Tag Archives: air travel

United Airlines SFO – Shanghai PVG bad experience

United Airlines

Yesterday I took for may be 10th time the United Airlines flight from SFO to Shanghai Pudong. The flight has been serviced via a very aging Boeing 747 which is was old a year ago already.

The flight yesterday was rather disappointing. Here is why I say that: – the seats on the plane were obviously tired and rather uncomfortable
– since the plane does not have in-seat entertainment screens, you would have to either watch the TVs that are for all to share or watch on your own phone or tablet – there are two problems with that approach

A) the audio jack on my seat was busted…so no way to watch the shared programs unless you want to make up your own stories as you watch the "silent" movie…

B) the WiFi service was very intermittent-I tried to watch Game of Thrones….but the games ended up very choppy 🙂 The streaming kept pausing and starting- until I finally gave up

So why are we being kidded that there is a "convenient" service to select your own entertainment …? Yes you can do that by downloading your own movies from Netflix or Amazon Prime Video

So, to top this I had also a mishap with the butter during the breakfast service As you probably know – the trays get served
Hot with some meal – as a result the butter in the small container had melted and when I tried to open it, the content – liquid butter – poured all over my shirt! I was pretty unhappy!

Now – why would you put the butter on a hot tray? How can you possibly use that butter?

All this point to is sloppy service – I do not see another explanation…

So bad service, no entertainment, great way to spend 13 hours on the plane….!

Oh, oh, and to top this our flight was delayed by 1 hour… the plane just came late into SFO so we left at 3pm rather than 1:30 pm and even though the pilot tried we were still late…. why a long haul flight had a plane that was late to come in for its flight is a mystery to me…. bad planning ?

Don't know, but the net result was frustrating experience

One of the flight attendants told me this plane was being decommissioned in one month – for sure that is a positive step. Hope the hot trays and melted butter goes away too 🙂

By the way, I fly quite a bit on American as well – you can see my review of their business class to Europe, from a flight this summer…Hm…

Connecting Flights – How to Avoid Missing Your Flight

Connecting flights

In today’s world of hub and spoke air travel most of us are bound to get to our ultimate destination via at least one connecting flight.  Gone are the days of direct / non-stop flights even between major US airports.  In most cases you will have to ‘experience’ the pleasure (and in some cases) the frustration of going through one of the hubs for the airline you have chosen.   Additionally, you may have to rely on a connecting flight or two to get to your destination internationally.  The experience may turn out to be just fine and in some instances you may experience flight delays which ultimately may result in you missing your next / connecting flight.  What happens at that point in time may depend solely on how you have booked your flights — the end result being

  1. No hassle – smooth connections and on-time arrivals.   Of course, in that case, great! everyone is happy…enough said!
  2. Your initial flight is delayed causing you (and your travel companions) to rush madly through the airport in order to catch the connecting flight.  In many cases this scenario ends with a lot of anxiety, sore legs (from the run) and stories of how you were able to rush through a terminal or two in an Olympic runner fashion….Congratulations!  Good stories are half of the enjoyment of travel, right…
  3. If point 1 and 2 above are not you….Oh, sorry – the frustration, financial and time inconveniences may be a big deal here…What do I mean ?  Well, how you fare in case you missed your connecting flight will depend on how you booked your tickets.   So let’s talk about what you need to do in order to prevent the double negative of both missing a flight and potentially having to buy a new ticket
    1. Booking a multi-connection flight often involves flights on more than one airline.
    2. This is when the temptation is big to book the flights on the different airlines separately.   Ticket costs may be significantly lower in that case.  BUT, in most cases I will strongly advise against it.  Why?  Because you will have no protection in case your first flight is delayed and you miss your second /connecting one.
    3. Speaking from experience – you may have a flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Shanghai (PVG) and then from Shanghai to Shenzhen (both in China).  The connection time between your arrival in Shanghai and departure for Shenzhen is 3+ hours.   Well, I have missed the connecting flight at least once due to (a) delays in leaving LAX and head winds in route to Shanghai.  Then on top of that the immigration line in Shanghai was huge and long story short, I missed the connecting flight.  Luckily, my flights were connected at time of purchase and I purely lost time waiting for the next flight to Shenzhen.  On other occasions, I have booked my connecting 2nd flight separately and in that case you will most likely have to purchase another ticket!

So, with that in mind your best practice is to follow these guidelines (rule of thumb):

  • Book your multi-flight itinerary as one reservation – i.e. on partner airlines and via one of those airlines’ itinerary.
  • Make sure you have at least 45-minutes connection time — although often the airlines will book you with even 40-minute connection time.  In this case you risk only your time – the airline will have the responsibility to get you to your final destination since you booked the ticket with that connection via them
  • For international connections, again, book all legs of the trip via one itinerary / reservation – i.e. one airline arranging all the flights and ensuring the separate legs of the trip are connected.  This way you will ensure you are protected and even with a delay will get to your final destination.  Be aware even if the flights are on partner airlines but if they are booked separately you are at risk of losing a ticket if you miss your flight.
  • Check with your booking airline if there is enough time for your to clear security and customs checkpoints in the airports where you are making connections.  Many airports require you to clear security even after you disembark from one plane and before you board your next one even if you have not left the airport at all.  Tokyo’s Narita, London’s Heathrow among many all require you to clear security as you change terminals – i.e. you arrive from Dallas into Narita and are connecting let’s say to Bangkok or Beijing — you will have to clear security check between the two flights!  Therefore make sure you have plenty of time for that!
  • Finally, keep your cool, enjoy your travel and look at it all as a set of stories you will tell for many years to come 🙂  Happy Travels!

How Not To Annoy Others During While on a Plane

Recently Conde Nast Traveler published a good article / summary of the things to avoid doing while on a plane – i.e. how not to annoy your fellow passengers on a flight.   The list from that article is shown below and while it is pretty good – I am going to add to it and hopefully provide you with enough to be a good and friendly traveler in today’s cramped and fully booked flights.

Here is the list from Conde Nast Traveler:

  1. Don’t use the seats for balance as you walk down the aisle. Instead, use the overhead compartments. If you reach up and slide your hand along it, you’ll be able to catch yourself if there’s a sudden bout of turbulence. Every time you grab the corner of a seat, you create an earthquake, and if you’ve ever had someone do it to you while you’re nodding off, you know how annoying it is.
  2. Along those same lines, don’t use the seat in front of you to pull yourself up when going to the restroom. Use the arm rests to push yourself up, as grabbing and pulling on the back of a seat is on par with kicking it.
  3. Turn your bags back to front in the overhead. Time and time again, we watch people put their bags in sideways and take up the space of two. Don’t do that! It simply delays takeoff when the last people can’t find an open bin and the flight attendants have to go around turning the bags themselves.
  4. Look behind you before reclining. We know you have the right to recline, but sometimes, especially in smaller planes, we’ve wanted to knife the person sitting in front of us. If you’re on the tall side—say, 6’2″—you may have had situations where one minute you’re working on your laptop, and the next the laptop is under your chin; you couldn’t type a word comfortably even if you had Tyrannosaurus arms. Take a peek behind you and just make sure you’re not making someone more uncomfortable than the comfort those few extra inches will provide. That’s not too much to ask, right? By the way, if someone does it to you, all bets are off. We would feel no hesitation or guilt pushing on the seat to access the bag at our feet. We hate to say fight fire with fire, but sometimes it’s the only way.
  5. Don’t eat aromatic food. Notice how we didn’t say bad smelling food, as that leaves too much for interpretation. You might love the smell of tuna, but the other hundred people on the plane most likely do not. We had a man next to us eat canned octopus in garlic sauce once, and we spent the next three hours keeping the woman on our right from shoving the can down his throat.
  6. Introduce yourself to your seatmate. You have to walk a fine line with this one. We’ve all heard people complain about the passenger next to them who “wouldn’t shut up,” but at least say hi to your seatmate. We find most people are up for some conversation, and it can even turn into a pleasant back and forth. That said, feel it out and pick up on people’s signals. If they’re fiddling with their earphones, casually give them a chance to end the conversation. But, at the very least, make an effort during takeoff and landing. To us, it’s weirder to sit next to someone for three hours and not say a word than to introduce ourselves.
  7. Wait until the row in front of you deplanes before deplaning yourself. We’re not sure why there is so much confusion about this (cough, Europe!). It seems like it should be common sense (and common courtesy) yet inevitably, there always seems to be that guy who thinks he shouldn’t have to wait. We were once in the second-to-last row of the plane and had the man in the last row almost knock us over as we stood up from our aisle seat and stepped out. Needless to say, words were exchanged—it’s just plain rude. If you happen to have a tight connection, be nice and quietly ask permission to go ahead (there’s nothing worse than a panicking person screaming about a connection. It’s a rookie traveler mistake and no one takes you any more seriously whether you ask nicely or act like a knucklehead. In fact, it’s the people who are pushy we want to help the least).
  8. Don’t stand in the aisle when waiting for the bathroom. We know you have to go, but we really would rather you not stand over us while you wait. It’s already tight quarters, and hovering over someone sitting in an aisle seat doesn’t make it any better, not to mention that certain body parts tend to line up with our face. (This is also a common time for people to rest their hands on the back of seats.) Stay in your seat until there’s no line, or wait in the food galley until the person in front of you comes out. Thankfully, airlines have started to police this themselves and it doesn’t happen as often as it used to

Now, let’s enhance it – Here is the Travel.China-Finds.com add-ons

  • Do not stretch your legs out in the aisle while in your seat.  Yes, often it is very tempting to stretch given the tight space between seats….But think before you do this.  Others will trip while walking down the isle
  • Do not recline your seat suddenly – You are likely to crush a laptop (if one is on the tray table of the fellow passenger behind you.
  • Do not spend too long arranging your belongings while the others are boarding the plane.  Move into your seat and do that, but even if one of your legs is out in the isle – most likely everyone is stopped and waiting for you — those roll-aboard bags won’t be able to pass by you.
  • Do not put small bags in the overhead bins unless everyone has boarded and space available. If your small item fits beneath the seat in-front of you, please place the item there.  We all need to be mindful of the fact that overhead bin space is limited.

Hope this list will make you a better traveler and one that others appreciate traveling with.  Let me know with you comments on the topic….and safe travels.

Word of Caution for Travel and Security Checks at Chinese Airports

Recently I found that some of the Chinese airport security personnel have changed their view on what is allowed and what is not in your carry-on luggage. In the US you are aware that 3oz bottles of liquids are OK through security as long as you can place all the containers in the required Ziplock bag. Not so in China. At a recent flight from Xian to Shanghai I was asked to leave behind my hand sanitizer liquid (a 2 oz bottle). In the previous days and weeks I have flown through many airports (I had not been to Xian for at least 1 year) in China and my hand sanitizer gel has never been a problem. I use it frequently as a way to quickly wash hands before meals etc. and when you are in a rush for the next business meeting, it does come handy….

Well, the security folks at the Xian airport decided that it is flammable and dangerous liquid as it was alcohol based 🙂 –> I wonder why they allow all these cans of beer on the planes then 🙂 and confiscated it. I tried to have a conversation and ask WHY, but in the usual manner I was told “Shi Guiding” — “it is the rule” — nevermind, there was no rule that I was aware of (or any of the other airports like Shenzhen, Shanghai, Nanjing, that I fly through relatively frequently)…. Oh, well, live and learn.

So, for those of you who plan to travel next, you may want to keep your liquids in your checkin luggage (even if they are of the required size).

Happy travels!

More on Air Travel in China – Also an observation about what services and products support need to be

About a year ago I posted on some of my experiences with how Chinese airlines manage delays and overall information to passengers…Well, it seems that a boiling over point has been reached for travelers in China. Recent article posted by Reuters provides a view of the activism performed by those travelers — taking matter in their own hands, they decided to stay on-board the canceled flight…

I have been in some of those situations — not staying on the plane – but having a whole bunch of passengers surrounding the airline representatives and not letting them leave until they resolve the situation with the delayed or canceled flight.

For those of you who believe that in China, consumers are not demanding, think twice…. This is one of the most challenging markets, or rather China has become extremely challenging place for companies who fail to meet expectations of the Chinese consumer. This latest report is just one example of the extremes you may experience as a product or service provider in China.

Sure, there are airline delays and flight cancellations in many places around the world, but few are the cases where passengers have done the act of staying on-board the aircraft and demanding action by the airline, while at the same time being served by the flight attendants….Quite something.

All in all, this can be viewed also as a red flag to companies who are planning market entry into the Chinese market…

More troubles in Air Travel – First Cancelled Flights, then Missing Baggage Handlers

Well, if you are looking for worry and trouble free flights these days, think twice. On a recent flight from China (Shenzhen – Shanghai – Chicago) to Austin, Texas, I got to experience the challenges of air travel disconnects and issues. As you are most likely aware American Airlines had to cancel a whole bunch of flights in the US as they were serviced by the fleet’s grounded MD-80 aircraft.

As a result of those flight cancellations on my recent flight to the US, I looked into requesting a switch to a United flight from Chicago O’Hare to Austin airport. My initial reaction was “Score — I was able to get on the flight”, and be able to avoid staying the night in a hotel in Chicago. That was the 30 seconds of elation. Then the reality of the current flight conditions settled in. The United flight was initially delayed by 2 hours. Then, by the time we actually boarded the plane (after having to wait for a flight crew to arrive from another city) it was already 3, or 3+ hours delay. Well, you may say, “Whats the big deal — only 3 hours delay…” —- But that was not all. Once we boarded the plane the additional wait started. Come to find out (based on the plane captain’s update to us the passengers) — the baggage handlers had decided to go home. So after midnight the Chicago O’Hare airport was being served by a tiny crew of baggage handlers — statements were made to the effect of “Only 2 baggage handlers are servicing all the gates in this part of the airport. No, we do not know when they will get to our plane….”

The net effect was that we had to sit for a whole lot of time on the tarmac in the plane while someone had to load our bags in the plane. We (the passengers) could have done that. I am sure most of us wanted to get it done so we can get back home…..

Well, long story short, eventually the baggage handlers showed up, and eventually we were airborne. But the sour taste in my mouth remains — what a crazy setup — You have a whole bunch of aircraft / flights canceled, you have a whole lot of tired and frustrated passengers, and NO ONE from the airport management makes an effort to ensure that at least the ground crews are operational….. Go figure….!

That was a very frustrating experience. So where was that bill of passenger rights 🙂

I wonder….

Happy Travels!

Air Travel Experiences – Plane Mechanical Troubles and Delays Abound

Over the last three weeks my family and I have had to travel on a number of flights and across several airlines (American, United…) for both business and personal reasons. Between the Thanksgiving holiday and business travel for me we logged in over 18K miles each and over 6 flights. During these flights we experienced numerous delays due to plane mechanical issues. For example – our Thanksgiving trip included travel from Austin (TX) to Huntsville (AL). That involved 4 flights. Out of the 4 flights, three had mechanical trouble. These were all on American airlines. That resulted in delays from 40minutes to 2 hours per flight.

Then last week I had to fly to San Jose. I arrived at the airport (for an early morning flight === for an early morning meeting in San Jose) to find out that the night before the 6:40 am flight has been canceled. Lucky for me I was able to jump on a flight to Dallas and from there to San Jose resulting in only 1 hour delay of arrival. The alternative was pretty bad — I was going to meet a critical customer meeting! By flying via Dallas I was able to notify the customer and delay the meeting by one and a half hour — 1 hour flight delay plus time to get to the customer site (my original flight was to arrive early enough that I could make it to the customer’s location way before the meeting time)

Then came my most recent flight Taipei – San Francisco – Austin (just yesterday) —> the flight from San Francisco to Austin got delayed as well (by 1 hour) as the plane had trouble with the navigation system and required parts replacement while the passengers were on-board….That was an United flight.

Have I had only one or two such troubles in a short three week window of time, I would have thought — “This is just a normal / sudden issue”. But the case here was different — I was on 12 flights in a matter of three weeks and four of the flights had issues with the planes. Add to that the now usual time delays due to traffic congestion and you have yourself a pretty tough situation for us the travelers.

What is the lesson learned from all this — well, I do not think we can do much to change the readiness of the planes — this is the airlines’ responsibility. I hope the airlines are taking steps to renew their fleet and / or keep the planes in better shape. What can we, the travelers do? One thing only — always plan your trips with the thought that you will be delayed and figure out ahead of time what your options could be.

Travel Problems — Airline issues

So, this past week I was supposed to fly (with my family) from New York (JFK airport) — to London Heathrow — to Sofia Bulgaria. Usually that is a relatively uneventful flight with one connection which was supposed to be a relatively comfortable 1hr 50 minute layover…..Little that we knew. We arrived at JFK (on another flight) 3 hours before the flight to London. We had plenty of time so I decided that we can spend a good portion of the time in the Admiral’s Club. At the appropriate time (35 minutes before the 6:10 pm flight) we showed up at the gate to find that the aircraft was being serviced, then the “service” became repair —> and soon enough we were told that the aircraft was not operational until repaired. Of course we immediately started seeing a BIG issue looming — we were about to miss our connecting flight from London to Sofia.

The big deal about that is the fact that there is only ONE (direct) flight from London to Sofia per day (early morning one). So I rushed to the Admiral’s club to see what our options are. After checking with the helpful agents there we determined that we are essentially not in luck. No way to switch to another flight as American Airlines will not pull our luggage from the aircraft as it was already loaded on our flight.

There were 3 other flights leaving from JFK to London between 6:10 and 9:20, but we were not going to get on either one of them — for one reason only — the check in luggage can not be taken off the plane we were supposed to be on.

So we had to look into all sort of options but unless our flight was cancelled and luggage unloaded we were not supposed to do anything but WAIT. Very frustrating…The other flights had open seats and we could have even made our connecting flight have we been able to get our luggage and get on the 6:30pm flight…. I do not understand why the luggage rules are so inflexible!

Now, we had to wait till 10:30pm and finally boarded around 11:00 pm and the plane took off at 11:30 pm — 5+ hours late. So we missed the connecting flight, were able to get our self on a Lufthansa flight and will let you know what the next ordeals were —- can you spell “missing luggage”….? More to follow…

Air Travel in China

Over the past 2 weeks I had the interesting experience of having a bunch of flights between Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing. The reason I call them interesting is that I heard again the strange explanation of why flights get delayed. Over the years of living and working in China I saw the country’s air travel network being stressed more and more. At the same time I also saw the masterful capability by the various airlines (Air China, Eastern, Southern….) not to answer your question when flights get messed up.

There are many ways to let the passengers know that they will not get on time to their destination, but the “best” one I hear all the time in China is “We regret to inform you that the flight is delayed due to aircraft delay”

Does this statement really provide any information? No, it just tells you “the flight is delayed” Why is it delayed? No plane… Duh…But why is the plane not on time? Well that is a whole different question isnt’t 🙂 and no, we will not tell you why 🙂

So, that is about it. Don’t worry when you travel — you flight could be delayed, and you will not know why, but on the other hand, does it matter 🙂 ? You just sit back and relax.

Oh, and by the way, my flight from Hangzhou to Beijing earlier today left about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. You better not be late for your flight 🙂

Current Savings and Deals on Flights

Deals on Flights

I will try to keep up with demand for Deals on Flights to various destinations. This week the specials I have come across are:

Air New Zealand has specials on trips to Australia and to New Zealand:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) $960
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Sydney $1,070
  • New Zealand destinations start at US$798 (if you book by Feb.28)

A new airline (at least to me) EuroFly is offering specials on flight from New York JFK to Rome, Palermo, Bologna starting at US$798 with departures starting May 6, 2007 and continuing through October 17, 2007.

American Airlines continue their deal on travel to China (this is a good guidebook for those who would like to learn more about the country – Lonely Planet China ). The airline is offering 5000 to 10000 bonus miles (based on ticket fare) for the flights booked and traveled before March 31, 2007. The flights are between Chicago and Shanghai.

United Airlines is starting their Washington D.C. to Beijing service on March 28, 2007. The airfare starts the US$407 (each way, based on round trip purchase, so you are looking at a starting rate of $814 plus fees). In addition you would get bonus miles in the range of 5000 to 10000 miles based on what ticket fare you end up booking.

Air China is also pushing special deals on flights to and from the US. Currently flights originating in San Francisco are at US$700 for the roundtrip to Beijing, while from New York the round trip tickets start at US$780. Air China is partner of United Airlines in case you are wondering how you could use the frequent flyer miles.