Friday, December 24, 2010

ARN-SEA Flight Report: Update 4: Finally back to SEA!*

The last flight to SEA was delayed by an hour, but then we were off. An extremely uneventful flight. No movie and no meal, just sleep and Angry Birds on my ipod touch. Economy plus is always nice on UA flights. It was past dark, which made photos difficult, but as we got close to Seattle, it started clearing up and you could see everything underneath.


ARN-SEA Flight Report: Update 3: McRib!*



The layover at ORD was pretty good. With my huge backpack (which fits in the same space as a roll on on the plane!), I had the screeners after me trying to tag it and check it, but I snuck through with it through a different checkpoint and by claiming my Christmas presents were candy (which was half true).

Off to the lounge and a double check on my return flights: Sure enough they had been canceled, and another "quick" call (this time only 20 minutes on hold) was needed to get the return flights reinstated with the right seats. The wait was a couple of hours and soon I found out why I was sent to Chicago: The McRib.

Over at the McDonald's, it was waiting for me. The cult classic of MickeyD's sandwiches, which is exactly how it tastes if you have never tried one: Tangy, quirky, not the best you've ever seen, but it grows on you whenever you see it again.

ARN-SEA Flight Report: Update 2: ARN-ORD on SK and ORD layover

With a little luck, I managed to get on the flight and ended up in an aisle seat, to my great surprise. I was the last one to board the plane and soon we were on our way. ARN-ORD is a route that I very rarely, in fact the last time that I flew it either way was nearly 20 years ago!

The flight was perfectly fine. The movie selection wasn't fantastic, but there was at least Salt, one more random movie, and then I started watching a bollywood comedy called 3 Idiots. Unfortunately we landed about 3/4 of the way through the movie, which leaves me to look forward to seeing the rest later. This is the third time that there has been an excellent bollywood or Japanese movie on my transatlantic flights and I hope that they will continue offering these.

The meal was pretty good, but unfortunately my camera battery was dead and I was unable to snag photos. Because of the unplanned reschedule, I did not get my kosher meal, but the SK meal was a curry chicken with lightly seasoned rice and a tasty chocolate/caramel dessert. Overall, pretty nice. The other option was some sort of fish, but I don't trust that.

Arriving in Chicago, I had no idea what was going to happen from there. Through the boarder control (a guy that had lived in Stockholm, and was wondered if I had been to the SpyBar), and off to the UA desk to plead my case. They looked at my ticket, shook their heads and a few minutes later they put me on a seat to SEA at 3:50pm. I would end up getting home 5 hours early!

ARN-SEA Flight Report: Update 1: Escape from Europe!

As mentioned in my previous post, getting out of Europe over the last few days has been extremely difficult. There have been major problems with snow and ice in Heathrow (LHR) and Frankfurt (FRA), which has stranded thousands of passengers and made getting to flights, even if they are running but at a different airport basically impossible. In my case, it was a true escape from Europe situation and I am very lucky to not be stuck back in Stockholm! Here's my flight report, plus what happened to make the report possible.

I was originally supposed to be flying in to FRA, but my flight was canceled the night before. After a "quick" call on skype to Continental (CO) and the Lufthansa(LH), I was rebooked on a flight at 6a with LH. I was not looking forward to the 3:30a bus that I would need to catch to get to Arlanda (ARN), but at least I had a seat. The next day after a night bus and train to the airport, I was checked in (no baggage) and sitting down in the lounge when my flight's status went to the dreaded "Inställd" status. The flight was canceled.

There was one shot left to get to FRA, which was a SAS (SK) flight at 9am but nothing was certain at this point. If that flight flew and if I was on it, I would be able to make the connecting flight, since flights were still leaving from FRA, but nothing was landing due to ice on the runway. An even "quicker" (50 minutes on hold) call to CO later, I wasn't really any better than I started. They weren't able to get me on any flights until Friday and didn't even see that I was booked on a LH flight that morning! They canceled the segment that was on my ticket to FRA so I could check in if I got to FRA, but that was it.

I manage to get put on the SK flight to FRA, but that too soon went from "On Time" to "Nytt besked 0900", which means "New information at 0900". When that shows up, it's never good. That flight wasn't leaving anytime soon (and didn't leave until 3pm that day!).

At this point, I'm looking for options. There was a CO flight to Newark (EWR), but I couldn't get standby on that. There was a flight later in the day to Istanbul (IST), which then put me in Chicago (ORD) the next day. And finally, there was a SK flight to ORD that left in 45 minutes. The very nice agent in the lounge put me on standby for that, but had to help other people to get on the same flight so couldn't get me a spot to SEA right then. I would have to get to ORD and then figure out how to get to SEA in the end.

A dash to the gate and through border control, and now it was a waiting game. Would I get on? Continued in the next post...

Monday, December 20, 2010

ARN-SEA Flight Report: Update 0: Rut-Roh!

Well, tomorrow I am to fly ARN-FRA-IAH-SEA, but due to the weather the ARN-FRA part of that flight has been cancelled. The one before it and the one after it are still set to go (we'll see how long that lasts!), but my flight has been cancelled. This will be an interesting flight back home.

My options at the moment, if I am unable to get on the earlier two flight is to wait for another day, haggle, or to buy a different ticket. I could get on the 6:05am flight for the low low price of 8061sek ($1,175).

No.

Right now I'm on hold on to get a hold of Continental, but this will be interesting getting home.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What’s it like in a lounge? Continental President’s Club, London Heathrow*

Ever wonder what it’s like in an airport lounge, the land behind those non-descript doors with the receptionist? Well, let me show you one from my travels:
Continental President’s Club, London Heathrow:


This is very early morning in the lounge, which is why no one is here. On the left is the snack bar, which hasn’t been stocked quite yet. Every lounge is slightly different, but this one had some warm pastries and even some eggs to eat.



This time in the distance on the right you’ll see the newspaper rack while the glowing blue near the center column is actually a video game console for the kids.



Here is a shot towards the self-serve bar.



And here is the self-serve refreshments: On the left, orange juice, pineapple juice, and cranberry (I think). Below in the coolers is an assortment of colas, mixers, beer and mineral water.



This lounge also featured a green wall with plant life. I nice touch and something that helps the air quality


Please note: I took these before I thought about starting this blog, so in the future there will be more and better photos when I get to the lounges again!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Heading back to Seattle (and then to Milwaukee)

My time here in Stockholm is almost up for this time around, and soon I'll be headed back to Seattle with Continental (lots o' miles, yes!), and then in Milwaukee the day afterward on AirTran for Christmas (no miles, boo!). It's going to be a white Christmas, although it'll also be that here in Stockholm.

I've got crazy routing again to reach the midrange elite status for 2011 on United, with a detour down to Houston both ways. With it, I will come in with just over 50,000 miles, which will renew my 1P status for one more year.

Also, I will be continuing my experiments with inflight meals with another Kosher meal on the way there and then a hindu meal on the return flights. My soggy sandwich as part of my last hindu experience left me wondering if that is a standard item for Continental or whether that was a ARN catering peculiarity, but I'll find out this time around. More pictures will, of course, follow.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Eating right, in flight: Getting edible food on your flights

Everyone gets hungry but more and more airlines are taking out food service altogether or replacing it with expensive snack boxes that still leave you hungry. Even meals that are left on long distance flights instill a certain level of dread when they are being trotted out, usually with a choice between overly dry chicken or some soggy beef or pork. At best, they’re passable; at worst they leave you feeling nauseous either by sight, smell, or disagreements with your stomach. After some trial and error, I’ve come up with a few tips that make meals on planes better:
  1. If there is no free food, then make food with what’s free. A cup of instant noodles (available in a mind boggling array at Uwajimaya’s in Seattle) can be made on board with hot water from the galley. It’s instant, hot, and actually feels like you've had a proper meal after you’re done. 
  2. If you dislike the food roulette, then order something predictable ahead of time. The dietary needs meals are options which people often overlook, but they are free to you and limit the types of ingredients that can be included and generally limit the preparation style. Hindu meals, for example, are my current favorite: So far every meal has been a vegetarian curry (chickpeas, spinach) with saffron rice, the usual salad, bread, and some fresh fruit. Breakfast was a vegetarian box with fruit, cheese, and crackers. On my next few flights, I will be exploring more styles, but I could survive with hindu meals on all flights from here on out just fine. The best thing of all is that the food is actually good!
Hindu Meal on Continental
Vegetarian Hindu Meal on Continental
Kosher Meal on Continental


Another example of a Kosher meal on Continental can be found in my flight report here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Alternative for Tracking Your Flights!*



While I have a big fan of FlightMemory.com, I have recently come across an alternative that is very interesting: OpenFlights.org. It's not a 100% replacement for FlightMemory, but there are a few features which make it very competitive...

Pros:
The map is not static and the visualization is better than that of flightmemory.com. It's based on google maps which allows you to zoom in smoothly and the thickness of the lines tell us how often you fly on those routes (For example, my SEA-CPH line is massive compared to everything else.

Another big plus is that you can export your flights for safe keeping. You can export your information to an excel sheet and store it offline or upload it to another account. This is a big step up from flightmemory.com which does not offer this feature.

You can access to more ways to filter your information, and you can create trips to group individual flights in. This is a big plus for breaking up your flights into easily digestible chunks.

Lastly, you have the option of including land travel, such as trains and buses. It becomes a trip tracker, and not just a mileage tracker.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Track your flight history!

Note: While flightmemory is still pretty nifty, I've grown much fonder of another service: openflights.org You can read more about some of their features here or, just click on my flight stats badge to the right!

You might have noticed my running tally of miles on the right side of the page and wondered how I keep the distances and fun information updated. The fact is I cheat. I use flightmemory.com to log and store all of my flight information and they do the number crunching for me! It’s actually a really good service for frequent flyers and produces some great breakdowns, as well as a per year summary and flight maps showing you where you’ve been. You can enter everything from your experience on that flight to the registration of the aircraft you flew on and keep it all in one neat place. Best of all, the basic flight tracking service is free.



My fights as of 10/06/2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

What’s it like in a lounge? Air China’s Lounge, Shanghai*

Another installment of my lounge expose, this time in Shanghai China!




The Shanghai Airport is very, very large and the lounge is completely on the opposite end of the terminal. To fix this, they drive you there and then to your gate on golf carts!


The lounge itself is one story up and looks like this. The leather seats are pretty comfy and there’s a couple of TVs for your entertainment. To the right, there’s also a couple of computers set up to check your email and all of the normal news and magazines.


Here we have part of the snack bar: Coffee, espresso, tea, instant noodles, individual packaged cookies, soft drinks, milk, light beer, and chips in this picture.


Mores drinks, some humbow, and fruit.


The last for this one. Here we have come cookies, bread (I think), cereal, and even some wine over there. It was 8 in the morning, so I didn’t check what their selection was.




Please note: I took these before I thought about starting this blog, so in the future there will be more and better photos when I get to the lounges again!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Seat Tactics: More than Two people flying together

United 777: No middle seats!
If you’re in a group that’s greater than two, it’s a good idea to think geometrically: Arranging your seats in a square keeps you just as close to your friends, if not closer, than sitting in a row and can avoid people getting stuck in the middle seat. In 2/4/2 configurations, a block of 2x2 on either side of the plane can be better than having people stuck in the center section and on 3/3 configurations, 2 rows of the A/C trick gives you plenty of seats to bargain with and even the chance that you’ll luck out and those middle seats will be vacant.

Even if you can’t sit together as a single group, odds are you weren’t going to have a running conversation for the entire flight. Pick seats which are most comfortable for you, even if they are apart: You’ll have plenty of time to talk when you get to your destination

Monday, November 01, 2010

10/31: Taksim Square Suicide Blast*

I just caught wind of the incident at Taksim Square today, where 31 people injured in a suicide bomb explosion. Fortunately, no one died in the attack, but as I was looking at the footage, I realized that I had been right there:



Directly to the right of this neat picturesque scene is the police station where the bombing occurred. This image was taken within 25 feet, but two weeks prior, to where the bomb went off! While in my previous post I was excited to share the fun stuff that occurred in Istanbul, on the first day I was there at Taksim while there were several protests from different groups and even some police out in riot gear down by the university.

I had snapped a few pics, but nothing happened while I was there and the scene was peaceful, albeit tense between the police and the protesters. Mainly, it was a scene of curious onlookers with the protesters encircled by the police and a lot of people ignoring it completely. I didn't linger, but I did stop to figure out what the protest was about.

Less than lethal weapons and tanks of pepper spray were at hand
I was told that BDR is a Kurdish party

And finally, I found a (shaky) movie that actually has the police station that was attacked in view. I recorded it during the midday call to prayer for the audio, but caught another protest from a different group. In the the right corner, you can even see the riot control vehicles they have parked there at this busy and popular square.

video 

I am glad that the victims are recovering, and the incident will not keep me from going back to Istanbul or Taksim square. Even though it's unusual for me to have such a link to an attack like this, I still feel that we're all more likely to get hit by a car than become a victim of this, or any other incident. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Flight Report: Back to Stockholm via EWR and LHR*

After a great weekend in Seattle, I flew back to Stockholm via New York and London with about three hour layovers in each city. Overall, these were fairly uneventful flights, but to contrast with the hindu meal I had on the way over on this flight I decided to give kosher meals a try.


Flight 1: SEA-EWR
A cloudy, rainy day in Seattle meant no good photos on take off...

...but at least New York was more interesting.

Flight 2: EWR-LHR

United after the merger will look like this. This was my first time seeing the new paint job.

Newark at Night
 As mentioned, I tried the kosher meal on this flight was pretty happy with the choice. I am a big fan of hummus and the chicken was a step up from the usual in flight meal. It still wasn't quite as good as the best hindu meal I had, but it was FAR better than the soggy tofu sandwich I had on the flight in!

All kosher meals are sealed when you get them and marked that they have been prepared under the supervision of a rabbi. Flying out of New York, this is probably about as good as it gets for this type of meal.

Continental Economy Class Kosher Meal

Continental Economy Class Kosher Meal
  
Flight 3: LHR-ARN


A MD-81. I haven't flown on one of these since they still boarded by the rear stairway was common!

Lots of British Airways on the ground!

Near Stockholm Arlanda



Seat Tactics: Two people flying together.

United 737: Would you pick row 13?
If you have two people flying together, there is a great trick you can try to get more space for you and your companion is called the A/C Trick. This works best on planes with 3/3 configurations (one row is two sets of three seats). Many people decide to book seats right next to each other, so one person ends up in the middle seat, but this is all wrong: If you are picking seats on a flight that isn’t full, you might be able to employ the preferences of your fellow passengers to score an extra seat with this trick. All you have to do is select the window (Seat A) and aisle seat (Seat C, hence the name) of a row, leaving the center seat empty. If you’re lucky, that seat will stay empty and you’ll get three seats for the price of two.

The basic assumption is that no one wants the middle seat. Before departure, people are unlikely to volunteer to sit between two unknown people and on the plane they are very likely to give up their middle seat for either a window or an aisle seat. If the trick doesn’t work then explain that you two were assigned seats apart and offer to trade their middle for your window or aisle, which is usually happily accepted. Then you’re in at least as good of a position as if you had just booked the seats next to each other to start with.

On larger planes like the 747, 777, and 767, where the configuration is 2/5/2, 3/4/3 or 2/3/2, you can also try this trick with the center section, but the risk is greater that two people traveling together will pick the center two seats and then you miss out on the almost ideal set of two seats by the window. If it does work, however, you’ll be able to stretch out and sleep lying down across the center section. Nice, no?
United 747: A/C trick in middle
United 777: Row 20 is risky, but might work. Row 25 is a safer bet.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Flight Report: 20 hours, 3 Flights, and 7,000 miles in the air to Seattle! (Flight 3)*

 Flight 3: IAH-SEA


The final leg of my journey, and back into regular economy class. I was seated in Continental's "Premium" Economy section, but as far as I could tell it was absolutely the same as regular economy. With some luck, when everything is said and done with the merger between Continental and United, these planes will end up with United's Economy Plus, which actually has more leg room and is real premium economy.

This felt like a very long last leg, and I was exceedingly happy to be on the ground in Seattle at the end of this.

From the Air:

Houston McMansions

Houston Partially Completed Residential Development


Houston Suburban Malls

Houston Suburban Residential

Somewhere getting close to Seattle



Flight Report: 20 hours, 3 Flights, and 7,000 miles in the air to Seattle! (Flight 2)

Flight 2: EWR-IAH

New York in the Background
On this flight, I had a bit of luck: I was upgraded to first class, and had a window seat in front of the wing. It was nice to have even more room, but I knew that this would be the last of the comfortable legs for the trip: On my next flight it would be back to basic economy. The seats themselves were comparable to a cloth lazy-boy, and perfectly fine for the flight. My row mate on this flight was less than talkative, but the flight attendants were much more so.




The meal was a nice, middle road brunch-ish meal. Fruit, cheese and meat platter, a mysteriously empty bowl/cup which was never filled, a little dessert, and a gin and tonic to go with it all.


Take Off:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Next stop: Seattle!

My current round of classes are just about to finish up, and this weekend I'm headed back to Seattle for the first time in about three months. Most people that I meet while traveling have absolutely no idea where Seattle is I've had lots of opportunities to perfect relating Seattle's mysterious location. Right now, it's pretty easy:

  • For most people: "You know Vancouver where they had the Olympics? I'm about two hours from there to the south."
  • For Swedes: "Starbucks. Microsoft. Fraiser. Up in the corner on the far side of the US."
  • For people from Kansas: "You stole our basketball team."
  • And my favorite, for Japanese, "Ichiro."
This trip should be fun, but it involves a lot of travel. Although you can get routings that are under 12,000 miles (and about 10 hours each way), I will be flying the long way through Houston for more than 2,000 additional miles in the air, for a total of 13,998 miles for the entire round trip! In total, between Thursday and Tuesday, I will spend 1.7 days in transit and nearly 32 hours of that in the air.

Ouch.

I'll have more updates once I'm on my way, but for now here's 40 seconds of Seattle:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What's it like in a Lounge?: International CIP Lounge in Istanbul

During my brief morning at the Istanbul airport, I managed to run into the Turkish Airlines International CIP lounge for a (very) quick bite. Of all the lounges, I've been in so far this one takes the cake and I wish that I had been able to spend a little more time there. However, the plane waits for no one, so I only had time for a croissant, coffee, and a few pictures.

Update: Turkish Airlines shut down the loung and has since completely remodelled. The new lounge looks over the top!