Wednesday, October 31, 2012

British Airways or American Airlines Messed Up Avios

I'm not sure who's fault this is, but something is broken.  American Airlines is listing first class on a CRJ-700, a two cabin airplane, as first.  British Airways' Avios is charging it as first class on a three cabin airplane.  This award should be priced at the business class rate and be 1/3 cheaper (18,000 miles rather than 27,000).  One or the other is messing up and destroying the value of the Avios program.  Since I need to blame someone for my unnecessary frustration, I'll say it is BA's fault for not pricing awards correctly.
British Airways Pricing American Awards Too High

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

SAS - Timeless

Scandinavian Air Service (SAS) shares the region's values, including the importance of design continuity.  I snapped a picture when boarding of their design statement next to the door of the plane.  Pretty cool thought.  (it was a 20+ year old MD-88, so there were other design continuity aspects to the flight)
SAS - We'll Try to be Timeless

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Helsinki – Munich – Tokyo Lufthansa Business Class A340-600 and A320 Review

After an enlightening conversation about customer experience management, I was heading from Helsinki to Munich and then off to Tokyo.  Lufthansa recently implemented a new strategy to upgrade the intra-European flight experience, upgrading seats and meals in business class and coach.  The improvements are a stunning innovation in the inflight experience.  The seats are super slim line; the seat backs have been redesigned to create more room for your knees.  The seats are comfortable too, at least for the two hour flight.  The rows are actually closer together than before (with one or two more rows on board), but it feels like there is more space in the cabin. The business class seats are the same as coach in size in pitch (distance to the row in front), but you have an empty middle seat every time (the flight wasn't full, so I had an empty row).
Lufthansa A320 Business Class Seats
Everyone gets something to eat, even in coach.  Lunch in business class was really tasty and had a great variety of flavors.  The portions were not large, but it felt more filling and satisfying that the standard large United offering.  The meal consisted of tatar of smoked trout on beetroot slices, ragout fin with mussels and basmati vegetable rice, and lime-blossom pudding with mulberry jam (yes, they included a menu).  All were delicious and accompanied by attentive service.  I doubt these are much more expensive or more difficult to prepare than domestic meals and I wish United will follow Lufthansa’s lead.
Lufthansa A320 Business Class Meal
The Munich Airport ground experience (in the new international terminal) has a great visual design with a modern German look, but it also includes an excessive amount of walking.  I first had to walk to customs to leave the EU (there is an elite lane at the far end).  I then walked a bit to the Lufthansa Senator lounge.  I enjoyed some pleasant German snacks and some local beer.  The lounge is a great place to relax even if for only 15 minutes, like my travels for example (tight connection + excessive walking).  I grabbed an ice cream to go, did some duty free shopping (got a cool poster by of all the different planes that fly out of MUC), and arrived at the gate just in time for the start of boarding.
Lufthansa Senator Lounge - Munich
The seat map online showed the rear business class cabin only had four other people in it.  This is great news because the plane wouldn't feel crowded like on my flight from Denver.  I had open seats all around a sense of privacy.  I would be the last for dinner and drink service, so I risked some options not being available, but I think it is worth it for the secluded environment.  
Quiet family on other side of cabin and many open seats
The business class seats (ditto first class) on Lufthansa's fleet of A340's and A330's are dated. So much so that Lufthansa has started to slowly replace them.  I was not fortunate enough to fly in the new layout, but instead became very familiar with angled lay flat seats.  They can be a comfortable chair, but they are awful as a bed.  The seats are a little too firm and are at a ~30 degree to the floor, so you slide out of them.  The tv is a good size and full of movies and shows you actually want to watch (it did break for about 20 minutes, the seat controls are on the same system and were inoperable).  Luckily Lufthansa's service is superb, so the flight was enjoyable.
Lufthansa A340-600 Business Class Seats
Lufthansa A340 Business Class Leg Room
Broken AVOD Screen, the Seat Controls Also Froze
I wanted to start my transition to an Eastern mentality on the flight and (daringly) ordered the Japanese meal to start.  The flight attendants brought me a fork too, I didn't even need to ask.  When the tray arrived I felt a little perplexed with what was in front of me.  I must have looked perplexed too because the flight attendant offered to explain what was before me and how it worked.  I also got a few pretzel rolls (and more Johnny Walker Black) just in case.  The meal was very tasty and there were some new flavors and textures for me.  The eel (upper left) was outstanding.
Lufthansa Business Class Japanese Meal pt 1
After reading the menu to know what I just ate (best done after eating Japanese food, not before), I was looking forward to my next course.  I was hoping to have the Western meal for my main dish, but was told I couldn't switch half way. I was a little disappointed that this wasn't mentioned when ordering, but resigned to a fate of further adventure.  I wasn't keen on the soup, but the fried duck and rice were excellent.  I went farther outside my comfort zone than planned and enjoyed the experience.  
Lufthansa Business Class Japanese Dinner pt 2
After a movie and less than comfortable rest, I opted for the Western breakfast before landing.  It was all very good and my last safe meal (or so I thought) before I landed in LA three days later.  
Lufthansa Business Class Western Breakfast
Once I landed and cleared customs, I headed to buy a ticket for the Narita Express train.  Cabs are crazy expensive, so the train is the way to go.
Narita Express Train

Thursday, October 25, 2012

IDine & Other Miles for Dining Programs

Miles for nothing, that's the goal, right?  Well that doesn't exist, but there are many ways to earn miles for no marginal cost.  Mileage dinning programs are ones way to pick up miles without spending more.  Just sign up for the program(s) of your choice (see links below), register your credit cards and you are set.  When dinning at a participating restaurant, you earn about 3 miles for every dollar spent.  The miles post a few weeks after your visit; no work required on your end after signing up. I use programs for airlines I don't earn miles in frequently to have another way to reset the miles' expiry date.  You might be able to grab 1,000 bonus miles for joining too.

American Express (Earn Amex Gift Cards) Dinning Program

United Airlines Dinning Program

US Airways Dinning Program

American Airlines Dinning Program

Delta Dinning Program

Alaska Airlines Dinning Program

Priority Club Dinning Program
American and United Jets at DEN

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Almost At 1K Status

Just need more more flight to post and I hit 1K status!
So Close!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Follow Lufthansa Cargo

I follow Lufthansa Cargo on Facebook and recommend you do too.  They regularly post interesting videos, pictures, and insights, like this time lapse video of FRA.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

United Express ERJ-145 Seat 2A

What's the best seat on a United Express ERJ-145 or ERJ-135?  The pilot's seat.  For the rest of us, all the #A seats are the same, so I went with 2A and liked it.  You might get more leg room in row 12 with the exit row, especially in seats B and C, but it still feels cramped and it takes a long time to deplane.  I like the ERJ-145 better than the CRJ-200 for 50 seat jets, but both feel too small.
Seat 2A on United Express ERJ-145

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fun Coca-Cola Can on United Flight to ORD

Look what I found on my flight from Denver to Chicago!
Israeli Coca-Cola Can

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Austrian Airlines Bag Size Enforcement

It's a busy week with just about everything in grad school and work due, so here is a quick thought.  Austrian Airlines sizes all the roller bags before the security check.  Too big, turn around and check it.  If it fits, it is tagged as "Cabin Approved Baggage" and you proceed.  I like this system and think it should be used by US airlines (I say this confident my bag will fit).
Austrian Airlines Bag Sizer

Friday, October 12, 2012

Three Perfect Days in Helsinki Finland + Crowne Plaza Helsinki Review

United Airlines' Hemispheres magazine (best in-flight magazine I've read) has a feature called Three Perfect Days that gives travel advice for three days in a given city.  It provides valuable insights and is a fun read, but they haven't covered Helsinki, so allow me to fill the void.  
Hakasalmenpuisto Park, Helsinki
I don't know anyone in Finland and did very limited research, but was still able to have a great time and see everything I wanted to see.  My first stop in Helsinki was the tourist desk at the airport (ground level, terminal 2) to buy a Helsinki Card.  This card is a tourist's dream, it provides free public transit, maps, sightseeing ideas, and discounted or free admission to every museum in town (I've had great experiences with this idea in Lisbon, Vienna, Budapest, and Copenhagen too).  It also helps me see more when I travel, if the museum is free, why not drop in, even if only for a few minutes.  The lowered inhibitions might be the best value; the excellent map is a close second.
Cool Designs in Helsinki
From the airport, I took the Finnair City Bus to my hotel, the Crowne Plaza Helsinki.  I used points to pay for the room and confirmed with the hotel that my Platinum status would be honored when paying with points (not a guarantee with Priority Club).  I was upgraded to a club floor and got free internet for my stay.  The club floor room was a decent size and I was able to spread out and relax; good bathroom too (never a sure thing in older EU hotels).  The club lounge had cold cuts for breakfast (it's a Scandinavian thing) and light snacks in the evening.  The fridge was stocked with water, Coke, and a few beers, available any time.  All around it's a nice lounge (and not spending on breakfast really stretches a travel budget).  I was the only tourist in the lounge and stood out a lot, but I had a vacation mindset and didn't care.
Crowne Plaza Hotel Helsinki Executive King Room
Crowne Plaza Helsinki Hotel
Helsinki is the World Design Capital for 2012.  This is a rotating title to promote local outstanding design; there were various displays around town and at the airport promoting Finnish design.  The award may be temporary, but design is a strong part of the culture.  There are many stunning buildings and art pieces around town and two museums dedicated to design.  It's something best experienced.
Cool Helsinki Building #1
Helsinki Is Very Relaxing
Cool Helsinki Building #2 of Many
Helsinki is a small and walkable city, but they have a terrific tram system, so you don't have to walk very far. Most sights and museums are close to a tram stop.  The Culture Tram is a sight on its own.  Each week, a different cultural display or activity is featured.  There have been opera singers, sting quartets, and a boring thing about media coverage of the poor in Africa (what I saw).
Helsinki Culture Tram - Different Theme Each Week
Helsinki City Streets
After waking up early on my first morning in Helsinki (remember to close the curtains), I headed over to the Suomenlinna sea fortress.  A ferry goes from the top of the harbor to the fortress two or three times an hour and it is covered under public transit, so no need for an extra ticket.  Suomenlinna was built as a harbor defense for Helsinki and was the primary military base in the area.  It did not do well in the Crimean War, but is wonderful to visit now.  There are many museums, tours, and things to see and climb on (all free with the Helsinki Card).  I spent over five hours exploring the islands.  By far my favorite stop on my vacation.
Suomenlinna From The Sea
Suomenlinna Fortifications
Suomenlinna Earth Works
Russia Guns from the 1880's at Suomenlinna
Suomenlinna Gunner's View of Sea Lanes
Finland's Partner in the Continuation War
Suomenlinna Military Museum
WWII Finnish Submarine
Finnish Naval Building on Suomenlinna
It was raining on my second day, so I took a free bus tour (thank you Helsinki Card). It did a decent job of showing the city, explaining the history, and finding some sights that are difficult to locate on the tram system.  It ended by the central square in town and I hit the pavement to see a few more museums. The Bank of Finland museum was fun, in a nerdy finance way.  The Military Museum of Finland was an interesting continuation of what I learned about on Suomenlinna too.  The modern art museum has a great building and a full size police car that an artist knitted together, but the rest was a little too out there for my tastes.
Main Church in Town, Boring on the Inside
Knitted Police Car at Helsinki Modern Art Museum
Helsinki Train Station, Cool Outside, Drab Inside
Cool Bench Celebrating Helsinki's 200th Birthday
Statue to a Composer
Bank of Finland, Damage From WWII Soviet Bombing
I spent my third day relaxing before my flight. I woke up early (not intentionally) and took the ferry out to Suomenlinna and back just to enjoy the water.  I headed back to the hotel, but took a detour and wandered around the lake and park next to the hotel, very tranquil.  I arrived at the Helsinki Airport early so I could discuss customer experience management with their CEM manager.  Then I hit the lounge, did some duty free shopping, and hopped a flight to Munich.  I wouldn't say I had three perfect days in Helsinki, but it was close.

Russian Orthodox Churches Are Interesting
Fun Tapas Bar

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Two Little Things to Improve Frustrating Travel

If you improve a few little things, travel becomes much more relaxing.  I travel with a power strip that has 3 outlets and two USB chargers.  There are never enough outlets, so make some more, the person using the outlet won't mind if you unplug them for a few seconds, but ask first.  I also have some ear plugs on me.  I can't sleep with my Bose QC15's on, but 10 cent earplugs work great.  Travelling prepared to deal with regular nuisances can make trips go smoother, even if you are stuck in EWR an extra two hours because it rained for 15 minutes like I was last week.
A few little things can make a world of difference

Monday, October 8, 2012

United Airlines First Class 737 Review

The United and Continental merger is complete and the fleets have been nicely scattered around, so you have a good chance of flying on a former Continental 737 (United was an Airbus fan, the merged airline is going 737 for new planes).  These planes will also be staffed by Continental crews, some of the friendliest and most professional in the US.  Here is an overview of what to expect (bold text is from followed by some color commentary).

Onboard amenities
United 737 First Class Seat
Extra-wide leather seats with expanded legroom – The seat is the one thing you can count on.  It’s not as comfortable as the United seats, but still nice and easy to relax in. 
Complimentary blankets available onboard for use during your flight – You have to ask and they might not be available.  Pretty scratchy too, the old united ones were better.  No pillows any more, I bring my own for overnight flights.
United 737 First Class Seat Reclined
Meals and beverages

Pre-departure beverage service – Time permitting and if the flight attendants want to.  Most times they do and take a drink order.
Complimentary beer, wine, spirits, soft drinks and freshly brewed coffee – The new United coffee is miserable, it is undrinkable unless you drop a bottle of Bailey’s in it.  Luckily, they have Bailey’s and are more than happy to mix it in your coffee.  Good selection, same items as in coach, of free drinks.  The mixer/specialty drinks, like the Mojito, are not free though.
Hot towel service – Nice way to freshen up once in the air.
Meal service on flights longer than two hours – The 737 breakfast is great, usually a tasty omelet or egg mcmuffin.  They also have warm cinnamon buns too.  Lunch and dinner is usually a wrap or salad choice.  Both come with tasty soup and a fresh baked cookie.  The food quality is improving, but consistency is not.  Here is breakfast lunch and dinner reviewless than flattering meal review and here is a flattering review.

View additional meal and beverages information
Leg Room in United 737 First Class

Audio entertainment with complimentary headsets provided on aircraft equipped with in-flight entertainment – Not every 737 has inflight entertainment.  A few new airplanes were ordered without any entertainment at all.  I flew one 737 with the new Boeing Sky Interior, but no tv or audio to keep me busy. 
Complimentary DIRECTV® on equipped aircraft – Free if they have it, but it’s not a sure thing.
Complimentary movies on all flights three hours or longer – If there is no DirectTV, but a monitor in the aisle, then you get a free movie.  If there is DirectTV, then you have free access to the system anyway.
A complimentary copy of Hemispheres magazine – Good magazine to flip though, but don’t feel too special, every seat has a copy.
United 737
Airport arrival and departure

Premier AccessSM check-in, baggage handling, boarding and security lines (where available) – Short lines abound for first class flyers.  Two free checked bags too.  No free United Club access for North American first class flyers though.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

JP Morgan Palladium Card Disappointment: 2012 Hotel Guide

A small envelope from JP Morgan was in my mail box today.  This is always an exciting proposition; the last card like this I received was an invitation to a series of receptions at Christie’s in New York.  I opened the card (heavy card stock naturally) to find that it was a link to the 2012 Destination Guide that lists hotels that give preferential treatment to card members that book through the JP Morgan Palladium Card concierge.  This is a serious disappointment.  Last year they sent out a hard cover book, a 26MB pdf is hardly a reasonable replacement.  This rather unimaginative and pedestrian action leaves me feeling disappointed.  Not the customer experience they should be creating.  The annual fee on this card should be enough to cover the printing costs.  I hope JP Morgan doesn't devalue the card experience further or it might not be worth renewing (my card renews in January and it wasn't on my mind until today).
JP Morgan Palladium Card Hotel Guides 2011 (Left) & 2012 (Right)