goes, EVA’s product looks really nice with full lie-flat seats in business and a very decent looking economy product. Ben Schlappig has a number of trip reports on his blog at One Mile at a Time and they are worth a look if you are interested in the EVA product.

It is great to have more options to Asia out of Houston and I think this flight is timed perfectly with connections in Taipei to allow you to get just about anywhere in Asia easily. This will also bring a little more competition to United (even though they are Star Alliance members) and maybe we’ll see some fare sales to Asia!