Podcast #149 — Dining Single; Airlines Need To Tell Us More

Not Looking Friendly for a Solo Diner

I dusted off the mobile rig to record this episode in Happy Valley, the home of Penn State. And I am kinda happy with some travel to Phoenix and Florida to thaw me out after Chicago’s run in with the polar vortex. In this episode, I talk about budget airlines, stepping down in Hertz status, why I bought physical guidebooks for a trip to France, the challenges of being a solo diner, and then dig into the archives for a classic travel story. 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 #148 — Travel Potpourri for $200, Alex

Tough travel day when the deicing fluid freezes

Flying home into the teeth of the polar vortex that gave Chicago its coldest day since January 1985 took a bit of flight changing strategy and some incredibly dedicated United ramp workers. I get on-trend by “Kondo-ing” my old suitcases, worry about visiting Sweden as it rapidly goes cashless, and gather up some odds-‘n’-ends from travel notebook into a Jeopardy-like topic “Travel Potpourri”. 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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Road Trip — Lowbrow Santa Fe

In Search of a Killer Margarita

We stopped for a moment to catch our breath and figure out how much longer to the top of the Atalaya Mountain Trail. Yesterday, before we flew out to Santa Fe, we were at 700 ft above sea level. After 90 minutes of walking, I guessed we were at 8,000 ft and had another 1,100 ft to get to the top. Between the altitude and the snow on the trail from the night before, this hike was taking longer than we’d planned. I looked at my watch and told Irene, “If you want to hit the Black Friday artisan market, we need to head back now.” She took another breath. “Nope, we’re heading to the top.”

Forty minutes later, we stood on a rocky ledge looking down over Santa Fe with a group of Argentinians who’d passed us 10 minutes before. We took the obligatory selfie and sat down on the rocks to take in the view. The breakfast cook/owner of our B&B had sold us on this trail. We cursed him on the way up when we slid through the snow and struggled to find the trail markings. But now, looking out over Santa Fe National Forest to the horizon line of a cloudless blue sky, we took those words back.

Santa Fe visits can go highbrow — the Georgia O’Keefe museum and a run up Canyon Road through all the art galleries — or lowbrow — hiking up mountain trails and hunting the best green chile cheeseburger. This trip was all lowbrow. Click Here To Keep Reading “Road Trip — Lowbrow Santa Fe”

Podcast #147 — Holiday Travel Tips; Notes from Santa Fe

I won’t pass for an emotional support reindeer

Trying to wrap up travel for the year so I can hunker down in the TravelCommons bunker outside of Chicago and not worry about any forecasted snow. But for those of you who are traveling, here’s an episode to keep you occupied in the airport, train, or car traffic. We talk about some travel tips that didn’t make my Top 10 Tips blog post, the great experience of flying on Thanksgiving day, losing my tablet on that flight but soon recovering it, storming Las Vegas with 50,000 other Amazon Web Services users, and some thoughts from our trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. 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

I Think That’s the Uber Pick-Up Spot

It seems that the snow and cold temperatures settled into the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere a bit earlier than last year. With the crush of Christmas/New Years travel starting in a few weeks, here are the TravelCommons’ top holiday travel tips to get you started early on your travel prep…

  1. Fly Non-Stop — It’s obvious because it’s the cardinal rule of air travel. Holiday travel stacks up problems —  high passenger load factors combined with winter weather disruptions almost guarantees late arrivals and missed connections. Even if you’re connecting through Houston, an intermediate stop adds one more point of failure, one more opportunity for the airlines to screw up. Pay the extra $100 for a non-stop flight.
  2. Sign Up for TSA PreCheck — Gift yourself and spend the $85 on 5 years of time and hassle reduction.
  3. Skip the Tight Connection —  If you can’t fly non-stop, step away from any connection that’s less than 60 minutes.  Yes, we usually want to get to our destination in the shortest possible time, but accepting a connection of 1 hour or less…. Think about it – a 15-minute delay on your flight into a big hub like Chicago or Denver or Detroit (as good as on-time in the winter for most airlines) and you’re sprinting across terminals and concourses just to beat the closing door.  A 1-hr connection is just asking for a stress attack and/or an overnight stay at the airport branch of the Bates Motel.
  4. 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 rarely hit a delay on the first flight out.
  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. 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 notices that were never sent out. So I also use TripIt, FlightAware, and FlightStats. It means multiple notices, but it also means I don’t miss anything.
  7. Bring a Battery Pack — Whatever the size or form factor — slimline, lipstick, high-capacity brick — having that second or third charge readily available is critical to get last-minute gate change notifications and when you’re using electronic boarding passes. It saves you from stalking cleaning crews to find a live power outlet on your layover, or negotiating with your seatmate for possession of outlet between you. It’s cheap peace of mind.
  8. 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 4 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.
  9. Spread Clothes Across All Bags — If you need to check your bags — maybe you have to bring pre-wrapped gifts or a special bottle of wine for Christmas dinner —  split everyone’s clothes across all the bags. It’s rare for an airline to lose all of your checked bags.
  10. 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 Allentown?  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.

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.

Podcast #146 — Rental Demolition Derby; Traveler Gift Guide

But I filled up the tank

Getting this posted just in time to give you something to listen to while jammed up in Thanksgiving traffic, be it on the road or in the airports. We talk about working the angles to maximize credit card benefits, which leads me to one more story from my fall trip to Europe — a rental car scrape that my Chase Visa card just paid off. We also talk about the Wall Street Journal’s new ranking of US airports and compare it to Skytrax’s international rankings. And we wrap up with my Christmas gift suggestions for the frequent traveler on your list.  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 #145 — Restaurant Karma; Hotel Breakfasts

How Much Extra For A Plate?

Just regular domestic business travel since the last podcast, trying to dodge Hurricane Florence to get back to Charlottesville.  Thinking back to last month’s European travels, we talk about a tight connection through Amsterdam and some odd concierge lounge rules, which gets me thinking about hotel breakfasts. And a listener request for restaurant recommendations gets me thinking about the balance of visiting good and not-so-good restaurant towns. 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 #144 — Outside Airports; Hospitality Mentality


Back in front of the mic after 12 days of skipping across northern Europe — Copenhagen, Brussels, and Scotland. In this episode, we get nostalgic about outside airports in California, talk about how a hospitality mentality is pervasive in hotels but not in restaurants, missing customer service responses from United Airlines and Marriott, and European perspectives about Chicago.  All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Click Here To Read The Detailed Show Notes