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.


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!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

5 Pieces of Advice on Istanbul

  1. The grand bazaar is fun but the odds of you getting a good price are virtually nil. In fact, the duty free shop in the airport has many of the same lamps and tea sets for, in my experience, a third less than the haggled price at the bazaar. In the US, you can purchase some of the same exact lamps at Cost Plus World Market if you'd prefer to skip the worry of getting it home. 
  2. The boats that go from the mouth of the Golden Horn are very inexpensive and will take you away from your fellow tourists. Kadaköy offers a more authentic market area without aggressive sales people asking you, “Where are you from?” every 5 steps. The boats from here are part of the transit system and the cheapest way to get form Europe to Asia on the other side.
  3. Be sure to check which days and when things are closed! Ayasofia stops admissions at 4pm, and is closed by 5pm. The Basilica Cistern is open later than Ayasofia and is right next to it. The Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays. The Blue Mosque is an active house of worship, which means that it closes for prayer three times a day. Also, with Ayasofia, it is possible to skip the line if you pay one of the many tour guides that will approach you, but whatever they quote you is in addition to your ticket (the usual fee seems to be 5 to 10TL). Alternatively, there are always large guided tours going on and it would not be hard to simply shadow them to get the same information
  4. Taksim square, north of the Golden Horn, is a center for the hip nightlife and packed full of places to eat, live music, get a drink, and more. The most interesting street starts in the southwest of the square. There's a historic streetcar that runs along this street and any of the side streets from here will be good bets for finding restaurants and clubs. 
  5. Eating can be fairly inexpensive and a real treat. A baklava break at Karaköy güllüoğlu will cost under 10TL for an assortment of baklava and a tea. It is still the best baklava I've ever had. Döner is also very tasty and ranges between 3 and 7TL. Fresh fish is grilled up by the shore in some parts and can be had as a sandwich as an alternative to the usual chicken or meat döner. Pide is also a treat and a sort of Turkish pizza/taco, usually with a handmade flat bread and then meat and cilantro. Sesame bagels can be had at virtually any square for less than 1TL.

5 Tastes of Istanbul

Turkish Airlines: ARN-IST round trip

This is my first experience with Turkish (TK) and overall they seem like a reasonable choice for where they fly, although the tickets from Stockholm to Istanbul are not the cheapest in the world. Ticket prices for destinations further off, however, have been pretty good for advance fairs to the far east (which yield decent mileage runs).


On the way down, it was a A319 with a “soft” first class: A movable curtain and a choice not to fill the middle seat determined how much “first class” there was. Although I was in economy, I was seated in row 7 and it seemed to have more leg room than most economy classes I’ve been in (much more than my seat in row 21 on the way back).

The food was surprisingly good and menus were passed out ahead of time to tell us what we would be getting. In my case, I decided on the herbed chicken breast which was a clear step up from the normal airline chicken. All meals on Turkish comply with Muslim dietary requirements, but alcohol is also provided if desired (at least on this route).

One area that I think Turkish could use a little more attention is in their selection of movies: Predators and Day and Knight were the movies chosen on the flights there and back, respectively, and both start off fairly early with scenes involving flight mishaps. In Predators, the main characters start off in free fall with a semi-functioning parachute. In Knight and Day, the main character crash lands a plane in a field. I’m not sure if this is meant to suggest that if something bad happens it’s survivable or what. It also didn’t help that the landing into Istanbul was pretty rough, with winds, rain, and the plane moving in directions that it normally does not.

To give you an idea about how much rain there was, this is a photo from near where I was staying. It was literally a river as wide as the sidewalks and street combined!


On the way back up, we were in a 737-800 and I was seated in an aisle seat back in row 21. The flight itself was uneventful, and an early morning flight. Again, menus were passed out and this time the meal was a surprisingly good scrambled eggs with a bit of turkey ham toast. Generally, I would say that the food on Turkish seems to be more flavorful and better than most. Turkish tastes seem to be fairly well adapted to flight, where the lack of humidity affects the way we perceive taste and makes virtually everything taste blander than it actually is (no kidding!)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I am craving some kebab, so I'm going to Istanbul... I need the 3,000 elite qualifying miles.

Tomorrow afternoon, I head to Istanbul for the weekend for a quick tour of the city and a lot of hunting for the best food I can find. On the list of things to get are kebab, baklava, ayran, "wet burgers", turkish "tacos", and breakfast in Taksim. I'll be flying on Turkish Airways for the first time (although not by choice: I was supposed to fly with them to Shanghai via Istanbul earlier this year but a certain small northern country got in the way), and this will be my first time to Turkey. I'm sure they'll welcome me with open arms after I part with $20 for the visa sticker.

I'm very much looking forward to experiencing the culture and seeing some sights that have fascinated me for a long time, such as Hagia Sophia and the Bazaars. On here, I will be posting a sneak peek into the lounges at the airports, some foodie images (including in flight meals), and a few select shots from my time there.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Seat Tactics: Getting Better Seats (in Coach)

First real post!

Getting the wrong seat on a plane can be a nightmare, but happily it’s something you can prevent most of the time with a little bit of research.

The first stop when picking a seat should always be Match the type of plane you’re on with what is available for your airline and you’ll be able to check out exactly you’ll be on. The site gives you a great overview of the best and the worst seats for your plane including warnings about window seats without windows and tips about which seats don’t recline at all, all of which sometimes don’t show up on the seat maps the airline provides. If there's one take away from the site though, it's that of all the seats, avoid the last row. These virtually always have no recline.

On of the biggest mistakes that people make is to assume that exit rows are automatically better than other seats. While it is true that they offer more leg room, they often come with the downside of either being narrower (when there's no seat in front of it, just a bulk head) or completely unable to recline (generally when there are two exit rows over the wing, the first row will not recline)! Double check to make sure that the seats recline, or you may end up sitting straight up the entire flight.

Whether you choose an aisle or window seat is up to personal preference: Window seats have the advantage of easier sleeping and views, but getting out to walk around is understandably difficult. You also avoid the risk of having an elbow knocked by the food cart or a foot trampled by people walking in the aisle. On the other hand, the aisle is better for people who like to get up a lot or need to get up a lot to stretch their legs. On longer flights, this can be a real advantage if you are unable to fall asleep.

Most planes are 3/3 configurations, meaning there are three seats on both sides, with two completely unwanted middle seats on both sides. For these the above rules apply, but on longer distance planes, you’ll also find 2/4/2 configurations. The two seats on the side are ideal for couples and better for the solo traveler as well.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Who am I?

My name is Nicholas, also known as SeattleFlyerGuy, and this blog is a place for me to collect (and share) my thoughts on my travels, my obsession with airline miles, and my love for good food. On here you'll find photos from cities around the world, commentary on specific destinations, tips for how to get more out of your travels, and great local food.

Ever since I was a kid, I've always loved flying. Growing up, I was a regular on Alaska Airlines between Seattle and Burbank with my parents and it was always something that I looked forward to. One of my earliest memories of plane travel includes being invited up to the cockpit by the pilot and looking out over the nose of the plane on the clear sky (It was a different era, to say the least). I was hooked then and there. A few a years later, I would take my first transatlantic flight to Sweden and at the age of 11, I was travelling as an unaccompanied minor to Stockholm on SAS. I still have the wings that the flight attendant gave me on that flight.

More recently, I've been an active traveler with over 60,000 miles a year flown. Scandinavia is my specialty, but there have been a lot of firsts: Japan, China, Russia, the Middle East, and the Caribbean among many other places. Travel is one of those things that once you start, you never want to stop. Seeing the diversity of ways that people have learned to live in their corner of the world and all of the cultures that have grown from their heritage keeps me coming back. Travel gives you the chance to see different ideas for how to live life first hand and to see what you want to bring back to your corner of the world.

First Post!

This is a blog about air travel, as well as occasionally serving as a travel blog when I get the chance to go on a trip. I love to travel and this is my expression of that. Eventually, there should be travel tips, photos, reviews, fare deals, and whatever else I can think of up on this blog.

This may not be updated 100% regularly, but hopefully there will be some interesting things up on here.