Posts Tagged flight

The Kindness of Strangers

Walking on Av Pres Figueroa Alcorta

Ms. HalfEmpty walking in Buenos Aires.

Living in foreign countries where we didn’t speak the language even close to fluently and weren’t aware of all the customs led to some interesting experiences on our South American Adventure. Fortunately, strangers stepped in to save the day!

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The Early Bird Who Didn’t Get the Worm

Cypress Point Lookout (17 Mile Drive)

Beautiful view from Cypress Point Lookout along 17 Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, CA

Last month, I visited my oldest friend in gorgeous Monterey, California. No, my friend isn’t that old. It’s a longtime friendship — since 8th grade, in fact!

Knowing that I had an open invitation to visit, I booked my flight in July for a trip in October. I found a great price and jumped on it.

I thought everything was perfectly arranged until the day before my flight.  I checked-in online and discovered that my window seat was no longer a window seat!

Flying across the country is a decently long flight.  After our 30/40 World Tour, I realize it’s not going to win any longest flight contests.  But it’s still nice to have a wall (or Mr. HalfEmpty’s shoulder) for my pillow.

I rechecked my original reservation and noticed that my seat number had not changed. I was still in 23F. What had changed was the plane. There must have been so much demand that they switched from a Boeing 757 with 6 seats across (3-3) to an international Boeing 777 with 9 seats across (2-5-2).

I’m sure the UC Santa Barbara Cross Country Team on my flight helped secure that bigger plane.  Grr…college kids!  Now I sound like a crotchety, old, half empty woman.  Yep, that’s about right. =)

During online check-in, I noticed that there were still a few window seats available.  But they were all considered an upgrade despite being in the same section as my current seat!  I decided not to panic and would request a seat change at the airport.

But at the airport, they told me the flight was full. So basically I got penalized with a middle seat in a block of 5 for booking early.  This early bird did not get the worm!  Lesson learned:  if you want a window seat, always pick A.

I’m really surprised I didn’t learn that lesson on the 30/40 World Tour with all our flights, some booked 6 months in advance.  But perhaps our exotic locales don’t have the same kind of demand as DC to CA.

When I boarded the plane, it seemed like the situation might be okay.  In my center section of 5 seats, only 4 were occupied — a Chinese guy in the aisle seat, a big guy in the 2nd seat, me in the 4th seat, and a woman on the other aisle.  I had an empty seat next to me, but I didn’t assume it would be there for long.  At some point, the Chinese man on the aisle realized that he was in the wrong seat.  So he moved into the center seat on my left.  This prompted the big guy to move into the aisle.

Now I was sandwiched in a middle seat.  It was the worst possible configuration for me.  I didn’t understand why the Chinese guy didn’t move back into the other guy’s seat so that the center seat would be free.  That would have given us both an empty seat on one side.  But now the big guy, who originally had a middle seat, had an aisle AND a free seat next to him!  I got a raw deal.

I was even more irritated when the Chinese guy kept using my arm rest.  At one point, I erected a pillow barrier in retaliation, but he didn’t seem to notice.  The best scenario for my already unfortunate middle seat went to the worst scenario rather quickly.  I was doubly mad because I had been counting on my window seat.

During my stay in California, my credit card number was compromised and used in Chicago.  I’m still not sure which restaurant did that to me, but I have 2 in mind.

On the way home, my return flight was delayed over 2 hours due to fog.  Since I knew about the delay, I went to the airport late. But I was worried the entire time that they might reduce the delay and I would miss my flight.  I was also concerned about making my connecting flight after the delayed flight.  If it had been on time, I surely would have missed it.  But fortunately, it was also delayed.

My final flight was delayed so much that they changed the gate 3 times!  After a while it got a bit comical watching a full flight of people migrate from one gate to another.  The last 2 gates were actually in a different terminal, so that was a long hike.  I wonder if anyone missed the flight because of the gate changes.

I finally arrived back in DC at 1:30 AM.  Even though I had a carry-on sized bag, I had to check it since there was no overhead space left.  So I had to wait for my suitcase, and then head home to catch a few hours of sleep before teaching my morning class.

The C Restaurant (Intercontinental Hotel)

Enjoying sun and cocktails at the Intercontinental Hotel along Cannery Row in Monterey. I’m pretty sure this restaurant was not the one that compromised my credit card.

After reading this post, you’re probably thinking that I had a horrible trip filled with uncomfortable flights, credit card fraud, and flight delays.  But actually, the trip was amazing!  Monterey is beautiful, and I soaked up the sun every day with my friend.  How’s that for half full thinking?

Next time you book a flight, remember the moral of my story and pick A for a window seat.  I’m not sure what to tell those of you who like aisle seats…perhaps, just good luck!

  • Have you ever booked a specific seat on a flight and later found that the seat configuration changed?  How did you react?
  • Has your credit card been compromised?  Did you or the credit card company discover it first?
  • Have you ever had a flight delay change back to an earlier departure time?

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Airline Rankings Around the World

We ended up flying on 8 different airlines during our 30/40 World Tour, since we booked our flights individually.  Below is our ranking of airlines from best to worst.  This is not meant to be a comprehensive study; it’s merely our impressions from the economy flights we experienced during the summer of 2011.

View over New Zealand

View from our flight over New Zealand

  1. Air Emirates (Mauritius to Dubai; Dubai to Munich)
  2. Air New Zealand (Auckland to Nouméa)
  3. American Airlines (DC to LA)
  4. United Airlines (Madrid to DC)
  5. Qantas Airways (Nouméa to Sydney)
  6. Air Mauritius (Melbourne to Mauritius)
  7. Air Pacific (LA to Fiji; Fiji to Auckland)
  8. Air Berlin (Munich to Barcelona)

To learn the price of each of these flights (ranging from $137 to $946 per person), see the previous post on the cost of our trip.  But price did not directly correlate with a positive experience on an airline.

Air Emirates

Air Emirates flight attendants

The signature red hat and sweeping scarf of the Air Emirates flight attendants

We were so impressed with our Air Emirates flights.  The uniform of the flight attendants with the red hat and sweeping white scarf is quite striking and exotic.  When we first boarded, I wondered about the practicality of such an outfit.  But after we were airborne, the hats came off.

The Air Emirates food was delicious.  I’m sure you’re laughing about delicious airplane food, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps it’s because I haven’t eaten hot food on an airplane in years!

The personalized entertainment screens for each seat were the best of all of our flights.  The screens were the biggest of any airline and provided on-demand entertainment options including movies and games.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand was another of our favorite airlines.  Their economy seats were beautifully passenger centric.  The back of each seat had a drink pouch that fit my water bottle perfectly.  It’s so easy and obvious, but I’ve never seen it on another airline.  I usually have to stuff my bottle into the magazine compartment, which forces the whole pocket wide open and takes up far more space in already cramped quarters.

We also loved the personal entertainment screens for each seat, and both watched Cedar Rapids at our own pace.  I started my movie slightly earlier than Mr. HalfFull, so I was pre-laughing at all the funny parts.  Finally, he asked me to pause so that he could catch up and we could laugh together!

I think it’s wonderful when airlines let you play and pause your own movie.  You can sleep when you like, use the restroom whenever, and still catch the full movie.  It’s so nice to be in control!

American, United & Qantas

I don’t really have any strong feelings one way or the other about American Airlines, United Airlines, or Qantas Airways.  I’m also not married to that specific order.  All the flights were fine; nothing stood out to me positively or negatively, so they are all nestled in the middle of my list.

Air Mauritius

Air Mauritius only issues paper tickets.  Enough said!

Air Pacific

Air Pacific

Our Air Pacific flight landed early in the morning in Nadi, Fiji

Air Pacific ranks toward the bottom of the list because of their carry-on policy.  We specifically purchased our bags to be compliant with carry-on size restrictions.  But we had no idea that Air Pacific also has a weight restriction for carry-on bags.

I’ve never had my carry-on bag put on a scale.  But our bags turned out to be too heavy, and we were forced to check them.  I think this may have been because it was a double-decker plane which required more attention to avoid being top-heavy.

I don’t particularly mind checking my bags if I don’t get charged an extra fee.  But the problem was that we had packed with the intention of carrying our bags, meaning that we had our rain jackets rolled on the outside and other items clipped to the outside of the bags.  It’s stressful to repack a bag at the ticket counter with a line of people staring me down for being ill-prepared, especially when I thought I was perfectly prepared!

The other problem with Air Pacific is that they don’t have a regular counter in the LAX airport, so we couldn’t check in when we arrived from Washington, DC.  We we returned to the airport hours later, the line was frustratingly long and we didn’t get the seats we wanted.

Air Berlin

AirBerlin plane

Air Berlin was our least favorite airline of the 30/40 World Tour

Our original plan was to travel via train through Europe on a Eurail pass.  But for our specific plans, it wasn’t cost-effective or a good use of our time.  So we decided to book a budget flight from Germany to Spain.  It was our worst flight of the trip.

It included our only airport layover and our only flight delay.  Double whammy!  Plus, the children on the flight were unbearable and my sandwich was inedible.

In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed at the time.  Perhaps our recent awesome flights on Air Emirates skewed our judgement.

 

  • What’s your favorite airline?
  • Have you had a delicious airplane meal?
  • Do you know of another airline that still only uses paper tickets?
  • Have you had a carry-on bag weighed?

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Final Days of Fun & Sun in Madrid

After a week in El Barco de Avila, we took the VaughanTown bus back to Madrid for the last few days of our 30/40 World Tour. It was a bittersweet time. On one hand, we were excited to go back home to a life of more than 3 pairs of underwear and the same bed every night. But on the other hand, we were embarking on the last few days of our life of leisure and exploration together. Work? A job? What’s that???

View along Calle Alcalá

The French architecture of Edificio Metrópolis is a focal point along Calle Alcalá near our hotel

Once we got to Madrid, we took the subway to our hotel, but we had no idea the ride would be so exciting. We were joined by a rapper who traveled with his own microphone and speaker to “entertain” us. I think most of the passengers would have paid to make him stop.

Nun outside Retiro Park

Ms. HalfEmpty encounters a nun outside Retiro Park

The pope was about to visit Madrid for World Youth Day, so the city was aflutter in preparation. Workers were erecting stages, screens, speakers, and bleachers in the city. Nuns in habits and volunteers in official t-shirts were a common sight.

During our final few days of touring, we took advantage of the sun and explored outdoor sites in Madrid including Parque del Retiro, Puerta del Sol, Plaza de Oriente, Plaza de CibelesPlaza de España, and Parque del Oeste.

Headless Man in Retiro Park

This headless man in Retiro Park was one of the best. We saw various inferior imitations throughout the city.

Remember how we talked about street performers in Barcelona? Madrid seemed to be the Mecca of street performers in comparison. We saw several headless men reading newspapers. The first time was a neat sight, but after we saw the same act all over the city, it wasn’t so novel.  Quite a few of them could have used an outside eye to help them look more realistic.

Petrified Street Performers

These guys held the most awkward positions for long periods of time and really looked like clay until you saw the whites of their eyes. Very impressive!

There were street performers who posed as statues with their entire bodies and clothes painted a single color. Some of these guys were just amazing; they were in impossible positions and completely lifeless. You didn’t know they were real until one guy would show the whites of his eyeballs.

Bubbles in Retiro Park

Kids loved the huge bubbles in Retiro Park

Bubbles were another favorite performance art form. Every park, plaza, and monument had a bubble man or woman. The giant bubbles were certainly a winner with the kids.

Of course, musicians staked out their territory throughout Retiro park, as well. The park is beautiful with green spaces, statues, fountains, and waterways. It was filled with people enjoying picnics and exercisers in hot pursuit of fitness. We even saw an inline skating class.

Lobster & Clam Paella

Lobster & clam paella and sangria — delicious!

After a disappointing paella experience in Barcelona, we knew we had to try again before leaving Spain. This time we got recommendations from our VaughanTown friends who lived in Madrid, and scored with lobster and clam paella.

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol is filled with people

The next day, we ventured to Puerta del Sol, a huge square filled with tourists. Earlier in the summer, it was an occupied tent city. It seems unimaginable since it was already so crowded with tourists and no tents while we visited.

Chocolatería San Ginés

Ms. HalfEmpty dips a churro in chocolate at Chocolatería San Ginés

It is also home to the popular Chocolatería San Ginés where patrons dunk churros in chocolate.  After waiting in line, we purchased our chocolate and attempted to find a place to stand along the crowded bar. Fortunately, Mr. HalfFull and I only ordered one cup of chocolate to split. It was so rich, we didn’t even finish it.

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza statues in Plaza de España

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza statues in Plaza de España

After getting fueled with chocolate, we headed to Plaza de España.  The main attraction is a statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; everyone wants their photo with this duo.  But the park is also full of statues of other famous Spaniards like Cervantes.

Egyptian Temple

Egyptian Temple in Parque del Oest

Our final destination of the day was Parque del Oeste where we saw an Egyptian Temple.  I’ve been to Egypt, but didn’t expect to see such a sight in Spain!

Go-kart ran out of gas/electricity

Not a good day for the guy pushing the go-kart that ran out of gas/electricity!

On our way back to the hotel, as we thought about our tired legs, we felt like we were running out of fuel.  But we weren’t the only ones…there was a man pushing a go-kart down the street.

Gin Bar

Massive drinks at Gin Bar.  I know it doesn’t look massive in this photo, but it’s all perspective.  You’ll have to trust me.

On our final night in Madrid, we met the VaughanTown program director for drinks out on the town.  Apparently, she is an avid gin drinker, so we all met at Gin Bar.

XXX Café

For some reason (perhaps the drinks???) Ms. HalfEmpty ended up in sunglasses at XXX Café

The drinks were massive and I only planned on having one, but of course the program director bought another round!  Then she suggested we move to a bar down the street — XXX Café.  Woah!  I certainly didn’t need any more drinks, but when in Spain…

When we arrived at XXX Café, we were the only patrons.  Perhaps it was too early for Spaniard night owls.  We sat in the window and could see a few passers-by check out the scene inside.  The program director informed us that it’s a gay bar, so perhaps we scared all the regulars away!

End of Night

Ms. HalfEmpty collapses on the hotel bed after a night of drinking

By the time we got back to our hotel, I was certainly feeling the effects of the alcohol.  Plus I knew I had a flight back to reality the next morning.  A rough transition lay ahead…

 

 

 

  • Do you start thinking about going back to work toward the end of your trip?
  • Is it better to give money to a performer to satisfy his monetary needs for the day in hopes that he will stop, or does this encourage further “entertainment?”
  • What beautiful or intriguing sites have you seen (or do you hope to see) in Madrid?
  • Is drinking the night before your flight a good way to cap off the trip or a recipe for a painful ending?
Cibeles Palace

Cibeles Palace (now City Hall)

Royal Palace

Royal Palace of Madrid in Plaza de Oriente

 

 

 

 

 

 

Metropolis Building

Metropolis Building at the corner of Calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía

Royal Palace

Manicured gardens and statues surround the Royal Palace

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Worst Flight Ever

Thankfully for our livers, all things must come to an end.  After a weekend of partying in Germany, it was time to depart for Spain — the 8th and final country on our 30/40 World Tour.

Everyone has heard of “German efficiency,” but there was none to be found in the airport security line.  The line wasn’t very long, but was so slow!  They were basically taking apart each person’s carry-on bag despite having a perfectly serviceable x-ray machine.  They even examined my empty water bottle and told me I was not allowed to take more than 3 ounces of liquid.  My water bottle was clear plastic and attached on the outside of my bag.  This extra scrutiny seemed ridiculous.  But I assured them that my visibly empty bottle was indeed empty by shaking it for them.

Our flight to Spain was not direct.  It was also one of the only flights we did not book through STA, since they didn’t have any deals.  We couldn’t find any reasonably priced direct flights from Munich to Barcelona, so we used a discount carrier with a one hour layover in Düsseldorf.

Of course, nothing could be that easy.  Remember how we always say you get what you pay for?  This was another case in point.

The flight from Düsseldorf to Barcelona was delayed.  We had done a great job of booking direct flights with week-long layovers in exotic locales.  Our only true airport layover of the 30/40 World Tour was at LAX, but even then we planned a beach outing in Santa Monica.  This time, all we were able to do was hang out in a terminal filled to capacity with people from various delayed flights.  There weren’t any seats; even the nuns were sitting on the floor.  So we headed to the bar to wait.

Once it was finally our boarding time, they packed us into busses en route to the plane.  Finally, we had made it to the plane.  Thank goodness!

Not so fast.  Our journey was not yet over.  It was not yet time to relax.  This flight involved screaming children from all directions.

AirBerlin plane

After escaping the worst flight ever and arriving in Spain, we paused in the terminal to capture photographic evidence of our tormentor

The irony is that we had been on plenty of other flights with children.  Long flights.  Hours and hours of being constricted to a little seat.  But this tiny little 2 hour flight was horrible.

Perhaps I have a special intolerance as a person without children, but it really didn’t seem like the parents were doing anything.  The little girl in front of us was traveling with her German mother and Spanish father.  She was perpetually backward in her seat so that she could stare at us during the flight.  She got increasingly bold and started sticking her arm through the gap between the seats.

This was a nuisance, but not a major problem…until her arm swatted my drink.  Of course, it spilled all over my legs.  So I got to spend the rest of the day with sticky legs and socks.  Just lovely.

To understand just how much I disdain messes and sticky things, I will take you back to kindergarten.  I hated using glue because it could get on my fingers.  Other kids would smear glue all over their hands and wait for it to dry.  I found this appalling.

Back to the flight.  In the US, they would never serve food on a 2 hours flight.  But this was Europe.  They gave us some sort of boxed meal, but all the “fresh” food was inedible.  I think the sandwich was just mayo — gobs and gobs of mayo.  Perhaps there was something else in the sandwich, but it was hidden by the mayo.

We eventually arrived in Barcelona where we had to hurry up and wait for the train.  Despite visiting Dubai, it seemed excruciatingly hot in the train terminal with little air flow.  I expected it to be cooler in the evening as the sun descended.  Perhaps I was just being my half empty self with additional annoyance and stickiness.

We ended up in a train car with a group of boys on vacation.  With a liquor bottle.  They ended up making quick friends with the two girls nearby, and the liquor went back and forth across the train.  Hilarious people watching!

Barcelo Sants elevator lobby

Can you spot Ms. HalfEmpty? She's sitting in the spacey egg chair in the Barcelo Sants hotel elevator lobby.

After an afternoon of travel that seemed like days, we checked into our hotel — conveniently located above the train station.  This hotel had a space theme.  All the hallways were dark until you walked by the sensor and then a group of vertical lights from floor to ceiling adjacent to each door would illuminate.  It was a neat effect and probably saved a good bit of electricity too.

Barcelo Sants room

Outer space portal above our glowing hotel room bed

Our room was elegantly modern with space touches including a captain’s swivel chair.  There were also round portals in the room with pictures of the moon.  Oddly, one of them was above the toilet.

Barcelona taxis

During our 4 days in Barcelona, I spent a lot of time watching the parade of taxis from my hotel room window while waiting for Mr. HalfFull to coif himself. He takes longer than me! It was great people watching to see the drivers smoke and chat. It was like I was spying from space!

We even had multiple sizes of pillows with varying degrees of firmness.  Plus, there was an amazing ergonomic backrest for sitting up in bed, and a perfect bed tray. Our room was so awesome and relaxing that we didn’t leave until 1 PM the next day in search of food.

Maybe the flight wasn’t actually that bad.  I mean it wasn’t great, but it could have been much worse.  Perhaps we had just been spoiled by awesome airlines with hot towels, edible food, and the gift of silence.

  • How do you select flights?  Price?  Schedule?  Number of stops?
  • Describe your worst flight.
  • Does a dislike of glue as a kindergartener make me an old soul?
  • Is it a sin to spend the whole morning of your first day in a new country asleep?  Or is sleep important to help you enjoy it?

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Into Africa (Sort Of)

Getting to Mauritius, an African island nation off the coast of Madagascar, was an ordeal that started back in Australia. Mr. HalfFull researched airport transportation and discovered a direct bus to the airport with a pickup location near our hotel. This seemed like a great option until we learned that our hotel offered an airport shuttle for less than the bus. What a great deal – no walking with luggage AND a lower price!

But as we’ve learned time and again on the 30/40 World Tour – you get what you pay for!

The shuttle did, in fact, pick us up at our hotel on time. But this was not a direct shot to the airport. Instead, the shuttle was also transporting a family from the airport to their hotel. So we dropped them off and thought, “Okay, we’re off to the airport now!”

Not so fast.

Melbourne

Skyline in Melbourne

The shuttle proceeded to make more stops to pick up passengers heading to the airport. During this circuitous journey, we passed by our hotel AGAIN! Then we stopped at a hostel to pick up two young girls who weren’t ready. With each stop, we got more nervous that we wouldn’t make our flight on time, despite having left our hotel with plenty of time.

Mr. HalfFull was livid on the shuttle ride, especially when he noticed that we were heading away from the airport. He almost blew his lid when we passed by our hotel the second time. But it was me, Ms. HalfEmpty, who tried to help him see the bright side of things! I pointed out that we were getting a nice drive-by tour of Melbourne – parts we had not seen – enroute to the airport. How’s that for role reversal?

After the most circuitous shuttle ride, I endured the longest plane ride of my life (almost 12 hours)!  I didn’t think a long flight would be a problem for me, but I was so ready to disembark after the first 8 hours. Also, this flight was during the day. Even though I’m an expert napper, you can really only sleep for so long before it’s no longer a nap.

When we arrived in Mauritius, it wasn’t very late in the evening, but it was already starting to get dark since it was the winter season in the southern hemisphere. We knew we had about an hour ride from the airport to our 4.5 star hotel (50% discount in the off-season!) on the beach. This turned out to be another crazy drive.

It was too late for a shuttle, so we grabbed a taxi; a harrowing ride ensued! Our driver had no qualms about passing vehicles with oncoming traffic on narrow roads. He also spoke on his cell phone for much of the ride, and was often not in his lane. Plus, we were moving fast!

La Palmeraie at Night

Nighttime view of the overflowing pool at La Palmeraie

Thankfully, we survived the taxi ride, although that fate seemed uncertain several times on the ride. We arrived at a beautiful Moroccan-inspired resort – La Palmeraie Boutique Hotel. I felt under-dressed and yucky from the plane ride. Plus, this wasn’t really a hotel where the normal clientele carried duffel bags.

Room @ La Palmeraie

Flower petals and a letter on our bed at La Palmeraie

As soon as we arrived, they greeted us with a refreshing local drink and chatted with us in the lobby. Despite our attire, our money was still green (or multicolored, as the case may be). I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived in our room and found flower petals on the bed, a personalized letter from the director of the hotel, and flowers in a vase. The little touches made us feel extra special.

We were gearing up for a relaxing week on a continent (Africa) and an ocean (Indian Ocean) new to both of us. After weeks of being on the move, I was looking forward to sleeping in the same bed for 7 consecutive nights! Check back to hear about our experiences in Mauritius.

  • In your experience, do shuttle drivers do a good job of scheduling pickups to create a direct route to the airport?
  • Do you and your spouse ever switch roles?
  • How long was your longest flight?
  • Describe your most harrowing taxi ride.
  • Have you been impressed with a hotel experience?

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