Sunday, May 31, 2009

"It's Time to Fly"

Borrowing the post title from the latest United advertising slogan, we're finally sitting in the YRV (Vancouver) Maple Leaf Lounge for a few minutes and just about to board UA #818 to ORD (Chicago-O'Hare).

We were a little late leaving the house but the border and the traffic in general weren't bad late Sunday morning. We did spend well over a half hour at the United check-in counter as two agents worked diligently to fix our "upgrade" dilemma. We'd called our own dedicated help line a couple of days ago but they told us the airport agents could fix it promptly when we checked in - heh...

Without getting too technical, we were set up to fly to Chicago on valuable international upgrades; however, the upgrades for our flight onward to London almost surely won't "clear" In other words, we would have "burned" upgrades that put us in Business Class to Singapore or Australia by flying YVR-ORD and onward to LHR in Economy. These two employees finally sorted it out (we think) after talking on their own help line for more than 20 minutes. We'll have to check our "upgrade" record on the notorious United website in a few days. Right now it's still a little confused.

We thanked the two employees because they worked long and hard to fix the problem. They seem to dislike their UA website as much as we dislike ours, but they were professional and friendly to us throughout.

Then Brian got picked for secondary screening at the security checkpoint. Ah well, it'll be nice to settle into our seats for the first leg of this particular trip.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Braving The Brackish Baltic

"The Baltic Sea is a brackish inland sea located in Northern Europe."

Gee, that doesn't sound too inviting, does it? Obviously not written by the Baltic Tourist Bureau.

Despite that brackishness, we're greatly looking forward to cruising on it for 14 days starting June 1 after snapping up a bargain rate on-board during the last day of our March Transatlantic Cruise on Oceania's Regatta .

This Sunday May 31 we fly out of Vancouver to Chicago, and then connect to London Heathrow, arriving the morning of June 1. From there we fly to Stockholm and will make our way to the ship, which will be docked in Stockholm for two nights. This allows us the full day June 2 to stroll around that lovely city, maybe again visiting Gamla Stan and the Wasa in its magnificent museum. We'll have to pick up a thin-crust Swedish pizza, which daughter Karen pronounced the world's best during her year in Strängnäs as a Rotary Exchange Student.

From there our itinerary includes Helsinki June 3, St Petersburg Russia June 4-6,Tallin Estonia June 7, a sea day June 8, Gdansk Poland June 9,Copenhagen June 10, Berlin (Warnemunde) June 11, Kiel Canal Transit June 12, Amsterdam June 13, Bruges (Zeebrugge) June 14, and disembarkation at Dover England June 15.

In many places we'll just wander, but we've planned a three-day bus tour in St. Petersburg,and we've added a night at the ballet. We're also taking a small-group van tour of Gdansk Poland arranged with some nice folks on Cruise Critic also cruising on Regatta.

Since Brian's stepmother Louise is coincidentally visiting her home country for the next several weeks, we're also looking forward to accepting her invitation to meet her and her relatives when we arrive in Amsterdam, and drive with them to her hometown of Leiden.

Our stops in Stockholm, Helsinki, and Copenhagen will bring back fond memories of our Rotary Exchange "kids" with whom we keep in contact even after - gasp! - nearly two decades: Hanna, whose wedding we attended in Sweden, Lene, whose wedding we attended in Denmark, and Perttu, our Finnish "son" whose country we'll be visiting for the first time. Along with Finland, our other "firsts" will be Russia, Estonia and Poland.

Now to try to catch up on sleep as our confused bodies continue to stagger through various time zones from New Zealand and Australia to the U.S.A. to Northern Europe.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

1K is OK!

We requalified as UA 1Ks for 2010 while flying between Sydney and Auckland on Air New Zealand during our recent trip Down Under. Those flights haven't been entered yet (mileage on partner airlines is often slow in posting - always keep your boarding passes) We're each sitting at around 105000 EQMs (Elite Qualifying Miles) for the year, i.e. we've flown 105000 miles on UA and two Star Alliance partners so far in 2009, along with 2440 miles on Qantas between Sydney and Cairns.

We'll add another 12308 EQMS within the next couple of weeks as we fly to and from our upcoming cruise YVR-ORD-LHR-ARN* May 31, returning June 17 LHR-ORD-YVR.

FlyerTalkers sometimes describe EQMs as BIS (Butt-in-Seat) miles, although you can also earn status-qualifying miles by using a United Visa card, for example.

Why do we do it? The direct result of earning "high status" on airlines such as UA is that we generally get treated by our airline the way we think everybody should ideally be treated. We're getting set to "endure" our first flight in Economy over the water in a couple of years or so, since our upgrade ORD-LHR hasn't cleared. Still, we'll be seated in Economy Plus in an exit row and do just fine, and there's still a small and doubtful chance our upgrade might clear. The vast majority of our flights are in Domestic First Class and foreign Business Class.

The answer to the larger question though is that we simply love to travel. Our favorite destination is always "the next one," especially someplace brand new that we haven't yet visited, a list that includes Russia, Estonia, Poland and Finland on our upcoming cruise.

We've already seen so many of the places Brian read about in Richard Halliburton's wonderful Book of Marvels for children. Halliburton, incidentally, was an amazing and complicated individual, hopefully more complicated than Kathy and Brian put together. He certainly could write, especially for young people in a non-condescending way that still works 70 years after he disappeared while sailing a junk across the Pacific in his last adventure.

As for us, we're not that adventurous; however, airlines and their fare wars provide an almost literal magic carpet for anybody who wants to invest the time and historically tiny amounts of money. It never ceases to amaze us that we can travel affordably almost anywhere in the world we decide to go.

Or, maybe we've just developed a craving for airline food.

"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move."

- Robert Louis Stevenson

*Vancouver-Chicago O'Hare-London Heathrow-Stockholm

A Touch of Luxury - New Leather seats in UA 757s

Our final 678 miles SFO-SEA of a 30-hour 8400-mile flying "day" SYD-LAX-SFO-SEA found us in a newly remodeled UA 757 interior with leather seats and 110-AC Empower outlets. It's the first really comfortable United Domestic First Class seat we've sat in and the timing couldn't have been better for us and our backsides.

Big Bird and Even Bigger Bird

While waiting for our flight in the beautiful Air New Zealand Lounge in Sydney May 27, we snapped pictures of a Singapore Airlines 747 taxiing past us and then past an Airbus A380 parked in the distance. Interesting to see the profile of the A380 looming even over the 747 passing in front of it.

Awhile later a tug pulled the A380 into a gate adjacent to the lounge. The closer it got, the bigger it looked. Those who've already ridden on them tell us that the interior is so compartmentalized that one doesn't have the impression of flying in such an enormous plane.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Bumpy Trip Home

No, the kind of bumps we like. We volunteered to give up our seats on our short flight from San Francisco to Seattle and were rewarded with two domestic ticket vouchers for being "bumped." It's actually been pleasant hanging around the San Francisco Red Carpet Club for the past few hours with a lunch break as well and we'll still be landing in Seattle by 8:00 p.m. or so.

Not a bad day's work for a couple of retired folks.

Update: Or, as United calls it, EasyUpdate Travel Alert received on our wireless and e-mail at almost exactly the moment we posted this. Our flight will be leaving at 6:55 p.m. instead of 6:15 p.m. That's no big deal, although sometimes these delays have a way of mushrooming.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Travel Day

We'll head to the airport (SYD) fairly early to gain access to the fabulous Air New Zealand Lounge.

The Airport Mercure has been a satisfactory stopover spot, especially since we got a great rate. The shuttle costs AUD $6 each way per person. It isn't much more than a five-minute drive but the concept of the free hotel shuttle is not too common outside North America.

Our travel schedule looks like this:

United 0840
Depart: SYD 1:50 PM
Arrive: LAX 10:14 AM Non-stop
13h 24m
Boeing 747-400
7,483 miles traveled

United 0556
Depart: LAX 11:47 AM
Arrive: SFO 1:09 PM Non-stop
1h 22m
Airbus A319
337 miles traveled

United 0820
Depart: SFO 1:40 PM
Arrive: SEA 3:45 PM Non-stop
2h 5m
Airbus A319
678 miles traveled

So another 8000-and-change miles in our account when we arrive in Seattle just about 25 hours - and still May 27 - after writing this post.

Happy Birthday Kathy!

As we sit in our room in the Sydney Airport Mercure Hotel, we look back at Oz Fest #6 with the greatest of memories.

One moment occurred when Bill aka Itsalongwaydown, one of the chief organizers, insisted on setting up a birthday cake at dinner for Kathy's birthday May 24.

The restaurant was, er, somewhat noisy, but the staff sang an enthusiastic Happy Birthday to Kathy accompanied by FlyerTalkers, much to Kathy's surprise and delight, a great ending to a day that saw her snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. Wow!

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Piece of Australian Aviation History

Click on the yellow sign for the details.

The Great Barrier Reef in Brief

A couple of years ago we had the immense good fortune of spending a night on a "reef sleep" at Reefworld during a previous visit to Oz. As part of Oz Fest #6, we booked a trip out to the Reef, even though Brian wondered if the brief time there would be anti-climactic.

Not to worry - Kathy's 29th birthday May 24 couldn't have been better.

If you look carefully, you'll see irwin8417 enjoying a power nap in the submersible ride while GreenFireFlyer keeps a maternal eye on him, with Effrem in the background concentrating on the coral formations.

The bottom picture shows some of us Early Birds at our Green Island stop, including Mr. and Mrs. Falconea who were overnighting there.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

By Rail and Cable and Sea in a Day at Oz Fest #6

Saturday featured a ride on the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway,a couple of pleasant hours wandering around the village of Kuranda, and a ride back down on one of the longer cable cars around, the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. The train and its spectactular route were reminiscent of Kathy's hometown Durango Silverton Railroad and it made for a great day, capped off by an evening dinner cruise, giving Flyertalkers three forms of transportation in one day (four counting the charter bus connections) alternative to flying.

FlyerTalker Spotting at the Cairns Hilton Executive Lounge

With a fabulous staff morning and evening, excellent breakfasts and evening appetizers, and a generous selection of Australian beers and wines, the lounge provided a convivial meeting place for the FT Hilton contingent.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Oz Fest #6 Friday Lunch

Terrific food and beverages, a gorgeous setting, and great FlyerTalk fellowship at Friday’s informal Oz Fest lunch at the Cairns Hilton’s Mondo Café Bar and Grill.

FlyerTalk Lunch at the Hilton Cairns - Mondo Café

The FlyerTalk Wizards of Oz, as we like to call them, are victims of their own success. Last night's (Thursday) dinner had around 20 attendees and even more folks showed up today for lunch at Mondo's. Next year they'll have to start organizing a Wednesday-morning breakfast for the early-early-birds.

As a bonus, everybody sung a rousing Happy Birthday to Sue Oz, as husband Bill (Itsalongwaydown), one of the chief Oz Fest #6 organizers, let Sue's secret slip, and with the restaurant even delivering up a cute mini-cake.

Fredd and Mrs. Fredd enthusiastically drank a toast or two to Sue Oz's birthday as well.