Sunday, July 31, 2022

United Polaris Service

We mentioned here that the best part of our arduous trip from Frankfurt to Chicago with Blane a couple of weeks ago was the United Polaris service.

We were therefore interested in the glowing review published here in the U.K.'s Daily Mail.  While the hard product (seating and layout) are definitely impressive, we weren't as impressed with the soft product (food and service) as the writer was. 

Having said that, we wouldn't hesitate to fly Polaris again, and the Polaris Lounge we visited briefly in Chicago was truly impressive.


Passenger Luggage Dumped at Dublin Airport

 In this extremely challenging summer of travel, this story serves as yet another endorsement of traveling with carry-on luggage.

Passengers' lost suitcases were found dumped in the trash at an international airport, report says

Spotted on View From the Wing

Saturday, July 30, 2022

A Pilot's View of Summer 2022

A commercial pilot named Patrick Smith maintains an excellent website, where he writes about aviation matters. Here's his view of summer 2022.

The Mad, Mad Summer of 2022

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Ten Most 'Beautiful' Sights in the US?

We freely admit to being suckers for lists of "best this" or "best that" in regard to almost anything connected with travel.

Here's a list courtesy of USA Today, based on an intriguing survey by a U.K. luxury travel company, Kuoni, that generated a list of the "most beautiful" sights in the world by counting the number of times the word "beautiful" was used in over 450,000 Trip Advisor reviews.

This interesting methodology apparently explains why the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas are on the list and, for example, the Grand Canyon is not.

Maybe you'll be as intrigued by some of the choices as we are...

See the 10 most 'beautiful' sights in the US, based on more than 450,000 travel reviews

If that's not enough, you can find Kuoni's list of the 20 most "beautiful" sights in the world here.

As it happens, we've seen only 11 of them. We'll have to look up the closest unseen one, Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Brunch at Bellingham’s Birch Door Café

They’re located on the Guide Meridian near the Holiday Inn Express. It’s new to us but well reviewed and today we tried them out with Blueberry Blintzes and Corned Beef Hash.


Friday, July 22, 2022

Blane in Europe: Preflight Fiascos in Frankfurt Airport

We made it aboard yesterday to fly FRA-ORD-SEA, but certainly experienced a string of fiascos along the way.

We left the FRA Hilton Garden Inn about 5:15 am and bypassed with relief the long queue of passengers standing in line at the UA counter.

We arrived at Border Control to see a line had already formed. Signs state that it opened at 6:00 am...  except it didn't. A lone employee spent an obsessive amount of time cleaning a computer monitor behind the entry gates and various uniformed personnel (Zoll and Polizei) strolled past in various directions. Around 6:15 am, an American near us in line approached the one employee and asked him about the delay. The explanation was that they were waiting for the police to arrive. 

The lines finally opened at some point just after 6:30 am, but at first there were only one or two immigration employees in the booths. They finally added more employees and we got through, although the man we spoke to couldn't find the entrance stamp in Brian’s passport for some time. We did observe a group of young police officers hanging around, so we can confirm they arrived.

We then got to the security line. Our impression (probably inaccurate) is that they're actually confusing passengers with what needs to be removed from bags. We saw people commonly using at least three bins to display their bags and electronic gear. Meanwhile, the single body scanner that was open initially stood idle for 30 seconds or more at a time quite commonly. We got through that, despite Kathy’s having to endure an extra "pat down," probably "random."

By then, we didn't have a lot of time, but decided to make use of the Lufthansa Lounge. It's our own fault that we didn't notice the discreetly labeled Senator Lounge on our left (we haven't been there for a few years). We approached the LH Lounge employees standing just past that, and a woman looked at our BPs and directed us to the United Club closer to our gate. Years ago, we'd visited a rather poor UA Club, time was short, so we decided to go there, except there is no United Club. A United employee directed us back to the Senator Lounge, another 5-minute walk. We were admitted immediately, and we had time for our first cup of coffee for the day, and Blane for some hot chocolate and a pretzel. 

Brian approached an employee inside and explained politely what had just happened. He responded appropriately and said they would definitely inform the employees in question that there indeed is no United Club.

When we got to the gate, there was already quite a crowd. 

When it was our turn to go through the automated boarding gates, Blane’s BP wouldn't scan. We got our of line to go to the counter, and then it dawned on us that we'd tried to use his ORD-SEA paper BP - our bad!

We got back in line and Blane and Brian went through without a problem. This time, Kathy’s (correct) BP on her phone wouldn't scan, so she had to get back in line, while Blane and Brian waited out of the way just past the gates. Kathy can be spotted below standing well behind the employee wearing a vest and white shirt.

She of course had to wait in line nearly 10 minutes, and the employee never told her what the problem was, but the paper BP they printed worked and we all walked down the long flight of stairs to board the plane.

The United 787 Polaris Business Class is terrific. We all enjoyed it.

The breakfast and lunch were okay, but not outstanding. This is a Frittata.

Finally, we approached ORD over Lake Michigan and Brian spotted the Chicago skyline through the heavily tinted 787 windows.

The Chicago Immigration line took 45 minutes. We took the train from Terminal 5 to Terminal 1,  and made it through the TSA PreCheck promptly. They checked out Blane’s presents in both of his bags, the box of salt-mine salt and a couple of metal objects. Fortunately, salt is allowed.

Are we perhaps just a bit sleepy after our nine-hour flight and all that preceded it?

We walked through ORD's famous psychelic walkway. We never knew the neon display had been designed by a Canadian artist until we viewed this YouTube video.

We even had time to visit United’s spectacular Polaris Lounge for a few minutes.

Then it was onward to one final queue and our last flight, sadly in Economy.

We enjoyed a quick reunion with Blane’s mother, who had driven down to SEA in our car to pick us up. Kim drove us through the Seattle rush hour back to their house in Stanwood, where we said our goodbyes and drove home. 

It was pleasing to sleep well in our own bed last night, and to be drinking our own tasty coffee this morning. Another successful grandkid trip is  all wrapped up.

We hope to have “infected” Blane with the travel bug. We certainly enjoyed sharing a slice of travel with him.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Blane in Europe: Hot Times at Frankfurt Airport

We arrived at Frankfurt Airport around 5:15pm. Frankfurt hit 102 degrees F today (just under 39 C), and the glassed-indoors in the airport that were no doubt hotter.

We checked in at the Hilton Garden Inn, and were lucky to be just ahead of a long queue .

Our room was tolerably cool.

We made the 10-minute walk to Terminal 1 B and found a kiosk that accepted Blane’s “new” passport and spat out a boarding pass for him. That’s huge because it means we can skip the check-in counter tomorrow.

Then it was back through the glassed-in sweat boxes to our room.

Brian went searching for a cool restaurant and found it in the next-door Hilton.

Blane said his Margherita Pizza was delicious, and the German attempt at Tandoori Chicken was valiant.

The highlight was Blane’s Chocolate Lava Cake.

A suitable finalé to our trip.

Blane in Europe: One Next-to-Last Arduous Travel Day

It’s fortunate for us Blane has been such a co-operative and congenial traveler. Our trip has featured unpleasantly hot weather almost everywhere and no shortage of crowds.

We’ve experienced our travel glitches as well, from missed buses to pickpockets. Today provides one example.

We walked to the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof. Our regional train arrived late but left on time. Still, there were delays. German police boarded at the first German station and demanded ID from everyone, presumably looking for “migrants.” We then
sat on a siding waiting for other trains to pass. 

Kathy kept getting conflicting messages about our connecting train at Munich. It was close enough to try. We walked briskly from the regional train tracks at one side of the station all the way to Track 18. The train was still in the station, probably part of the rolling delays. Our First Class Car 11 is at the other end of the platform.

We started at Car 1 and bailed about Car 8 or 9. The whistle blew and we’d made it aboard. It was a relatively easy task to trundle our bags through to our seats in Car 11, politely kicking out a young man who must have chosen a four-top to impress his girlfriend. He’s spent most of the trip yammering on his phone, and Kathy and Brian exchanged some snide messages with each other.

The couple got off at Stuttgart and the passenger taking one of their seats started to talk as well. Oh my. Now he’s just tapping on his computer. We’re getting off at Frankfurt Airport in less than an hour and our travel day has been an easier experience than it might have been.

Nonetheless, we’re nicely ensconced in our First Class seats, and Kathy just brought Blane back from the dining car with a snack.

Air fried - a bit stale but edible…

We hope to fly Frankfurt to Chicago tomorrow morning at 8:30. We’ve read reports that FRA is a mess, understaffed like much of Europe and North America.

Flyertalkers are suggesting to “avoid Frankfurt like the plague.”

This recent  post describes what we might be facing tomorrow.

Just wanted to give my experience on the other side of the equation (exiting FRA back to the States) in case it helps anyone:

UA 181 / 16th FRA-DEN 11:20 AM departure, Polaris

Arrived to check luggage at 0700 (1 bag, 2 people ahead in the Polaris/1K line - long line already queued for economy check-in/baggage drop off)

Took the 1 agent forever to process the pax at the counter. Completed check-in at 07:20 and made my way to Passport Control/border and subsequently security

Arrived Passport Control (Z gates) at 07:25 - line was already back to the top of the escalator and wound around

No bypassing for First/Business class. Everyone funneled into one automated reader.

There was an agent there letting crew and anyone with extremely tight connections through

This took me a solid 55 minutes to get through. During that time several people (at least 2 dozen) on the ORD-bound flight were jumping the queue (fine by me since I had plenty of time) as their flight was about to close. I'm going to say that some of them missed their flight (one group told me they'd been there since the counters opened at 5 AM).

Arrived at Security and again no differentiation for First/Business. Everyone funneled into one line. Only one lane of security was open. At about 08:30 and additional 2 lanes opened up.

Through security in roughly 20 minutes.

Seems like when they opened the additional lanes, they also started letting First/Business through the left-hand side.

Again, sample size of one. But, I fly to/from/through German airports all the time and this is the most chaotic I have seen. Colleagues who flew direct to Cologne/Bonn did not fare any better (2 had their flights completely canceled out of the UK, one mis-connected out of AMS and his return flight was also canceled a week later).

Pack patience and arrive early. May the odds be ever in your favor!

We’ll manage one way or the other, but it will be an early morning. It’s an “interesting” time to travel.

Update: we managed to obtain boarding passes for all of us. Blane’s new passport does not work with the United app but we managed to print it at a kiosk. Between that and carry-on the situation is looking more positive.

Blane in Europe: Dinner in Salzburg at Johannes Keller

Our last dinner of the trip (we’re not counting on much at the Frankfurt Airport) at Johannes Keller was less than a 10-minute walk from our hotel. It lived up to its reputation as one of Salzburg’s better restaurants.

Blane hit the jackpot with this.

Brian liked his meat “strudel.”

Kathy choice was also good.

We haven’t given up on German red wine. This one was okay.

Blane left room for an Apple Strudel.

We enjoyed watching the little kids frolic in the water running down the center of the luttke cobblestone street where we sat.

Speaking of life’s simple pleasures, we found one last gelato stand for Blane, a nice end to the evening.