Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Best Laid Plans....

This time I was prepared. I bought a burrito even-there was tofu involved. I was ready for the six hour coach flight, I really was, and I wasn’t going to complain. I even had things to “do”.

And then the impossible happened- party of two in first is a no-show.

So here it is, flight 223 back from Boston to LAX, and for once they’re serving right on plan- EFBO and all. And for once I’m in the bulkhead….but definitely not complaining. I’m ordering the pasta.

There's no comparison to my last flight- A few short days ago I was subject to the shortest overnight in history- we landed 40 minutes early. I shared an exit row with another passenger sans upgrade, but with a few drinks. Not a smooth flight, and at someplace between 12 and 3am is not really the time you want to realize the in-flight movie is the chipmunks. It’s just not what you want teasing you that you can’t sleep at 36,000ft.

Anyhow, it’s been awhile since my last post, not devoid of flying, but full of everything else it seems. Even my bartender at the Admiral’s club asked where I’d been. Truth is, I’m nearing the end of this crazy experiment in what it’s like to be a travel-maven. Though even grounded, I don’t think I’ll ever shake the urge to play the frequent flyer- the hidden rules of the system, the seat-booking game, the inside lingo, and of course the single-serving friends.

Speaking of which, my seatmate and I were both well appraised of our good luck tonight. Heady with the good fortune, we converse about the little things- the type of plane, the seats, where he’s off to for the next week. The banter is short, clipped as we figure each other out, I’m answering the questions:

“What plane is it?”

“737. They took the 757 off this route a few months ago; it ruins the boarding process at Logan- no drinks until in flight.”

“So you fly this one a lot.”

“Yes. I like it when it gets in early. Tailwinds. Why does my seatbelt have an airbag?”

“Mine does too, that’s new.”

“Lawsuits, this must be a new plane, I heard they took delivery of ten new ones last quarter. And still no wireless.”

“You learn this from being executive platinum?”

“I keep my ears open, it can’t be helped. And yes, it's all they make it out to be.”

The plane takes off, and we talk about work, vaguely of course. He’s nice, a typical airplane friend and I’ve had much worse. Still, I’ll never see him again; or if I do I won’t notice. Soon I’ll miss these conversations, they’re a good chance to try out myself- a string of first impressions, not something one usually gets. I suppose if I was bold enough I could create a new persona for each flight. It’s not like what I do is typical, and people seem to buy it. I’m not, however, that bold.

Half-way there now, probably someplace over the land of small towns and open spaces, and my latest single-serving friend has put up his feet on the bulkhead to get some sleep before embarking on another week’s work. I should as well, but something about the dim cabin and the last shreds of daylight out the right-side windows is keeping me awake. That or it’s the flight attendants in the galley enjoying a few moments between the dinner service and cabin-cleanup to chat. It might be about basketball, but I can’t really tell. Maybe they’re Boston-based, whatever that even means in today’s frantic and understaffed flight schedule.

But back to the thought of being grounded for a moment before I kick back to watch whatever’s on the short feature tonight. At first brush I was worried, how would things go being really in one place? I haven’t lived in Los Angeles without the flying, the moving, the plans. But there’s a stability and a contented sense I’ve been missing, and I’m looking forward to finding again. To feeling like life can move forward, rather than in circles. However, there are a few more months to go and they’ll be full of planning and preparation for a new chapter, one I’m more than ready for.

Chapters. I promised myself I wouldn’t play that game but it slipped out. I’ve heard a trait in successful people is their view on life’s progression- chapters or linear. Do parts of our experience close, complete- or is it all one unbroken line we can direct?

It’s both. It has to be. Things come and go, but still we’re all headed someplace eventually. Tonight I’m nearing the Pacific again, and what’s promising to be a short night’s sleep so I’ll try to catch a few minutes before we touch-down.

Until next time then…

Monday, March 29, 2010

Chasing Daylight....

There’s something about an evening flight heading West across the country that makes you feel like you’re chasing the turning of the Earth itself. Trying to capture those last moments before you inevitably lose the pursuit, the light sinks beyond the horizon, and you have to give up and console yourself with whatever’s on the in-flight entertainment for the next six hours. And why is it that this feeling is always more poignant on a Sunday?

Tonight that particular battle was lost by my flight 223 from BOS West to LAX at the end of a great weekend in the Bay State. The movie tonight was “The Blindside,” and I’ll admit I enjoyed it though I probably never would have gone out to see it on my own. Once I got over the shock of Sandra Bullock with blond hair, it was all uphill from there.

So then….now that the scene has been set…..what to write about? It’s a brisk 5 ½ hour hop from coast to coast tonight due to a light headwind…but seems like I should have time to ponder a thing or two (I’d like to note at this point that the flight attendants are talking about ‘that one time when it took eight hours to go from JFK to SFO’ and I’m really glad that’s not the case tonight). However, maybe I can blame my lack of momentary inspiration on the guy sitting next to me. He’s giving me nothing. Not a comment on the pasta, not a “hey, going home?” Nothing. He’s been reading the paper since take-off, and now that we’re well across the country….yep, still reading.

He is, however, a polar opposite from my seat mate on the second leg of my Friday flight from St. Louis to Boston. This is the exact reason I have no writing to show for myself from those 2 hours. It started innocently enough, I said, “goin’ home?” And I’m still not entirely sure where we went next, but there was even some frantic back-of-boarding pass note taking as we exchanged tips for the best places to eat, stay, and visit across the county. I happily passed along my list of best Boston brunch spots, and in return I received the run-down on what to do in a weekend in Palm Springs, and more than I think I’d ever know about the neighborhoods and museums of the great city of St. Louis.

During what may have been the shortest dinner service I’ve ever experienced on an American flight, my new friend and I discover we share a common love of Rachel Maddow, and the rest of the flight passed quickly as we switched from proper neutral seat-to-seat conversation to more boisterous political discussion. It was easily the most entertaining flight I’ve had recently, complete with a flight attendant who told us when asked that she didn’t have a helper to serve dinner because she “doesn’t like anyone getting in her way.” I should have gotten her name so I could give her a good review. She even managed to make the 20 min wait for our gate entertaining.

Her best story of the night was in response to the ground crew’s union rule that they have to stop servicing planes in thunderstorms for obvious safety related reasons. She informed us that some travelers do not take well to this situation and will start threatening to fly a competitor next time, to which she has always wanted to answer, “Have fun, Delta’s gates are around the corner. I’m sure it’s sunny and 90 degrees there.” When you’re already on a delayed flight waiting for a gate, sometimes the best medicine for cranky travelers is to hear how they sound to the other occupants of the flight.

Really my travel this weekend has had some really great service. The flight crews, the waiters and bartenders in Boston, and especially the agent at the Admiral’s Club in St. Louis who took nearly half an hour with me to carefully explain all about system-wide upgrades. As a bonus I even got his account of the filming of “Up in the Air,” which yes, he got to be in (though he told me most of the scenes filmed in the Club didn’t make the final cut.)

Well, the ice has melted in my vodka, and the episode of “The Office” has now ended, so that can only mean I’m a cookie and glass of sparkling water away from our decent into LAX. So, unless something overly exciting happens that just needs to be commented on, I’ll sign off until I’m back in the air in a few weeks for a short hop to Austin.

Until then, wishing you light headwinds and entertaining acquaintances….

Friday, March 26, 2010

Meet me in St. Louis....

Wow….It’s been a month….a full month since I’ve been up in the air. The last thirty days or so however have not been devoid of change. As promised, I moved, choosing the location based not in small part to its proximity to the Airport. What’s more, it comes with my very own travel maven roommate.

Yes, I now live with a fully-fledged frequent flyer who can discuss such things as “Mileage Runs” and what a respectable “cent-per-mile” ratio is for an international fare. He’s definitely put in more time (and miles) than me, and I secretly hope I don’t find myself with the time to catch up. Still, some of his antics are truly impressive, like the time he flew to Orlando and back and came out $16 and 4,000 miles ahead at the end, or the tickets he recently booked to Lima for $230.00 ai (“all in”).

But this hidden benefit aside, I’d recommend living with a Flyer any day- you always have the place to yourself!

Anyhow, the moving and having a few weekends to remember that Southern California is a pretty decent place to be on a weekend aside, it’s good to be back.

Today it’s the 11:45 to STL, continuing on to BOS, and I’m privy to a truly interesting (and unlikely) conversation taking place in row 6 behind me. From what I can gather fate in her infinite humor has seated a California living-computer science professor and self-professed “gadget geek” next to a missionary who’s spent the last 4 years in New Guinea translating the new testament, and trying to convert people who live in grass-roof huts. Needless to say, the mismatch is worth listening to, especially when he proudly whips out his iPhone and shows exactly what’s playing on his home DVR.

Now, I’m not passing judgment on either’s life choices, and while I’d love to see New Guinea I’m not sure how I would feel about “converting the pagans” from their traditions and beliefs that have been in existence for thousands of years. Oh well, maybe Oneworld will have a fare special…I wonder how many miles I could get…

Still, you’ve got to wonder what it would be like to take off to some far-flung destination for the next four years and then come back to whatever our society has cobbled together in the mean time. Limiting myself to the world of technology I know and love, four years ago cell phones were pretty much that…phones, the term “there’s an app for that” had yet to be invented, Facebook was still that strangely addictive thing those kids at Harvard built to get dates, and tweeting was something birds did far too early in the morning.

And on a personal note, four years ago Boston was a place I woke up in, not something that required 5 hours in the air to get to. After some introspective thinking, and a glass or two of wine with my in-flight meal, I’m coming to the conclusion that you’ve just got to sit back and wonder where we’ll be in 2014, as a society and as individuals. Dreaming and planning is necessary and positive, but in the end we’re all just along for the ride, altitude changes and all. Simply put- We cannot change the wind, but we can adjust the sails.

……Happy Friday

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Site selection....

I’m on my way back out west after a great weekend in Boston. It’s flight 607, which is service from BOS to LAX….with a nice little stop in ORD on the way…just to keep things interesting. And yes, I’m busy preparing for that always enjoyable decent and landing into the windy city. Before I get to what I want to actually write about, first a note on a new find this weekend.

Finally made it to “Drink” this weekend. Within the first 10 minutes it promptly became my new favorite bar in Boston. And given that Boston is known for being a city with more than a few famous places to get well drunk, that’s saying something. I’ll admit that I was nearly turned off at first brush by the line creeping up the stairs. I’m not usually one to have much patience for waiting in line to stand around. However, Drink is different, and completely worth the wait.

Its less your typical Boston bar, and more like a restaurant that serves primarily alcohol. They don’t take reservations, but don’t just open the doors and fill the place to capacity. When you get in, they make sure you have space to sit, or lean at least, bring over water and glasses and proceed to serve amazing drinks at a leisurely pace. If you walk in with a craving in mind, they’ll be more than happy to oblige, but you’d be missing out on the point.

Drink doesn’t have a printed cocktail menu, but the staff are extremely well-versed in their trade and the ingredients are amazing. This is a bar that squeezes their own juice, makes their own infusions, and picks herbs in front of you to be crushed in your drink. We took advantage of the experts and asked for suggestions. Saying something like, “I’m in the mood for vodka and maybe something citrus,” might get you any number of drinks but all of them will be unique and impressive. To say they have a wide range of options would be a gross understatement, and the bartenders take it seriously. It’s not a place to go if you’re looking to drink for the sake of getting drunk, but the atmosphere is amazing and if you’re looking for an enjoyable and memorable night out I recommend it completely.

And yes, wait in the line, you won’t regret it. The one unfortunate thing, however, is that when your cab driver asks you where you’re going, and you say “to drink,” you’re going to have to back that up with an address.

So…. First maven moment over for tonight.

And here’s the next one: Websites. Yes…you heard me. As if you didn’t already have enough to keep you distracted…

My reason is that after writing about the extensive and useful world of last week, I came up with several more that I know, love, and thought were worth mentioning. As the plane has now been unloaded, re-boarded, doused in sucrose, and zipped back up into the sky, it seems like a good time to finish this and pay them a quick tribute, so here I go:

This is your basic vacation, location, travel, etc site. It’s all purpose, and you can get information on hotels, resorts, restaurants, etc and usually with very candid reviews and photos. Doesn’t need too much explanation really, but it gets my vote and I’ve found the reviews to be useful.

This is actually a fun little App for the iPhone that is reasonably priced (they have several models, but mine was $4.99). It does a reliable job of keeping track of your flight time, gate information, etc down to the minute. I save all my upcoming flights for the month just to keep it all organized. If you’re expecting a visitor, it’s even more fun, and will give you their flight time, as well as let you see their current altitude, speed, and a map of where the plane is as it moves across the country or around the globe.

Probably the best place to get advice on where to sit. The site includes detailed and color-coded seating charts by plane model, variant, and airline. It will tell you not only the dimensions and layout, but also little but important details like which seats don’t tilt, or whether they have an obscured view of the in-flight entertainment.

This is a fun site and app that lets you know instantly what’s in any terminal you might stumble into. It works like a giant mobile wiki for frequent fliers. Users get points for adding or reviewing amenities in the airports themselves. It’s especially useful when you need to know, say, if there’s a place to get a smoothie in DFW terminal D…or if you need to grab that before taking the terminal link to terminal B. (Note…there’s multiple options in both). The one annoyance with this app is that they reset the point totals each month for those adding to it, thereby limiting your bragging rights (I was top of the list for LAX last month and now have been relegated to the bottom of the pile again).

This is my new love as far as travel sites go. Jetsetter offers its members significant discounts on stays at hotels and resorts in every corner of the globe. The discounts range from ‘nice’ to ‘its like stealing,’ and the range of locations at any given time is truly impressive. For example, within the last week there have been offerings in New York, Chicago, Santa Monica, Miami, and Paris, as well as more exotic locations such as: ski lodges in the Alps, a resort where you can have high tea in Bermuda, and adventure-based stays in the mountains of Chile, or even Easter Island. This isn’t the place to book your regular night at the Westin, the site caters to boutique or luxury properties mostly.

The catch to all this is that both space and days are limited. The sales only last a few days, and it’s first come-first served for reservations. But if you happen to be flexible in your planning, or what they’re offering matches your schedule, you might be able to book a great vacation at 30%-60% off the advertised rate. The further catch is that you must be a member to use the site, and membership is by invitation only. However, don’t let this stop you, you can “apply” on the homepage, and I don’t get the impression it’s a tall order to be accepted yet.

The site itself is beautiful. They go so far as to say that the site is “curated” rather than designed. There are beautiful pictures of the properties on auction, and of their locations put together with reviews that give useful details about the resort or hotel, and also about the area. All in all, worth a look.

Well….so far it’s been a decently smooth flight, and despite being seated behind a couple who seem to have mistaken Row 4 on this 737 for the hotel room they just checked out of, no complaints so far. And yes, if you must know, I did just tuck the chips that came with my meal into my bag for lunch tomorrow. When you’re logging 10,000 miles a month and still working overtime, it leaves precious little time for grocery shopping. Speaking of which, I’ll be grounded for the next few weeks due to work and changing apartments….but I’m sure I’ll be back at it soon enough.

Until then, safe travels.

The early bird....

Well, here’s a shock…I’m back in the air. This time it’s flight 222, which is the sunrise flight out of LAX to Boston. It’s really not so bad to have to get to the airport at 6am….as long as you lie to yourself and pretend it’s 8.

Really though, I’m not sure anyone was feeling up to being suave and charming this morning. I say this because in the few rows near me there was not only the obligatory crying child, but also an unhappy barking dog who was less than thrilled with having to lie down to fit under the seat for the next 5 hours. This, combined with the man in the seat next to me who promptly removed his shoes, and cleverly stuffed his pillow in the arm of his coat and then put the other sleeve back on to hold it in place while he slept his way across the country, led me to decide no one felt they got enough rest last night.

And this plane’s occupants are far from alone in this. Due to the massive snowstorms that left 75% of the country under snow this week, thousands of flights were cancelled and their passengers left to fend for themselves. Speaking of which, I had the …pleasure…I guess… of meeting several of them in my hotel last night.

A few of them who were trying to get back to ATL had a few drinks in the lounge, and then spent quite a good deal of time trying to impress me (why me I’m still not sure). They thought that this could be accomplished by calling the “new age life” conference that had taken up residence in the attached conference center an “alien convention” and warning me that “one or two of them might be in the lounge even as we speak.”

Now, in all honesty, I wasn’t about to go join the convention either….and the guy attending who probably should have been wearing more than light sweatpants in the lobby made me slightly uncomfortable. But the bottom line is that its Southern California…and anything goes, and that’s the beauty of it. Besides, if there’s one attribute that the vast range of people who might be attending this conference might share, it’s a genuine peaceful “niceness” that was severely lacking in my impromptu lounge companions.

What’s more, upon walking onto my floor from the elevator (before the above incident), I was nearly accosted by a woman looking for the executive lounge because she desperately needed to make it there for the free food before they stopped serving. I was looking for the same thing, and so we shared an elevator down the one floor. In this time she managed to tell me emphatically that she was a) stranded (also) trying to get back to Atlanta due to the unusual snow, and b) that she didn’t like Los Angeles because the people were rude and self-obsessed. After smiling and nodding a bit, and the obligatory “but you can’t beat the weather,” I excused myself to a table (whereupon I met the above ‘gentlemen’). Later that night I came back to my room, and found her on the floor of the hall more than a little drunk….belt unbuckled….and claiming that she was having “A good time.”

Conclusion…people who aren’t used to getting stranded due to snow clearly have no idea how to handle themselves on such an occasion. That or I just picked a bad weekend to hit up the Hilton LAX.

Now…. Where was I going with this?

No idea.

Onwards and upwards then I suppose.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Still airborne, in good company...

First off, wishing you a late happy new year. I'll admit I started and didn't finish several entries over the last few
weeks but finally buckled down today and put this together. And yes, getting to "100,000" is everything I hoped and more :)


So, here I am again on a flight from Seattle/Tacoma back to LAX after a short weekend at “home.” I haven’t been as good at updating here in the new year. Would you believe that its because I’ve been too busy flying?

No? Well, it was worth a shot.

I’ve been doing some rather long distance flying, necessitating some short nights and long Mondays. This weekend, however, is turning out to be a nice break from that. Thanks to Alaska’s multitude of flights between these cities, not only was I able to take an earlier flight without paying a change fee, but as a bonus I got a nice bit of exercise on my brisk run through terminal C. I ascribe both of these benefits to, as well as the above, my cunning use of, along with its community of ultimate flight mavens.

Let me go back now and explain. Earlier today I realized that I had cut my airport timing a little close (or so I thought at the time) and spent some time trying to figure out how to shave precious time off of the check-in process. Now usually I wouldn’t even think twice about this, knowing how much time it takes and counting on the short(er) AA priority access lanes. However, as I have before ranted on about, American Airlines does not fly between LAX and SEA, choosing instead to codeshare with Alaska. Hence, all of the hard-earned benefits I generally expect (upgrades, club access, priority access and boarding, etc) are no longer available. Further, SEA can have some killer lines.

Enter …

This website is home to the travelers who know it ALL….seriously. They also in large part are the rare breed who consider travel to be the goal in and of itself. These are the people who can put me to shame, the ones who think it completely reasonable to fly an itinerary from BOS-LAX-BOS-ORD-SAN-BOS without leaving the airport, or to fly for a week and sleep 5 of the nights on planes, especially for events such as DEQM. What’s that you say? This acronym doesn’t just jump right off the page at you as blatantly obvious? DEQM is the magical pot of gold at the end of the frequent flyer rainbow, the piece de resistance that tops off the airline calendar, the mysteriously announced “Double Elite Qualifying Mile” offer. A DEQM offer near the end of the elite qualifying year especially will lure these flyers into “milage run” itineraries that make the average person airsick just thinking about.

But I digress…DEQM will do that to a person… *breathe* Okay, as I was saying before, I was wondering how to get to my flight in SEA quickly. To that end I logged on to and asked if anyone had a suggestion and was nearly immediately rewarded with several replies. One in particular read: “Keep you BP (boarding pass) in your pocket and go to the elite lane at the far right hand end, show the first officer your AA EXP (Executive Platinum) card and if they give you any trouble say the ticket counter told you it was fine.” Good advice. I followed it to the letter and successfully line-jumped, getting through security early enough to take the 2:15 instead of the 3:00 (with a little terminal jogging, but hey, I won’t need to go to the gym today.)

The moral? There isn’t one really. But if one were to exist it might be that perhaps even the most scattered of people, the ones who spend so much time seemingly isolated on planes racing around the world, and jumping from one rental car to another, still manage to be there for each other at the drop of a hat…or the click of a mouse.

Well, we’ve begun our decent so it’s time to sign off. Thanks for reading, and special thanks to my anonymous advisors today, hope sometime I’ll know enough to return the favor.