United: The gang that can’t shoot straight

To say that Jeff Smisek’s tenure as CEO of the combined United/Continental airlines has been dismal is probably something of an understatement at this point. In so many ways, he’s taken two airlines that were better separately and made the combined entity worse. Much worse.

So the reporting of ongoing failures is hardly surprising. But in some ways, this tweet from @United sort of summed up the current degree of FAIL at the airline:

UnitedCLE

United Twitter promotion gets a couple of things wrong

So, there are a couple of problems here.

1) Note the team logo. That’s not the logo of the “home team” — that’s the logo of the Washington Nationals. There IS a United hub in Washington, but that’s not what this tweet was supposed to be about.

2) Cleveland was a Continental hub, but was the perfect candidate for the chopping block when the merger was announced, and is in the process of being de-hubbed. So people there are probably not that enthusiastic about the “home team” airline that can’t even get the team’s logo right.

Some nights, one just is not meant to get to Tulsa

Several weeks ago, I had a flight to Tulsa cancel on me about an hour before departure, due to an odd combination of weather and runway construction at the Tulsa airport.

I tried to get on a later flight (full, unfortunately), and ultimately wound up not going (flights with available seats the next day would not have gotten me to the funeral I wanted to get to).

Interestingly, the flight I tried to get on later that night wound up going out late, then diverting overnight to DFW (nearly two hours after leaving IAH). I suspect this was also due to weather conditions at Tulsa and the runway contruction project, although it could also have been for mechanical reasons. Here are a couple of screenshots I grabbed from tracking that flight:

Screenshot_2014-02-01-12-50-58 Screenshot_2014-02-01-12-53-31

What is interesting about this is that apparently the next day’s DFW-TUL flight was created as a bookable flight on United.com. As I was playing around with the United website, that DFW-TUL flight was coming up as a flight I could purchase, and as a flight I could redeem award miles for. Ultimately, it wound up going out too late the next day for me to have made the funeral, but that was once looking like an interesting option had I been able to get myself to DFW early in the day (until its departure time slipped).

Regardless, I found it interesting that the continuation (DFW-TUL) turned out to be bookable.

Travel Obsession: Mental Illness or Great Return On Investment?

BACKGROUND:

New United/Continental livery, courtesy UnitedContinentalHoldings.com

Callie and I returned a little earlier from a same-day trip from Houston to Seattle (or, IAH-SEA, to use the airport codes) that kicks off this year’s efforts to requalify as gold elites on Continental/Star Alliance. We traveled on a fare that cost roughly 4 cents per EQM (elite qualifying miles), which many folks on Flyertalk would characterize as a weak mileage run at best. But, for us, the fact we could do a one-day weekend turn on Continental meant no lost vacation time, no accommodation cost, and a shot at complimentary upgrades to first class (the upgrade didn’t come through on the outbound, but we did sit in the front cabin on the return).

We have a number of these guys booked early this year, so we’ll get a nice jump-start on gold elite status this year (as opposed to flying a cheap US Airways same-day turn in mid-December LAST year to finally reach the mark*). Air travel this year will pretty much displace other hobbies on the priority list (although some camping and hiking and gardening will find their way into the mix, along with grilling and food and wine and reading and blogging of course).

So why DO all of this?

Read more »

Home

We stumbled in and crashed close to midnight last night after a LONG day of travel (nearly a full day).

The islands of Samos and Patmos (especially Patmos) were a lovely escape. I’ll post lots of photos to flickr at some point.

It’s definitely nice to be home, although I have to admit wondering if it wouldn’t be nicer to have a small internet cafe or some other biz on a Greek island some days. Probably not in the winter, though. Houston is definitely a good place to be then. :)

How to pack for travel (and not break the bank doing so)

Web Worker Daily put up a GREAT post couple of weeks ago entitled “How Travel Veterans Pack For a Trip.”

I’m not going to excerpt from it, because every single bullet point is good advice worth following.

But I will elaborate on some of their points (so go read, then come back)….

First of all, I try not to check bags (like any experienced traveler). Checking bags is a recipe for trouble. It sometimes can’t be avoided (I do check a bag for a long trip, such as our trips to Greece or sometimes for a business trip). When it can’t be avoided or you’re just feeling lazy (i.e. my Greece trips), your carryon backpack should have everything important (electronics, travel info, meds, toiletries, at least one change of clothes). Think of your carryon backpack as what keeps you going for a few days if your airline decides to pitch your checked bag out the cargo door mid-flight, or leave it in the dumpster, or whatever.

Second — listen to Web Worker Daily and PACK LIGHT. Do so by packing useful clothing and only packing what you will use. You don’t need 100 pounds or more of clothing. Really. And if you’re smart in your clothing choices, you don’t need much more than a backpack’s worth. For example, I like to fly in a pair of hiking pants made of synthetic materials, which are quick drying (and can be washed and will dry quickly). I like to take along synthetic-material shirts for that reason. Even underwear. Washable, quick-drying (and therefore easily washable) synthetic clothing doesn’t have to be your entire wardrobe, but a few such items will help you reduce your packing load, and free up room for some nicer clothes that you might want to pack.

As gear goes….

When I check a bag for a long trip, it’s almost always my 22″ TravelPro duffel/roller. TravelPro makes inexpensive (often $100 or less if you shop around), durable luggage. If you check out what flight attendants and pilots are carrying in airports and sometimes onto airplanes, you’ll see TravelPro almost exclusively. You can’t go wrong mimicking flight crews and buying TravelPro gear. Even better, it’s always on sale somewhere online. The TravelPro duffel/roller is handy in that it offers all the benefits of a duffel, with the added benefits of wheels, without much additional weight. Unlike gigantic hard-sided traditional rollers, it will easily go on a train, or in the trunk of a car, or on a ferry boat, or any other confined space really. You can lug it, but you can also roll it. It’s a great piece of travel gear, and I highly recommend something like it for longer trips.

When I do a carryon roller, that’s always my trusty 20″ TravelPro roller (mine was about $50 online after bargain hunting and coupons and such). It will fit in virtually any overhead compartment (even an ERJ 145), and it holds plenty of clothing for a week. Truth be told, I could fit everything for a two week overseas trip in this bag (and did so for my first Greece trip), but you do really have to streamline and cram things in for a trip that long. Still, if you’re going to travel frequently, you need a bag of this size.

My carryon backpack is an 1800 cubic inch Victorinox backpack that I picked up for $30 on Sierra Trading Post, a great bargain-hunting website. It has multiple compartments, stretchy mesh water bottle holders on the sides, and many other great features for travel. It has served me well on many trips, and I’ve sometimes used it on weekend trips as my only bag. It’s no longer available from Sierra. but similar backpacks can be found at a similar price with a bit of shopping.

I recently picked up men’s and women’s (for Callie) REI Traverse backpacks of around 1800 cubic inches for $19 each. They were overstocks and aren’t available any longer at that price, but it’s not that hard to find similar bargain gear. I also picked up $55 hiking pants for $15, and a small pack that will hold noise-cancelling headphones/ipod/etc (and takes up less space than the case that came with my headphones) for next to nothing. Know the sorts of gear you could use, and watch those sales at REI, Sierra, and other places. There’s really no good reason to pay full price for travel or hiking gear.

When it comes to packing… your clothing will look much better (and it will take up much less space) if you get yourself a couple of Eagle Creek packing envelopes (or equivalent). If you take care to pack things properly, they’ll come out looking pretty good.

So, enough packing blogging for now. I’d much rather be doing some travel blogging — can you tell?

UPDATE: One final bargain-hunting tip… Be sure to set up a Fatwallet account and click through it to many of these sites when shopping or booking cars/rooms/etc (even Hotwire and Priceline). They give you a cash back kickback that can start to add up over time, plus the Fatwallet reader forums are a great source for online coupons.

A few Prague photos posted

In mid-December, Callie and I spent a few days in Prague with our friend Ethan.

I’ve finally posted some of the photos here.

Prague was well worth visiting, and surprisingly affordable for Europe. Highlights included:

  • A visit to the Orthodox Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, where the assassins of Reinhard Heydrich hid out and then took their own lives rather than perish at the hands of the Nazis.
  • An exhibit put on by the Vaclav Havel Library near the Kafka Museum.
  • We spent hours there, pretty much to ourselves.

  • Wenceslas Square, where the Velvet Revolution culminated
  • The Old Town
  • The Castle
  • Czech ghoulash and beers at some hole-in-the-wall pub on the way down from the Castle (yum!)
  • Dinner on our last night at Maze, a Gordon Ramsay restaurant that was fantastic.

We stayed at the Hotel Metropol, which was smallish but suited our needs perfectly (right down to the complimentary high speed internet). We splurged on a ride to/from the airport — the young lady (Alena) with this service did a great job, so give her a shout if you’re hitting the Prague airport.

I would definitely hit Prague again, although preferably sans the cold I came down with towards the end.