Podcast #113 — 2014 was a Bad Year to Fly; Restaurant Trends Go Local

Authentically lacking seating

Authentically lacking seating…

Can frequent travelers just write off 2014? We all knew we were abused by the airlines with high prices and lousy service. I guess it’s somewhat comforting to know that analysis of 2014’s data proves us right. I’m not sure there’s much more we can do than enjoy the little things and hope 2015 is better. Once we get to where we’re going, the restaurant food has gotten a lot better and with trends toward local sourcing and flavors, a lot more interesting.  We also talk about a couple pieces of hotel industry news — hoping that IHG’s acquisition of Kimpton doesn’t screw up the “anti-chain”, and continued puzzlement as to why Marriott wanted to block your WiFi hot spots. You can listen to all this and more using the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking below.

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Travel Tips — Holiday Airport Etiquette

Don't rub it in that you're going some place warm for Christmas

Don’t rub it in that you’re going some place warm for Christmas

Coming into the holiday travel season, every travel news outlet publishes their top travel tips. Rather than repeat the typical “pack light” and “give yourself extra time” nostrums, I decided to create an advice list of what’s really the problem during holiday travel — airport etiquette.

The challenge of holiday travel isn’t necessarily the crowds; it’s the crowds of what some road warriors might call “clueless” travelers. I think “amateur” is certainly a more charitable and probably more accurate term. So for those amateur travelers or for those who’ve been off the road for a bit and need a refresher, here’s a list of etiquette tips that some holiday time reinforcement…

  • Let’s start at the front of the airport with the security line. The TSA is pushing PreCheck. You may get it on your boarding pass or a TSA person may randomly pull you out of the regular line and route you to the PreCheck line. It’s your lucky day! Don’t spoil it, though, by not knowing the PreCheck rules. Put your phone away and read the signs — don’t take off your shoes, don’t pull your liquids out, keep your jacket on, …. Read the signs and don’t slow it down for everyone else.
  • If getting to your gate involves a moving platform or an escalator, stand to the right because people are walking — usually quickly — on the left. Traveling with others, you’ll naturally want to stand abreast, but then you’re blocking everyone else. Don’t do it unless you want to get run over.
  • When you hit the airport Starbucks for your pre-flight coffee, remember that this isn’t your neighborhood Starbucks run by friendly Starbucks-trained baristas. It’s run by Sodexo which doesn’t care quite as much about coffee training. And they’re not quite as efficient. And there are usually a lot of people behind you in line. Keep your order to 3 adjectives or less. Tall skim latte is good. The half-decaf 3-pump no-foam vente vanilla latte — not so much.
  • While queuing at the gate, don’t try to cheat on the boarding. Everyone’s looking at each others boarding passes, and airlines are telling their agents to get more strict. On almost every flight, I’ve seen the boarding agent direct someone over to the wall of shame to wait for their boarding group to be called. Don’t embarrass your family. Wait your turn.
  • And if you’re using an electronic boarding pass on your smartphone, turn off auto-rotate. If you don’t, odds are that your screen will start oscillating between portrait and landscape while you’re trying to get it on the electronic reader. You’ll delay the boarding line and quickly earn the enmity of your seatmates — even before you sit shoulder-to-shoulder with them for 2-4 hours.
  • And finally, and this is a big one, don’t put your small bag in the overhead. I don’t care if you checked a bag. Don’t be that person who puts a purse or a briefcase in the overhead. Show a little holiday spirit — put ‘em under the seat in front of you and leave space for one more roller board for the poor urchins in Groups 3, 4 or 5. When that person’s bag doesn’t get dropped on a tight connection through DFW, and they’re able to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner in something other than day-old sweats, they’ll thank you.
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Podcast #112 — Holiday Airport Etiquette; Travel Tax Pile-Up

That's Gonna Make for a Long Walk

Need More Taxes To Fix This

Here’s a new episode to keep you occupied if you’re stuck in a line somewhere while traveling Thanksgiving week. There are tips for the non-frequent traveler on how to avoid major airport faux pas and a review of how travel taxes will soak you when you get to your destination. We also talk about a high-tech suitcase that’s blown through its Indiegogo funding campaign, hackers emptying out Hilton Honors accounts, and an overseas WiFi session that emptied out someone’s wallet.  You can listen to all this and more using the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below. 

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Podcast #111 — Seatback Recline Wars; Craft Beer Tourism

Just a little snug for the next 14 hours...

It’ll be a bit snug for the next 14 hours…

I tried to hold back, but I just couldn’t. I have to finally weigh in on the seatback recline wars. I’m stunned at the number of people who convert a couple of inches of seat movement into some sort of Manichean morality play. From that you can probably guess where I come out on this. On a much lighter side, I talk about finally taking Atlanta’s MARTA subway from the airport and tagging on some beer hunting to some Midwest business travel. All this and more  at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below. 
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Podcast #110 — Regional Jets Ruining My Life; Visa Hassles

Plane is here; no mechanics in sight. Do I feel lucky?

Plane is here; no mechanics in sight. Do I feel lucky?

Even though the weather hasn’t been bad this summer, I’ve endured a rash of flight cancellations. Digging deeper, it’s been regional jets operated by small airline “partners” that’s causing me grief. Service to mid-sized cities has moved to regional jets, making travel to these cities more problematic. Traveling to China or India can catch US travelers by surprise with their visa requirements. We also talk about how fast airlines respond to Twitter messages, airport “wall huggers”, carry-on luggage throwback, and I haven’t flipped through a Skymall magazine in months. All this and more  at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below. 

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Podcast #109 — ‘Round the World in 8 Days; Beijing Mass Transit

I confess... I'm carrying a concealed Totes

Yes, I’m carrying a concealed Totes

Just when I’d reset my body clock after a trip to Beijing, I headed off for an 8-day around-the-world itinerary. It was 44 hours of flight time, setting a new personal record for stupid travel. I learned a few new things along the way — Singapore Air flight attendants get grumpy when you don’t let them serve you, and Manila Airport considers a Totes umbrella as lethal as a box cutter.  We also talk about the reason Beijing has scored second to last in taxi service, the difference between United and Delta Twitter service, the secret to buying Bose headphones, and my switch from an iPhone to Android. All this and more  at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below. 

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Podcast #108 — Worst Travel Experiences Ever

Please, make it stop!

Please, make it stop!

We look back on a brutal travel winter with stories about how driving instead of flying probably wasn’t the best idea, and a completely awful United flight that ended up with a drive — but not by choice. I also talk about my recent trip to Beijing, China and my plans for a round-the-world-in-8-days itinerary to India and Manila.  All this and more  at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below. » Read more…

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Podcast #107 — Serious About Hotel Reviews; TSA Gets Something Right!

Another Monday, another plane…

Brushing aside the cobwebs to make my way back into the TravelCommons studios, we talk about the growing importance of TripAdvisor hotel reviews and the checklist I walk through when writing a review. I also continue to gush about the TSA’s PreCheck program, even if this autumn’s rapid expansion seems a bit rough-&-ready at times. A listener lists out the critical travel apps on his Android smartphone and I talk about being stalked by an airline on Twitter.  All this and more  at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Top 10 Holiday Travel Tips

Tough travel day when the deicing fluid freezes

Tough travel day when the deicing fluid freezes

Snow, ice, and cold temperatures have hit North America a lot earlier this year. With the crush of Christmas/New Years travel starting this weekend, here’s the TravelCommons’ top holiday travel tips…

  1. Fly Direct — This is the top tip every time I put this list together. Holiday travel stacks up problems —  high passenger load factors combined with winter weather disruptions almost guarantees late arrivals and missed connections. Pay the extra $100 for a direct flight.
  2. Skip the Tight Connection — If you can’t fly direct, give yourself enough time to survive a late inbound flight. Take the 90- or 120-minute connection. Worst case is you get to try some great Mexican food in O’Hare or barbecue in Memphis.
  3. Catch the Early Flight – Delays stack up as the day wears on.  As your airplane goes from airport to airport, the probability of it getting stuck increases.  Overnight, airlines have a chance to recover – late planes finally get their destinations and operations groups can reassign planes.  So while the last flight out can be a crap shoot, I’ve rarely hit a delay on the first flight out.
  4. Use Multiple Flight Tracking Apps — Use your smartphone to keep track of gate changes and flight delays. Sign up for text notifications from your airline when you book your ticket. However,  I’ve often experienced long delays with the airlines’ services or changes that were never sent out. So I also use TripIt, WorldMate, and FlightAware. It means multiple notices, but it also means I don’t miss anything.
  5. Use Twitter as a Concierge Service — Most airlines have social media teams monitoring Twitter. Before you leave, find and follow your airline’s Twitter customer service account. “At naming” them in a Tweet (e.g., “@united what’s happening with UA 4286 MSY-ORD that it’s 1:45 hr delayed?”) usually gets a response in a couple of minutes. Following them allows you to exchange personal information such as record locator numbers via direct message (DM). It’s usually faster than queuing up for a frazzled gate agent and the results can be better.
  6. Carry On your Luggage — Unless you’re heading to the slopes for Christmas, everyone in your travel party should be able to fit into a carry-on sized bag. You can save $25/bag and increase the probability of having clean clothes at your destination. If you’re seating area 3 or higher, odds are there’s no overhead bin space for you. Let the agent gate-check the bag for you. You won’t have to pay a checked bag fee and it’s very unlikely that they’ll lose your bag – it’s only traveling a couple hundred feet from the jet bridge to the luggage hold.
  7. Spread Clothes Across All Bags — If you have to check your bags, split everyone’s clothes across all the bags. It’s rare for an airline to lose all of your checked bags.
  8. Buy Status for 1 Person — Airlines will sell you anything, including one-off access to the special security lines and early boarding calls normally earned by flying 25,000 miles. The airlines will tell you that everyone in your travel party needs to pony up for status. In practice though, if the lead adult’s boarding pass shows priority/premiere access, the overworked minimum-wage airport staffers guarding the status security lanes will let the family tag along. And at the gate, I’ve never seen a family split up across boarding groups.
  9. Know Your Geography – Knowing alternatives to your destination airport gives you more flexibility dealing with cancelled flights or missed connections. In New York, the LaGuardia to Newark pivot is easy, but others aren’t so obvious.  Everyone knows that Chicago has two airports – O’Hare and Midway.  But what about Milwaukee’s Mitchell Field 80 miles north?  If PHL is in trouble, how many folks think about Harrisburg or BWI?  Or Sacramento as an alternative to SFO?  I think about alternatives in two rings – within 60 miles – SNA and LGB for LAX; and then within 100-120 miles, which now picks up Palm Springs and San Diego for LAX.  Someone will drive a couple of hours to pick you up if it means getting you to Christmas dinner on time.
  10. But above all, be realistic  — It’s gonna be a zoo. Steel yourself; get your inner karma tuned for it. Pack a snack and a book, and practice deep cleansing breaths.
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Video – What to do in Madrid… in 180 Seconds

Here’s a 3-minute summary of what I liked best during my Spring 2013 visit to Madrid, Spain.

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Some of the places mentioned include

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