Archive | April, 2011

My Top 5 Interesting Aviation Stories Of The Week

29 Apr

One of the things I like best about my day job is that I *never* run out of things to write about.  And we had the usual dog pile, making it tougher than usual to ferret out the most interesting five things this week.  But here we go!

  1. I have to give a big high five to the Town And Country Manchester Patch.com news site for some very good coverage on the tornado destruction at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport late last week into this week.  Their team of reporters covered every angle, and even managed to get in some video clips.
  2. When I worked in the airline industry, one of the banes of my existence was getting calls from politicians with requests — and complaints — that showed they had absolutely no clue on how carriers really operate.  Thanks to CrankyFlier.com for passing along this gem. The Sacramento Bee reports that Calif. state Sen. Ted Lieu is calling on Southwest Airlines to retire its fleet of Boeing 737-300s after that aircraft type was forced to make an emergency landing after it blew a hole in the top part of the fuselage.  Why? Because the planes are too old.  Aircraft go through a series of regular checks where they are practically rebuilt, allowing them to fly for decades.  There are still Douglas DC-9s out there that are older than me and I wouldn’t hesitate to fly them.
  3. New York Times travel columnist Joe Sharkey wrote an article — Piecing Together the True Cost of Flying — that tries to make sense of mounting airline fees.  I’m not a fan of fees, but airlines have to report to shareholders and make profits.  And since you folks won’t pay higher fares, airlines are using fees to make up the difference.  You don’t believe me?  A report released in July by U.S.-based IdeaWorks found that 96 airlines made $13.5 billion in 2009 on ancillary revenue.
  4. I recently had to check on my Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards account and realized I had an award that was mere days away from expiring.  I paid the $50 to extend for another year, so all is well.  But this story from our good friend Chris Elliott of Elliott.org is on what happens when those awards expire. Don’t forget to take the poll at the end of the story.
  5. I’m really enjoying the ArizonaBuffaPho blog.  The blog is written by a friend, a retired airline executive and air service consultant helping a new Vietnamese airline get off the ground.  Vietnam has always been on my list of places to visit, and he makes me want to go there — tomorrow!!

I’m still in mourning because there was no Airplane Geeks podcast, but we can all console ourselves with “Strange But True Aviation News,” which did not disappoint this week.  We had a very unusual case of lost baggage, the latest from the TSA police blotter and an interesting way to get from LaGuardia to LAX.

As a kid, I was a regular watcher of “The Carol Burnett Show.”  Please enjoy this hilarious 9:46 clip of a sketch that she, Harvey Korman and Tim Conway did, entitled “No-Frills Airline.” Enjoy!!

When The Airport Becomes An Emergency Hotel

27 Apr

I have a bookmark folder full of links to stories I plan on blogging about in the future.  On April 12, CNN did a story entitled “Hotel of last resort: The airport.”  While I have spent more than my fair share of time in airports, thankfully, I’ve never had to sleep in one.

But if I did, my airport of choice would be Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.  DFW has been a leader in advocating for stranded passengers and has a great plan in place to help out those who may be spending more time than they planned at the airport.  First, the airport has hundreds of cots and blankets available.  Second, it requires certain vendors to stay open late to accommodate stranded passengers.

And third, they have Shop24, a giant 3 feet by 10 feet vending machine that dispenses everything from diapers to soda to beauty products to Caesar Salad.  The store is located in DFW’s Terminal A across from Gate 29.  You can read my Towers and Tarmacs blog post on DFW’s efforts during a series of storms that hit the region back in April 2008.

For more reviews on the best — and worst — airports for sleeping, I highly recommend The Guide To Sleeping In Airports website.  And if you want to have your own hotel with you at all times, check out my Towers and Tarmacs blog post on the Mini Motel!

Sofitel London Heathrow Hotel

But if you have the cash (or the expense account) to stay in an airport hotel, you’ll find that the World Airport Awards 2011  recently named its top airport hotels:

1.  Regal Airport Hotel Hong Kong (HKG)

2.  Crowne Plaza Changi Airport (SIN)

3.  Sofitel London Heathrow (LHR)

4.  Kempinski Hotel Airport Munich (MUC)

5.  Fairmont Vancouver Airport (YVR)

6.  Langham Place Beijing Capital Airport (PEK)

7.  Pan Pacific Kuala Lumpur Airport (KUL)

8.  Hyatt Regency Incheon (ICN)

9.  Stamford Plaza Sydney Airport Hotel (SYD)

10.  Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Bangkok (BKK)

I’m pleased to say that I’ve stayed in three of them — Sofitel, Kempinski and the Hyatt Regency — and all of them were worthy of selection.  The only North American hotel to make the cut was Vancouver.  I’ve never stayed there, but I hear the amenities are great, and that airline passengers can buy a day pass to use their facilities.  And i was thrilled to see that three of my favorite U.S. airport hotels — the Grand Hyatt Dallas/Fort Worth, the Westin Detroit Metropolitan and Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport  — made the cut for North America.

Random Aviation Photo

25 Apr

I was coming home from an aviation conference in Geneva last May and I had a stopover at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, one of my favorites.  I had some time to kill, so I was busting my hump to get as many aircraft photos as I could.  I saw this majestic KLM Boeing 747 sitting at the gate and snapped away!

KLM Boeing 747 at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

My Top 5 Interesting Aviation Stories Of The Week

22 Apr

Let’s just hop to this week’s stories, shall we?  And I lied — I actually have six to share with you kids this week.

  1. We’ve all heard about the sleeping air traffic controllers, but did you hear about the one who was suspended — because he was watching a movie? My Aviation Week colleague Darren Shannon writes about it here.
  2. The Consumer Traveler website offers us “Ned’s top 10 airplane luggage myths.”  Number one made me laugh out loud.
  3. Speaking of luggage, Cranky Flier has a cool post on how Delta Air Lines can now track your bags in real time.  It looks like the screen you use to track your FedEx packages.
  4. Gary Stoller of USA Today asks the question that many of us have known for a long time: “Are frequent-flier programs losing their luster?”
  5. The Up Up and a Gay blog tapped into one of my secret fears — airline lavatories.  I would rather hold it until it’s leaking from my ears (sorry for the graphic description) before I use an airline lav — and that includes international flights.  It was always a general thing with me and public restrooms, but a visit to American Airlines’ maintenance facility where, among other things, they clean lavs, was just too much for me. Ewwww!!!
  6. And here’s your bonus!  The Runway Girl blog has an interesting post about new technology from GuestLogix and Pokeware where “if you see something you like in a piece of video content, you can poke it to learn more about the product, and if you still like it you can buy it.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to this week’s Airplane Geeks podcast, which featured a great interview with Igor Sikorsky III.  I knew that his grandfather was a helicopter pioneer, but had no idea of his impact on commercial aviation.  Did you know he designed the Flying Boats used by Pan Am back in the day?  And I make it into the listener mail segment toward the end of the show, talking about my views on car seats for children on airplanes (I’m 100% for it).

Of course, it would NOT be Friday without the amusement park I like to call Strange But True Aviation News.  And remember–I can’t make this stuff up!!

And here’s your video this week — it’s a time-lapse video of Turkey’s Istanbul Atatürk Airport.  Enjoy!

My Top 5 iPhone Travel Apps

21 Apr

You all know I’m an avid traveler and big old technogeek.  Your Aunt Benet loves her iPhone, and has two Travel folders full of great apps.   Every time I use them, I wonder what I did before the iPhone was invented. Please allow me to share them and tell you what makes them so great. All are free, unless otherwise noted.

  1. Gate Guru.  This app was featured in an Apple iPhone TV commercial. It gives locations and user reviews (including mine as Aviation Queen) of retail, restaurants and services at airports across the country.  I was in Atlanta last week and needed a drug store at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.  Gate Guru told me that Drugs & More was there, pre-security, in the atrium. Nice!!  And when you have a tight connection and want to make sure you get something to eat for the plane ride, this app is a godsend.
  2. Currency Converter, by Oanda. This app converts currencies from the Afghan Afghani to the Zimbabwe Dollar, quickly and easily — so I don’t have to!
  3. I HEART Travel Packing ($1.99). Kids, my mind isn’t what it used to be, so I need all the help I can get. Believe me, it is NOT fun to realize you’ve reached your destination and forgotten to pack underwear (yes, this has happened to me). This app has sample lists for men and women; it also allows you to create your own list and create a master catalog where you can drag items for new lists.
  4. Next Flight ($2.99). Let’s say you’re at JFK Airport and your flight to San Francisco is delayed or canceled. What do you do? Go to this app, type in the city-pair and it will tell you what airlines have the next flights going there. Call your airline (using the Flight Sites app for the phone number), give them the options and voila-you’re on your way, while the rest of the crowd is standing around the gate agent desk praying they get on a flight.
  5. FareCompare. This app gives you real-time air fare alerts from the city of your choice.  As of this morning at 10:08, I can go to Boston for $107.  It will let you post the fare you found on your favorite social media outlet.  It will even take you right to Orbitz to book the flight.

So what apps am I missing? What travel apps are on your smartphone?

Hotel Review: Fairfield Inn & Suites North, Atlanta Airport

19 Apr

I recently went to Atlanta to work on a series of stories about Delta and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. I usually love to stay at the Renaissance for the fantastic views of ATL’s runways, but that wasn’t in the budget for this trip, so I ended up at the Fairfield Inn & Suites North Atlanta Airport. The hotel has a free shuttle that goes to and from the airport.  They will also give you a lift to local restaurants and to Delta headquarters, eliminating the need to rent a car.

I love a hotel room that offers good value for the money ($104 a night), and this one hits the mark. I was allowed to check in early, and the clerk alerted me that the water was off due to a water main break about a 1/2 mile away from the hotel; he also apologized for the inconvenience.  I got a call letting me know that the water was back on, again , with an apology.

This is a very clean and Spartan-chic stylish hotel that smelled of lemon furniture polish.  My room had a nice sized bathroom with an oversized shower, basic soap/shampoo/conditioner and a hair dryer.

I asked for a King bed, but got two doubles.  But it was fine, because the bed was really comfortable, with a nice duvet and my beloved foam pillows.  I loved the 32-inch LG flat-screen TV, and it had a swivel that allowed me to watch from the desk, the bed and the far side of the room while ironing.  But I wish they had one of those iPod docking station alarm clocks rather than the old-school digital one next to the bed.

The desk was large enough to handle my laptop and all my digital equipment.  There were plenty of plugs, but you did have to crawl under the desk to get them.  The chair was ergonomic and very comfortable. And the lamp desk was a nice touch.  And thank you, Fairfield Inn, for the free wifi.

Not only did I get a coffee maker, but I had a microwave and a nice sized fridge in my room, which I used for my free bottled water. The hotel also served a free breakfast, with choices including waffles, egg/sausage, egg/ham and egg/bacon breakfast sandwiches, Quiche, cereal, muffins, toast, english muffins and fresh fruit.  There was also three juices, coffee and assorted teas.  I had the egg/sausage sandwich, which was quite tasty.

The staff was very friendly, greeting me by name and inquiring  about how I was doing (I just love the manners in the South).  And the general manager came over, introduced herself and asked me questions about my stay and her staff.  I would recommend this hotel, and the reviewers at Trip Advisor agree, giving the facility 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Random Aviation Photo

18 Apr

Last May, I was invited to Chicago O’Hare for the unveiling of new first class seats and meals on American Eagle’s fleet of larger regional jets.  We boarded this Eagle Bombardier CRJ700, which had a small metal bridge between the aircraft and the jetbridge.  As I was going aboard, I saw this shot and took the picture.  Enjoy!!

American Eagle CRJ700 at Chicago O'Hare

My Top 5 Interesting Aviation Stories Of The Week

15 Apr

Between Aviation Week’s MRO Americas show in Miami and a quick trip to Atlanta for an airports cover story I’m working on, the week was hopping.  And while I didn’t find many must-read stories, I did find some that I found interesting, so I’m here to share.

  1. My Aviation Week colleagues did a great job covering the MRO Americas show, and I urge you to check out their work, here. I would be remiss if I didn’t put in a plug of our team’s coverage of the 27th annual National Space Symposium.
  2. This story in the New York Times on the renovation of San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 2 makes me long for the days when I was still on the airports beat.  SFO is my original hometown airline, and they took an old, 1950s drab international terminal that had been shuttered for a decade and turned it into a glamorous, environmentally friendly facility that the city can be proud of.  And did I mention it has FREE  wi-fi and 350 power outlets? Cranky Flier offers his thoughts on the “new” terminal.
  3. A Yahoo Travel columnist compiled a list of what he called “America’s Meanest Airlines.”  I watch these things with some bemusement, because on any given day, any airline can be the best — or the worst — you’ve ever flown.
  4. ABC News/Associated Press did a great story on the place lost luggage  goes: the Unclaimed Baggage Center, in Scottsboro, Ala., about an hour outside of Huntsville.  The airlines sell your lost luggage to the center, which in turn, sells it to the public out of its warehouse-like facility. I clicked on the center’s Peek In The Bag link, and saw a customer spent $165 on a Garmin GPS, $150 for a Panasonic digital camera and $20 for new Ann Taylor slacks.  You can follow the center on Twitter at @UnclaimedBag.
  5. And last,  but CERTAINLY not least,  is this NPR story — Tuskegee Airmen: ‘Rock Stars’ of American History — from reporter Karen Grigsby Bates on what is seen as the last gathering of the Tuskegee Airmen.  I will not lie–the story brought me to tears (yes, I’m even tearing up now).  I grew up the daughter and granddaughter of Air Force officers.  The sacrifices that these men made allowed my father and grandfather to have stellar careers in the military.  I heard the stories of the Airmen’s exploits growing up, and it was a big part of why I’m the aviation geek that I am today.

The pickings were slim for this week’s Strange But True Aviation News, but my beloved Twitter followers came through for me.  We have the ultimate aviation amusement park, enhanced pat-downs for small children and dumb pilots in the basket of crazy this week.  Enjoy!

And since I’m down south visiting Delta Air Lines, I thought I’d end this post with a vintage commercial — We Love To Fly and it Shows — from 1987. Check out that Lockheed L-1011!

I <3 BWI Airport's Parking Lots

14 Apr

Today, I leave on an overnight trip to Atlanta.  I’m one of those people who are paranoid about every part of the trip, never resting until I’m actually sitting on the plane.

But lucky me, my home airport is Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.  I love this airport for many reasons, but my top one has to be the parking.  BWI gives consumers a great selection of parking at reasonable prices.

When I’m traveling with my daughter, I use the Express lot.  You park, and the shuttle bus comes right to your parking space and the driver helps load and unload your bags.  When you are a traveling mother hauling piles of stuff, this is a needed perk.  For only $10 a day, it’s a bargain. And the buses run regularly, so there’s no long wait time if you have an antsy child. 

When I’m traveling alone on short trips, I love the hourly lots, still a bargain at $22 a day.  Two things make BWI’s hourly lot special. One, there are digital signs that tell you how many parking spaces there are on each level. Two, there are ceiling lights that glow red if a spot is taken, green if a spot is open and blue to signify handicapped parking. 

How many of you have driven around an airport parking garage aimlessly looking for that badly needed spot?  That’s a thing of the past at BWI’s hourly lot.  And bonus — the lot is close enough to walk to the terminal.  For the longer trips, I split between the Express lot at the $12-a-day daily lot.

The only other airport I know that comes near to BWI’s great parking is Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which counts spaces, but doesn’t have the ceiling lights.  So what have I missed? What other airports have great parking options?

Travel Internationally, Eat Locally

12 Apr

Photo courtesy of Dan Kelliher via Flickr

Here’s a question — why do people fly half way around the world for travel and then go straight to McDonald’s to eat?  For me, half the fun of travel is trying out local flavors and cuisines.  I’m ALL about taking in what the locals eat — and drink.

Back in February 1994, I took my first international trip since living in Brussels in the mid-1970s.  I went to Singapore to cover the Singapore Air Show.

Back then, the Internet was in its primitive stages, so I bought a “Lonely Planet” guide to get an idea of what I would do in my off time.  I’ve always been a big foodie, so I wanted to check out what was available locally.

Photo courtesy of Steel Wool, via Flickr

Singapore is a very modern city that nearly had its ethnicity beaten out of it after decades of British colonial rule.  The city is clean, modern and efficient.  Unfortunately, it looks like any large north American city, and the restaurant scene is similar.

Lonely Planet told me about the famous Singapore food courts, which focus on local cuisine and delicacies in a basic setting at amazingly reasonable prices. 

My boss wanted to have dinner at TGIFriday’s that first night we arrived. I demurred, saying I could go to TGI any day of the week at home.  But how often was I going to have the chance to eat foods from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Indian, sometimes fused together?

Some of the dishes I still remember include chili crabs, fishball noodles, hor fun, shark’s fin and satay bee hoon.  The servers are very helpful in navigating the dishes, some of which might be a bit much for some American palates.  Alcohol tends to be expensive, so we all just drank Tiger Beer, which wasn’t bad, although I’m not much of a beer drinker.

I love Paris, and have been many times for work and play. One time, I had a wonderful meal from Michelin-starred chef Guy Savoy — and at a fraction of the price of his usual expensive restaurants.  I ate at a tiny six-table bistro across the street from his flagship restaurant, where, on that night, Savoy himself was running across the street between the two eateries, cooking in both kitchens.  He visited each table and praised us for being so smart by eating at his little bistro with the smaller price tag.

I traveled to Sweden several times in the 1990s and fell in love with reindeer, especially a leg loin with a lingonberry sauce.  Everything is served with Aquavit (similar to vodka), Sweden’s national drink.  I did not, however, develop a taste for herrings in cream.

Photo courtesy of Carlaarlena, via Flickr

I’ve been to Brazil at least 10 times since 1994.  I could do a whole blog post about the wonderful food of Brazil, some of which is similar to soul food.   The national dish is feijoada, a wonderful stew of black beans, beef and pork. It is served with white rice and is eaten with your choice of farofa (made of toasted cassava flour and is similar to corn meal), pork rinds, bananas, fried collard greens and Brazilian pepper sauce.  And of course, you MUST drink Brazil’s national drink, the  caipirinha, is made with cachaça (Brazilian rum) and two limes, muddled with sugar served over ice (I make a mean one).

I made several trips to Oberpfafenhofen, Germany, near Munich, to visit a now-defunct aircraft manufacturer.  The trip was never complete without a visit to Kloster Andechs, a monastery where the monks’ vocation is to make beer.  Again, I’m not a big beer drinker, but this beer, coupled with the sausages, also made by the monks, was a meal that could become a vocation.

I attended a conference in Baveno, Italy, in the Lake Maggiore region north of Milan.  The resort where we stayed had some of the worst food I’ve ever had in my life.  But the trip ended on a high note when we were leaving. Our flight was leaving out of Lugano, Switzerland (too many strikes in Milan).  The airport had a divine little restaurant run by a retired Michelin-starred chef who ran it as a hobby.  I still dream about the pasta I ate there.

In April 2008, I went to Seoul, South Korea, with another reporter to write a series of stories on Korean Air.  Our host was a young woman who was Korean but had grown up in the United States.  She had created a list of places for us to eat, and all of them were American or Western.

But both of us wanted to focus on Korean cuisine, and our host obliged.  I’ve always been a fan of Korean food (I could eat kim chee every day), but the highlight of my trip was to a hidden jewel of a restaurant called Sanchon

Sanchon's food Photo courtesy of Julie Facine, via Flickr

Sanchon, owned and operated by a former buddhist monk, serves Korean Temple Food.  I’m probably one of the biggest carnivores on the face of the earth, so I was highly suspicious about an all-vegetarian menu.  I ate at Zen Palate in New York City and I still have nightmares about that meal 20 years later!  But I digress.

The meal was fantastic.  We sat on the floor, and our server brought a series of dishes in small bows nestled in baskets, and each one was delicious.  We were also served a wonderful tea.  We also went to a Dak-gui (grilled chicken) restaurant and a traditional Korean table barbecue restaurant.

So when you’re planning that next international trip, take a quick surf on the Internet and see what’s what in local cuisine at your final destination.  Food is a key part of the journey and you’ll really miss out if you stick with restaurants you can easily visit when you’re at home. 

I’d love to know some of the great places you’ve frequented when traveling internationally!

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