Southwest Airlines – Gripes Abound…q

Southwest Airlines

Seems like this is the season of griping about the airlines abilities to make things work.

Last night was the night to experience (with bewilderment) the inability of Southwest Airlines, otherwise lauded for its efficiency, to operate a working IT system.  Here is the situation that unrolled last night, and you be the judge

* over the last 9 months or so I have called the airline on numerous occasions due to the fact that every time i checked in and printed a boarding pass I would not get a tsa pre on the boarding pass.  So each time I would call the airline and diligently explain that yes, I have a global entry, give them my number, the airline agent would apologize profusely and promise that the number is now in the airline database….

* this time again the whole rigamarole repeated in exact same fashion – print –> no tsa pre –> call –> apologies –>….

* this time around though as if the hassle is not enough already, Murfy’s Law added a step – the agent updated supposedly my record but the new boarding pass did NOT show that –  so next had to call in again

* except now we got disconnected twice by the alsouthwest airlines system while in the middle of calls…and once when the airline automated system called us back when our turn was up.   The system called us and promptly disconnected us which meant we had to call back in and get us on the call back list again for the next time period…

So, after 5 or 6 calls I finally was able to print my correctly updated boarding pass….

I cannot wait for my next trip on Southwest Airlines !   This is such a precious experience …. NOT!!!

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Flight Frustrations on American Airlines

Flight Frustrations

Flight-SunsetSome flight frustrations are explained by bad weather or just purely unpredictable issues with planes or infrastructure.  Some, though are of just pure human nature – and those frustrate me the most…Read further and you will understand.

Earlier this week I flew from Austin to San Jose via Phoenix.  Over the last 1 year I have taken this set of flights / route many times.  The reason I decided to post this is because it finally dawned on me that the issues that I have observed on several occasions with how arrivals in Phoenix are handled are not isolated ones….They happen too often and have implications on the travelers…

Flying to Phoenix, the American flight had strong head winds.  The captain informed us (the passengers) of that even before we left Austin.  Due to the weather, we landed about 15-20 min late.  My connecting flight to San Jose originally had about 40-min buffer, so I thought “still good as I will have time to my connecting flight…”

Well, we landed, the pilot taxied quickly towards the gate and then we stood still about 20 yards from the gate…!  We had to wait to be marshaled in.

The gate was open – no plane

People with the right uniforms were walking around …and we just stood…

The time buffer till my next flight was melting away…

When we finally started moving towards the gate, my next flight was boarding…(according to my helpful AA iPhone App)

Long story short I had to run across the airport, as of course,  my connecting flight was at a gate quite a walk away – we landed at gate B17 (Phoenix Sky harbor) and were to take off from A24…. As a result I had a “nice” morning exercise and made it to the gate and boarded the plane with 9 minutes to spare to the time to push from the gate!

Now – why would it be the case with American to have the ground crew be so uncaring about the situation???

  1. surely they knew the plane was coming in late ( we knew we will be late based on the captain’s announcement the moment we left Austin)
  2. They saw the plane taxing to the gate once it landed…
  3. They must have known that there are people on board who are rushing to connecting flights…
  4. And on and on…

Only one way to explain this in my opinion – the ground crews operate at their own pace and don’t give much attention on the rest of the operation – and I am putting it in very moderated language – in other words they did not care…

Go figure … I hope one day they are seeing the same from the passenger view (if they travel)

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Trip to the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic

Well folks – we now have experiences and photo albums from the Caribbean, following the recent trip our family took to the Dominican Republic.  To be honest with you I had come across references to this island nation on multiple occasions but have never spent time enough to pay attention to its actual location in Central America / the Caribbean.

This Christmas the opportunity presented itself and off we went to Punta Cana

Spent a week and while there also did a couple of visits to tourist spots

  • The Marinarium – we heard a lot of mixed reviews, but overall for us the experience was not bad…
  • Saona Island – I think on this one – you just have to look at the photos and you be the judge…Enough said

Punta-Cana

Dominican-Republic-Punta-Cana

The Beach at Punta Cana, Dreams Palm Beach

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American Airlines Flight Delays and Airport Strangeness

Flight delays

Last week Texas experienced bad weather which contributed to awful travel conditions for all airlines in the area.  As a a result, based on what I have read in various news articles, American Airlines alone ended up canceling around 2600 flights due to the bad weather in the Dallas and Chicago areas. As you can imagine, large number of passengers were affected by the weather conditions with some experiencing horrendous flight delays taking days to get to their final destination

My family and I were caught only to a small extent in this situation.  We flew into Austin, TX on a flight from Miami FL. The plane actually landed in Austin on time (around 11:50pm) and this is where our ordeal started.  Right after landing, the plane captain informed us that around 16-17 planes have been diverted from DFW to Austin due to the bad weather and as a result the queue for gates was extremely long – per the captain some planes were in a wait state for 5-6 hours…

The prospect of spending 5-6 hours in the plane was obviously extremely bad – so majority of the passengers started calling around notifying friends and relatives.  At one point in time (may be an hour into the wait) some of us noticed that there were gates that had no planes on them….So the questions went to the captain via the flight attendants.  Come to find out those gates were not American’s but Southwest.   To our disappointment – the captain had to start negotiating for usage of those gates via American Airlines operations…

Eventually, about 2.5 hours into our wait we were notified that a gate is opening for us and by 3am (3 hours after landing) were disembarked the plane!!!

Later that day we learned that some passengers have had much worse experience – not being able to complete their journeys for 2-3 days following the weather flight disruptions.  Nevertheless, some big (in my opinion) questions remain:

  1. Given the congested status of the US air travel and the busy nature of most airports, why are the gates at airports assigned / purchased by the airlines in a static fashion and there is no provision for flexible use of the facility?
  2. Why is Austin airport incapable to react faster to bad weather conditions and bring more airport personnel to service the large volume of traffic in these extreme circumstances?   The bad weather that had hit Dallas was well understood in Austin hours ahead of the time we landed – there was certainly plenty of time for the Austin airport operations team to notify and request help, additional ground crews…
  3. Who is really looking out for the well being of the air travel passengers?   Under what conditions is it acceptable to have passengers stranded on a plane for 3 plus hours with no food, etc..?

These are just some of the questions – but they generate many others that need to be addressed!

To give kudos to the crew of the Austin to Miami American Airlines flight in the evening of December 26th – they handled the bad situation well.  The flight attendants were very willing to listen to the complaints from the passengers on the plane, convey those to the captain, and offer drinks to the passengers in an effort to ease at least somewhat the bad situation.

If you have comments and want to amplify the issues above please use social media to do so…

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Long Haul Flights and How to Survive Them

Long Haul Flights – Necessary if You Want to See the World

Airplane-Engine-SunsetEvery so often I end up discussing air travel with friends.  Inevitably, some of them express the opinion “How do you do it…?” or “I cannot stand the long distance flights and being cooped up on a plane for many hours…”, “I cannot sleep…”, etc.

Well, if you want to see the world, and until the supersonic travel is re-introduced (yes, the Concord or its successor is yet to come back into operation), you will have to figure out a way to survive the long haul flights.   Here is a list of things you may consider doing while on the flight:

  • Stay hydrated:  This is very important – stay away from too much caffeine, and soda products as they will just cause you to get furthermore dehydrated.  The result of that will be most likely discomfort both during the flight as well as when you reach your destination;   Drink frequently water and/or juice – yes, do stay away from alcohol as well – as you probably know – it is also dehydrating;
  • Bring a pair of noise canceling headphones.   Those could be very important no matter whether you plan to sleep, watch a movie, listen to music, or just sleep…The noise canceling headphones will make all the difference in all these activities.  There are several types:
    • Over the ear – in my experience these are the most effective where audio quality is concerned.  However, again in my experience, on a long haul flight, you can get discomfort in your ears due to the headphone cans pressing on your ears
    • On-ear: These fit right on your years so they end up pressing less – good compromise if you cannot handle the over the ear ones for a long period of time;
    • In-ear: I like these – why?  Because they are small, easy to fit in your luggage especially if you want to travel light…and they act also as ear plugs to an extent.  So a good solution overall.


  • Bring a second battery for your laptop.  You may be in business class and have enough space to plug in your laptop in DC or AC power outlet on the plane.  Economy class on many long haul flights has DC power plugs, and even if you remembered to bring the DC to AC inverter, or a DC power supply for your laptop, you may find it tough to plug them in given the tight space in Economy…So a better solution, in my opinion, is to bring a second battery for your laptop.  This way, with today’s machines, you can have about 8 hours+ of operating time
  • Bring enough media with you – I usually carry a portable hard drive (usb connected one) or you can invest in low cost 128G Flash storage thumb drive.  Before the flight you could fill them up with:
    • Movies and/or TV shows
    • Pictures – you may be thinking of editing and organizing on your laptop
    • Music – to go with the enjoyment of photo editing…
    • Audio books

     

  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.  This can go a long way towards your comfort on the plane.  You do not want to be cold, or hot, or constricted while on the plane for many hours

All in all the list above should be helping you prepare well for your flight and may be even survive that 17-hour flight to Hong Kong !!!  Yes, it is a neat place to visit and experience so get ready and go…. Happy Travels!

Hong-Kong-From-Victoria-Peak   Hong Kong

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Beijing Pollution – Again…

Beijing Pollution – A Hassle for All

Beijing is a great city to visit and experience.  Having said that, the Beijing pollution can be really a problem – coming back from a business trip there, a couple of weeks ago, the environment was certainly not great.  But in a way, that situation was not as bad as it appears in the last few days.

Beijing Pollution Night-in-Beijing

Beijing Pollution China-Beijing-Evening

As you can tell from the photos, the smog is there just not as abundant as it appears to be per the news media articles here

Per the Guardian (article link above), residents are being told to stay indoors due to the high level of particulate matter…

Beijing-Pollution-China The pollution in Beijing is nothing new – my family and I lived there last time about 8 years ago and at the time there were days when the kids in my daughter’s school were not allowed out on recess due to particles count being too high….as it is now.

Then came the Olympics and other important international events, and each time the local government would shut down coal burning plants, force cars off the road….and take all sort of measures to reduce smog…

Now the Beijing Government is even pushing for adoption of the world’s strictest emission standards…I would say, that cannot happen soon and fast enough.  But hopefully it will eventually help.

Beijing-Pollution-ChinaUntil then, well, you need to plan your trips to Beijing and stays there carefully and avoid the winter months when smog is further exascerbated by the frequent fog conditions.

The US Embassy in Beijing provides air pollution monitoring and makes the readouts available to the public via their web site.

It is a very good idea to check out the reports on a regular basis – why?  they can help you plan your day and how to manage exposure…

Here is a link to their reports.

Like I said, Beijing is a great city to visit – lots to see and do – but do so with care.

 

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Kadikoy – a Day Trip from Istanbul

Kadikoy Day Trip

Kadikoy as I already mentioned in a previous posting earlier this week, is located on the Asian side of Istanbul.  It is an interesting place to visit for a number of reasons, but from a tourist standpoint, those reasons are mainly food and fun.  Istanbul is a huge city (I think the latest estimates have it close to 15-million residents?  not exactly sure), and it is a city that straddles two continents.  Think about it – when was the last time when you can have breakfast in Europe, walk to a ferry station and 4-Turkish lira later have brunch in a seaside cafe in Asia…

Welcome to Kadikoy!

Istanbul-FerryAs you guessed probably already, the trip to Kadikoy starts with a ferry ride.  Şehir Hatları and other ferry companies offer rides across the Bosphorus and make it to the Asian side.  The ride is cheap and of course it also offers great photo opportunities as you can tell from the many images I have on this blog to various sites seen from the water.

Istanbul-Ferry  Kadikoy-Istanbul  Ferry-boat-Bosphorus

Once you are in Kadikoy, there are many places, restaurants, cafes to enjoy.

Kadikoy-Istanbul

There are plenty of great shops selling Turkish delight, Halva, and other interesting and tasty sweets.

There are other markets – it appears Kadikoy is certainly famous for its markets – you want fish, you desire olives, yes, it is very likely you will find it here…

Kadikoy   Kadikoy  Kadikoy

The neighborhood streets are not easy to navigate – we could not find enough street signs in the back areas, so it will be good to have good bearings as to where you are headed to and of course prepare ahead of time.  One pointer – the main shopping areas is good to explore starting from the bull statue – see photo above – the intersection of six roads, among them, Bahariye Avenue, Söğütlü Çeşme Avenue, leading to the coast, and of course, the shopping corridor.

KadikoyIf you are looking for local arts people, you will need to find the street with the statue of Ali Suavi (see photo here), a unique monument to Ali Suavi – per my understanding from local guide – one of the first progressive Ottoman political figures.  Ali Suavi was apparently a thinker,teacher, theologian, and reformer, and an activist against the Ottoman sultan…hence a reformer.  At any rate, the street with his name has a bunch of eclectic stores and artisans offering various types of jewelry, and other crafts.

All in all, Kadikoy offers a nice addition to your travels around Istanbul.  It is worth the day trip and is certainly accessible within that one day.   Plan well and Enjoy!

Kadikoy

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Kadikoy – Istanbul – The Asia Side

Kadikoy – Istanbul

If you are visiting Istanbul, you will enjoy a hop on the ferry from one of the many terminals on the European side and crossing over to the Asia side of this cosmopolitan city. To reach Kadikoy we boarded a ferry from Beşiktaş – and even the ferry ride itself was very enjoyable as it allows you to see the city and many of its sites from a different vantage point.

Istanbul-Kadikoy

Kadikoy and its numerous cafes, restaurants, art shops, is considered by many as the cultural centre of the Anatolian side of Istanbul.  Enjoy!

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Qingdao Update

Qingdao – a nice place to visit, an interesting city with a mix of European and of course Chinese flare

Shandong-Qingdao

I have visited Qingdao on several occasions and each time there is something new to discover.  Here are a couple of postings from previous experiences.  This time around will add some more on several sites:

  • Qingdao Catholic Church:  This church has several names and I am not completely sure why that is the case, but it is being referred to as also the Zhejiang Road Catholic Church, as well as St.Michael’s Church.  Most often though it is being called simply the “Catholic Church” – after all it is a famous landmark of the city.  The church is a result of the strong German presence in the city and in Shandong province during the 19th and 20th centuries.  Apparently, having being damaged during the Cultural revolution, the building was restored in the 1980s – opened for religious services in 1981 (according to the local government) and has been opened to the public since 1999.

China-Qingdao-St.Michael's

The Church sits on top of a hill and is located at 15 Zhejiang Road – check it out.  Good to see and experience…

  • Tian Hou Dian TempleTian Hou Dian Temple: an old taoist temple located in the city within walking distance from multiple other places to see.   This temple is dedicated to the Goddess of Heaven – Ma Zu.  The temple has a figure of the Goddess (which supposedly originated from Fujian province around 960 A.D.)  – the figure has been carved from camphor tree;

Enjoy Qingdao and stay warm…!  More photos here

Shandong-Qingdao

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Liulichang Beijing

Liulichang – Often Visited but Still Interesting Site in Beijing

China-Beijing-Liulichang

Liulichang is a well known place in Beijing – today it is a mixture of private and state owned stores.   However, even if you do not purchase anything, it is an interesting place to see old Beijing…Here is a link from the Beijing Government….

Enjoy!

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