Friday, January 31, 2014

Bellevue: Din Tai Fung

This is the third or fourth country in which we've dined at a branch of Din Tai Fung. It's funny that it took us this long to find the Bellevue Washington branch. Our most recent visit was October 2013 to one of the Taipei Taiwan branches.

It was a great foodie start to our trip.

An Interesting Read: 'Confessions Of An Ex-TSA Agent'

We've shared our concerns about TSA procedures some number of times, including here, here, here, here - anyway, you get the idea.

We're relieved to have held TSA Pre✓™ clearance for some time, making our departure experiences far less unpleasant, and more in line with those of most other countries.

Now along comes a former TSA agent who has gone public with an article that makes for interesting and disturbing reading. It turns out the paranoia that we and some of our fellow travelers felt was not misplaced.

This is worth a read.

Dear America, I Saw You Naked

And yes, we were laughing. Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Amtrak: The Empire Builder

This coming Monday we plan to climb on this historic train in Seattle and ride it all the way to Milwaukee with Tom and Ellyn.

We were lucky to have engineered (get it?) transfer of a bunch of airline points from United through the former Continental and then to Amtrak, allowing us free meals and bedroom accommodations for same number of points as for a flight in economy.

We learn from Wikipedia that the Empire Builder is Amtrak's busiest route, that it was started by the Great Northern Railway in 1929, and that it was named after James J. Hill.

Hill, known as the Empire Builder, was the Canadian born American railway executive who reorganized several failing lines into the Great Northern and extended it to the Pacific.

The Great Northern was finally allowed to merge with Northern Pacific in 1970 (its first of four attempts was made in 1896) and became the Burlington Northern Railway. In 1995 it merged with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway to become the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway. In the meantime, of course, Amtrak took over passenger service in 1971.

Enough of history... we're looking forward to this winter trip and it doesn't bother us at all that the train often runs late. We'll post progress reports along the way.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Maldives Memories: The Dhoni

We've been back home for awhile and only now learned (through reading a review) that the resort vessel providing transport between the islands at the Conrad Maldives is a dhoni, a traditional multi-purpose boat. One source describes it as a 'strong symbol of nationalism in a country which is mostly dominated by vast bodies of water.'

Watching the captain steer the tiller with his foot never failed to fascinate us.

Friday, January 24, 2014

'Million Miler' Lawsuit Against UA: Judge Issues Summary Judgment In United's Favor

We wrote about this case nearly one year ago. As legacy United Million Mile Flyers, the title United bestowed prior to its merger with Continental Airlines on those flying one million 'Butt-In-Seat' miles on United 'metal'  (planes), we have followed the developments in this case, or lack thereof, with interest.

We did so because United changed and in some cases removed benefits that it had previously claimed would be our 'lifetime benefits.' In fact, in announcing the changes on FlyerTalk, a company representative wrote 'Here are the new lifetime benefits...', which sounds a lot to us like 'Forget about our previous promises because we have some new promises to make to you.'

We were disappointed to learn that the presiding judge issued a summary judgment in UA's favor yesterday.

For many years since deregulation, airlines have been exempt from state laws, including those covering false advertising.

As far as we can tell, the plaintiff's main argument in this case didn't center on the statements UA made to us regarding 'lifetime benefits;' rather, the claim was that the 'Million Miler Program,' as the post-merger UA now describes it, was something of a separate program from the airline's mileage program and thus the terms and conditions that UA advertises as being final did not apply.

That argument failed and we infer from this that an airline can make virtually any claim, commitment, or promise to customers, yet change it at any time with impunity.

Gary Leff, one of the best known travel bloggers, wrote about the decision as follows in his View from the Wing blog:

United Lies to its Elites

United’s “My Fingers Were Crossed” Defense Succeeds in Court: The lawsuit by United’s million milers over program changes has been dismissed. There was not really a dispute that United devalued the benefits offered to its million mile customers, even almost immediately after they promised not to do so. But United hadn’t promised not to break its promises, so its customers can’t sustain their suit.
 Caveat Emptor, to say the least.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Home Sweet Sehome

Sehome Road looked good to us as we pulled into the driveway.

It was a great trip and we had great flights in both directions. We counted up the miles and realized we've flown just over 10,000 miles since starting late Monday night from Male to Singapore to Seoul to Vancouver.

Time for a nap.

Aboard AC 64

Last minute crisis when we realized we were across the plane from each other but they fixed it - amazing!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Asiana Lounge ICN

Our incoming flight was early so time for showers before our 10-hour flight to Vancouver on Air Canada.

Too Tight Connection At SIN

But we barely made it, using the Skytrain and getting bumped to the front of the security line. We're now aboard SQ 600 bound for ICN.

Male: The contract Lounge

A couple of odd moments at the airport as we checked in. Everybody has to go through security to enter the airport (we've seen that in Istanbul), but then everybody has to go through security again after leaving passport control.

The oddest of all was what the two nice hajib-clad ladies told us at the Singapore Airlines counter. Even though they could not give us our Air Canada boarding pass from Seoul to Vancouver, they said the Singapore 'system' demanded to know how we were traveling onward in Canada, once we told them we live in the U.S.

After some sputtering and sparring we handed over our NEXUS passes for scanning, which seemed to satisfy the 'system.' It's so very odd that we may get around to e-mailing the airline after we get home to find out what the heck that was all about.

The young women apologized for the inconvenience and we told them it wasn't their fault but hoped they understood how odd we found it.

Anyway, the contract lounge is getting less and less crowded as we wait to board our flight in about 20 minutes. We hope to get at least a couple of hours sleep on the four-hour flight before sprinting to the next flight in Singapore on a tight 50-minute connection.

In Seoul we have a leisurely 2 1/2 hour connecting time and then it's back to Vancouver, the car, and home.

Dinner In The Conrad's Male Lounge

We splurged on this because our flight is a red-eye to SIN and the airport looks dismal.

We enjoyed an ample chicken dinner but a few touches are lacking: no towels in the restrooms, only Kleenex, no bath mats in the shower, and the shower didn't drain well.

Still, we'd do it again, especially with a mere 30 minutes in SIN to catch our connecting flight to Seoul, where we connect to Air Canada and our flight to Vancouver.

Flying Back To Male

Our last look at Rangali Island - actually the three islands comprising the Conrad Maldives...

We fly past a major part of Male, over the airport, and land at the seaplane base.

Ending Our Stay In Style

How lucky we were! Our room wasn't needed for tomorrow so we had it until 3:30 and went for one last snorkel after packing. Fazeel, our Island Host, picked us up, drove us to reception to settle our bill, and then drove us here for afternoon tea. He'll pick us up at 5:00 and drive us to the seaplane terminal in the middle of the bridge connecting the two main islands. First Class treatment...

Bye Bye Conrad Bungalow

One last look

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Infinity Pool

Another Terrific Breakfast Buffet

Conrad Maldives: Another Day

Another Happy Hour for Diamonds at Vilu...

Snorkeling Fun

It's a downright hot day and we enjoyed one fairly long snorkeling experience off our deck this afternoon. The snorkeling isn't as interesting as it is on the other island where we were staying (the 'house beach') but it's a heck of a lot more convenient: calm and shallow water and lots of mainly small fish to see amongst the coral.

Friday, January 17, 2014

On Our Deck

Maldives Moving Day

We take a last look around our Beach Villa number 208. We've enjoyed three great days here.

Fazeel, our 'island host,' picks us up promptly at 2:00 p.m. and drives us over to the other island, where we check out the over-the-water bungalow, number 326, where we'll be spending our remaining three nights. One advantage of these, of course, is that snorkeling is literally out to the deck and down the stairs. We already snorkeled twice day and now it's time to find out what the snorkeling is like off our deck.