Friday, April 29, 2022

TripIt: An Invaluable Resource for Traveers

We scanned a recent Christopher Elliott column about organizing travel documents and luggage.

We follow some of the practices he advocates, such as utilizing a small carry-on bag with a zippered pocket for easy access to passport and boarding pass. The small bag is attachable to our rollaboard handles. 

We're not as keen on packing cubes and prefer our own packing techniques.

Where Elliott's column hits the jackpot is with his coverage of TripIt.  Even though he apparently prefers an online calendar, we continue to find it one of our most-used travel tools, entering information mainly through the website on our desktop computers, and utilizing it as we travel on the app

We wouldn't want to be without it. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

A Good Sign: United Airlines to Offer Additional Flights

This is good news, not only for travelers but for anybody hoping for signs that life is returning to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy.

United Just Made This Major Upgrade to Your Summer Travel

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Destinations Worth Another Visit

 People often ask us to describe the destinations we'd most like to visit again. This would be distinct from, say, world landmarks like the Egyptian pyramids that we're happy we've seen but, well, once is enough. 

Our list of places to which we'd like to return (and most likely have) inevitably includes Thailand and Italy.

It's interesting to compare our list to an article in The Discoverer:

The Destinations Our Readers Keep Going Back To 

Of the 11 locales highlighted, we've been serious tourists in 7, and visited all but 1 (Cape Cod). It would be virtually impossible for us to compile a list that includes no fewer than 7 larger cities without adding more of the smaller places we prefer like Lucca, Italy and Menton, France. Had we written such an article, we'd also include at least a couple of South American cities, Buenos Aires and Lima. We'd also have to include Australia and New Zealand, and...

Before we knew it, we'd be burdened with a long and ever-lengthening list, so we're probably best off sticking to Thailand and Italy.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Will Flattery Get You a Rental-Car Upgrade?

That seems to be what travel writer Christopher Elliott is advocating in his USA Today column...

Try these secrets for getting a car rental upgrade – and remember to bring your manners

We're well aware of the technique of reserving the smallest and cheapest car and hoping the location is out of them and has to upgrade you.  As he writes elsewhere, however, you'd better be prepared to be stuck with the category of car you've reserved.

There may be one or two useful tips in this column, but it's a little bit reminiscent of some of the naive suggestions offered to score an upgrade to First Class on your flight: Dress up, tell the gate agent it's your anniversary, bring a box of candy, etc.

Come to think of it, Kathy's brother Tom did give a box of candy to South African gate agent at IAD and we managed to get exit row seats on that ghastly long flight from Washington Dulles to Johannesburg. Of course, we had Star Alliance Gold status and were first in line so we still don't know how much good the candy did.

Generally speaking, front line employees with even a little experience will have experienced enough flattery and schmoozing to be immune. Probably the single best suggestion in the column is to be "friendly and polite," advice we hopefully don't need.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Is the Mask Mandate Truly Over?

Gary Leff in View from the Wing definitely thinks so.

Despite Appeal Of Court Ruling, 6 Reasons The Air Travel Mask Mandate Won’t Return

Condor Airlines Expands Operations

The German airline Condor has had its share of woes since being founded as a charter airline in 1955. The shares owned by Lufthansa were gradually acquired by Thomas Cook from 2000 onward.

In 2013 Thomas Cook took over Condor, and in 2019 Thomas Cook collapsed. Condor managed to get a bridge loan from the German government, and it appeared the Polish airline LOT was going to take it over.

That didn't happen either and apparently some investment firm now owns a majority and Condor is actually daring to expand, as this Travel & Leisure article highlights.

Social Media's Favorite Colorful Airline Just Added New Routes From the U.S. to Europe

We've flown Condor Business Class a number of times. They were Alaska partners long before Alaska joined OneWorld. Their hard product wasn't too impressive but their food and service were excellent. They were, in short, a bargain way to get to Europe via 767.

They're now introducing flatbed seats. If everything goes according to plan, we'll be flying Condor in July with a grandson.


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Sunwing Airlines Strands Canadians

Sunwing describes itself as an "award winning leisure carrier" with a fleet of 40 or so 737s offering flights from 33 Canadian and 5 US airports to "more than 45" destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and the US. 

They don't get great reviews on Skytrax, but they no doubt fill a market niche.  

Sunwing passengers continue to be stranded in various plays as technical difficulties plague the airline for yet another day

Apparently it's a problem that their third-party systems provider, an outfit called Airline Choice, is experiencing. This has actually impacted check-in and boarding procedures.

We remember some years ago checking in at YVR for an early flight on United Airlines. Their computer system was done and the check-in employees were going crazy manually processing check-ins, especially for those of us with connecting flights.

Every so often technology lets us down and reminds us what a house of cards it can be.

We have nothing but sympathy for Sunwing employees and customers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Alaska Airlines: 'Face Masks Are Now Optional'

Alaska makes The Great Unmasking official...

Face masks are now optional on our planes and in airports under new guidance

Travel News Catching Our Eye

All the news is about the great unmasking, including this USA Today piece.

It seems to us that this will promote a surge in summer travel, and Yahoo News agrees

On a more laid-back note, CNN runs a story about a recently retired Seattle couple who are budgeting carefully to live much of the time on cruise ships

Of course, we've met a few couples who seem to spend a similar amount of time cruising on our line of choice, Oceania. 

That includes Karin and Bill Pollak, whom we met and played Team Trivia with on our very first Oceania cruise in 2007. We bumped into them yet again on our most recent Oceania cruise.

Cruise Director Leslie John interviewed them in early 2021, and if you're a Facebook member you can check it out here.

An Avis Rental Car Nightmare for One Woman

We rented a Hertz car at the Bellingham Airport last month to drive there extremely early at the start of our trip. We dropped the keys and information in the box on the counter as instructed and are glad we didn't read about this woman's experience first. 

The substance of the story is that an Avis franchisee charged a woman an extra $4,000 on a two-day rental, claiming she hadn't properly returned the car after hours and that it took them a long time to find it.

Travel writer Christopher Elliott's team went to bat for her, and finally secured a refund from Avis for the full amount on their third try.

We now hold our breath whenever we rent a car, and try to take copious photos. Will we be jailed for car theft, as Hertz renters have experienced in significant numbers, or will we be charged thousands of dollars for "keeping" a rental we've long since turned in, like this Avis renter?

The Elliott team's story here.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Guess What the Company Selling Online Covid Tests 'Demands'?

An item in Gary Leff's View from the Wing caught our eye.

Company Selling Covid Tests Demands Testing Rule For Flights to US Remain In Force

These were the exact tests we utilized before flying home from Europe. 

We briefly mentioned experiencing some problems, and we'll add a little more detail. The first step in this type of self-administered online test is to open it in the camera presence of the "proctor," add the liquid solution, swab your nostrils, and set the swab in the solution. The proctor Kathy encountered was clearly based on India and her heavily accented English made it difficult to understand her, but we managed.

The next step in the procedure is to wait 15 minutes, after which a proctor makes contact and reads the results, which comprise a tiny line where the swab has been inserted. That sounds fine except... nobody made contact.

As the minutes ticked by, we started to worry about the deadline (30 minutes?) after which the test supposedly becomes invalid. We realized Kathy's phone was tied up so we got in touch with the company via email and Brian's phone. The first person Kathy talked to implied she would have to start the test all over again. How could she do that when we had no more tests? When Kathy asked to speak to a supervisor, she hung up.

In reality, the situation is that all the employees can do is to start the 15-minute timer again while we hope that this time a proctor makes contact. The person we spoke to was unable to make that clear.

We did that after multiple emails and phone calls, during which the employee instructed Kathy not to tell the proctor that anything was out of the ordinary. Kathy did get her negative test result, but long after the supposed "deadline" for the test's validity had passed.

In fairness, Brian's test went much more smoothly. Count us among those who would like to see this particular requirement eliminated.

Or course, if we owned stock in this particular company we might have a different opinion.


Thursday, April 14, 2022

Approaching BLI

The Bellingham airport is visible in the distance as our plane makes a turn over Ferndale.

Home Sweet Sehome One Month Later

Our month-long trip was overall a great success and a marvelous experience. We couldn't have had better travel companions than Tom and Ellyn. They kept us active and cheerfully put up with our various idiosyncracies. 

The weather exceeded our expectations, we managed to overcome all of the challenges involved in crossing international borders in the age of Covid, and we all stayed healthy. 

The transatlantic cruise on Oceania's Riviera was wonderful, and circumstances allowed us to spend some time in Portugal, a place to which we would gladly return (except for the salt cod). It was great to be back in Italy, and our days wandering around Mainz, Germany were fun and allowed us to sample some Germanic food to round out our culinary experiences (and our bellies).

More, ah, challenging moments such as Brian's misplaced passport and an hour standing in a crowded German train car until we could make a dash for our reserved seats cars away, 

Still, the hamburger in the Doubletree restaurant last night seemed particularly tasty, and our room had the coolest (i.e. most comfortable) temperature of any room we've stayed in this trip. 

Yes, it's good to be home.

British Airways 787-10 LHR-SEA in Club World

Kathy, having gotten the dreaded SSSS on her boarding pass, had to go downstairs so a polite official could check her possessions more carefully, but it was an innocuous procedure.

There was a significant delay in boarding, which we were told was due to a shortage of cleaning personnel. We heard another explanation as we finally boarded; the jetway wasn't working properly. We had to walk downstairs, walk across the tarmac to the plane, and then climb the significant distance to enter.

Once inside, we had the pleasure of turning left and seeking out our Club World "suites," complete with sliding doors. Brian found the accommodation very comfortable, while Kathy didn't.

As we climbed out of LHR, we had a great view of some clouds from above.

Service was friendly and efficient, with a good choice of wine and other alcohol. Kathy chose a pasta for her main course, and Brian chose the lamb shanks (below).

Brian slept a solid five hours or more of the nine-hour flight, while Kathy only dozed. Before he knew it, we were making the "final approach" into SEA.

Immigration was a relative breeze at SEA, and we were soon waiting for a pickup from the Doubletree.
The new suites are a huge improvement over BA's old Club World, and we've always found traveling in the 787 to be a pleasant experience.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Galleries First Lounge at London Heathrow

This is our first time in this particular BA lounge as a consequence of our OneWorld Emerald status.

It will be our home for about four hours until we board our flight to Seattle.

What do we call two glasses of Champagne Canard-DuchĂȘne?

A good start.

Since our flight is leaving from a C gate, two train stops away, we decided to check out the B gates Galleries Lounge for a few minutes.

It seems smaller but also pleasant. We did learn the restrooms hold more people.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

At the Gate in FCO Terminal 3

We were lucky.

We didn’t leave the lounge any too soon, as the 11-minute walk to E44 included Passport Control and a train ride.

Fortunately there were no lines to get our passports checked and stamped, even though they’re set up for lengthy queues.

A moment of excitement: when Brian presented his boarding  pass, there was an ominous sound and “Unable to Board” displayed.

The employees didn’t seem concerned and simply overrode it. We’re now aboard an Airbus 320 without too much legroom, but thankfully in European-style Business Class with a blocked middle seat.

Quick Check-in at Rome Airport FCO

Well,  that was quick!

We left the hotel at 5:00. Despite the walk, we were seated in the BA Lounge by 5:35AM.

There was nobody in line at the BA counter where we dropped our bags and picked up boarding passes, we had access to FastTrack security, with nobody in front of us, and we noted with pleasure that the smelly duty-free area wasn’t even open.

We found the British Airways Lounge up the second level, and were among the first to arrive.

We’re enjoying the first of several double-shot Cappuccinos and may order food later, using the QR code.

A good start to a long day.

Overnight at the Rome Airport Hilton

We’ve never experienced such a long walk in an airport simply to pick up our bags. There are renovations ongoing at the Rome Airport (FCO Terminal 1) and we could have easily walked a mile.

We endured a long elevator queue to reach Floor 2 and the route to the Rome Airport Hilton.

Following that was another long walk to the Hilton.  

We overnighted here with granddaughter Avery some years ago.

The rooms are okay and the price was right.

It took far too long to complete our online Covid tests. Kathy’s test result “proctor” didn’t call back to check the results and it took the better part of two hours to sort that out.

Brian’s test experience was quick and easy in contrast, and we both tested negative.

We used an App for that and another App, VeriFLY, for British Airways, and that took too long as well.

We’d checked around 3 and by now it was after 6.after a complimentary drink in the bar (their Executive Lounge is still closed), we had a decent dinner in the hotel restaurant with a friendly waiter - a shared Caprese salad, pizza Margherita for Kathy and lasagne for Brian.

After a fitful few hours of sleep, it’ll be up at 4:30AM to walk back to the airport and check in for our 8:05AM flight to London LHR.

We anticipate a long day.

Aboard Lufthansa 234 FRA-FCO

Tight fit back in Row 19… Bonus! Nobody in the aisle seat…

Wandering Mainz with Tom and Ellyn

Tom and Kathy are no doubt checking out restaurants even before we leave the hotel.

Scenery in the old town everywhere we look.

Archbishop Boniface was killed in 754 while trying to convert Frisians who didn’t want to be converted.

On a happier note, we admired the giant Easter Egg crafted for Mainz by its Croatian Sister City.

More gawking before Tom and Ellyn rest their feet for a moment.

Later we encountered a very polite police-escorted march to protest excessive Covid restrictions. This part of Germany is largely unmasked, even at FRA.

Even that cranky restaurant owner mentioned elsewhere couldn’t spoil a great final day with Tom and Ellyn, despite their consistent Spades victories over us toward the end of the trip.

Here’s to you, Tom and Ellyn!