Finding green in snowy Copenhagen

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:12 am -

People in Copenhagen hop on bikes and take to the dedicated paths. More than 30 per cent people use them as their usual means of transport; it’s projected that within the next five years, the number will hit 50 per cent.

These aren’t racing bikes – think sturdy; the city supplies bikes for free if you plunk down a moderate reimbursable deposit. Amsterdam is the only city in Europe where there are currently more bikes in use, which stands to reason because it’s not a car-friendly city.

If you take a taxi, you’ll very quickly appreciate the mass transit’s appeal since taxis may among the most expensive I’ve ever taken surpassing the cost of Paris. Thank goodness, you can pay by credit card, which may lessen the pain if you’re not a pro at doing the currency conversion. I’ll wait for the shock when I see my credit card bill. If you want to park a car in central Copenhagen, plan on paying nearly $5 per hour and it’s not so easy to find a spot.

Going Green:
Denmark is intent on going green and creating a sustainable environment. Cars are taxed at 180 percent of what they’d cost where they’re manufactured. Locals can’t sneak ones in from another E.U. country to avoid paying the tax. If a car has a foreign license plate and is being driven by someone with a Danish driver’s license, they’ll be fined and the car may be confiscated. The Danish government is intent on creating a sustainable environment and is supporting the development of electric cars.

The Danish power company has partnered with a California start-up company, “Better Place”, to build a nationwide grid to support electric cars, composed of thousands of “charging stations” that will have charging poles in towns and cities and service stations along highways where depleted batteries can be swapped for fresh ones on long trips.

One challenge is standardizing the European plug socket. Another is that each charging station will cost $500,000 to build. They will then need to have the ability to stock batteries to accommodate cars that will be constructed by different manufacturers and require different sized batteries.

In order to help with this effort, late last year, The Danish government promised not to impose the normal vehicle-registration tax of 180 per cent on electric cars until 2012 – a tax break of at least $40,000 for early buyers – and to provide electric car drivers with free parking in downtown Copenhagen. Not only that, but the company has signed a deal with Renault to supply 100,000 cars – the company’s new Fluence ZE model – to Denmark and Israel by 2016.

Jens Moberg, head of “Better Place Denmark”, says the company is aiming to have the first cars on the road in Denmark by the second half of 2011. Within one year, he anticipates there will be thousands of electric cars and by 2020, he projects there will be more electric cars sold in Denmark than combustion-engine cars. “We’ve managed our business in a responsible way.” Moberg told a reporter from Time Magazine in February 2010.

But he knows there’s also an inherent risk in being first, particularly when it involves building an expensive infrastructure before any cars have been sold. “We think it’s important to be ahead of the curve, but you don’t want to be constructing charging stations in the thousands without any cars on the roads.”

Why not walk:
Copenhagen is a walking city if you confine your forays to specific areas and dress appropriately when it’s cold and windy. Unfortunately, no one informed me that it is more than illegal to jaywalk and the act carries a fine of approximately $120. Thank goodness, a police officer took compassion and mumbled something about “foreigners.”

A few of the things I didn’t know (and this is the tip of the iceberg). It has one of the most sophisticated transportation systems in the world. Denmark was the first country to develop a Google map website to plan multi-modal public transport trips.

Copenhagen is a city putting its environmental money where its mouth is. Their efforts are a step beyond anything that other governments are pursuing. It is a bit of a shock to tourists, but this may be the price we need to pay to get control of environmental issues once again.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

An electric car, Europe’s 2011 “car of the year”

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:11 am -

For people trying to protect the environment, there’s been a huge step forward when it come to taking to the roads or the highways.

The Nissan Leaf just beat 40 other vehicles to be named Europe’s 2011 “car of the year.” Nissan executives were thrilled to win the award. It’s a tribute to the recognition of being pioneers of a zero-emission automobile. “Nissan Leaf is competitive to conventional cars in terms of safety, performance, spaciousness and handling.” CEO Carlos Ghosn said.

The slick electric car received the award today from a jury of 57 automotive journalists from 23 countries. Everyone was quick to note this is the first time the award has gone to an electric car. But, it’s the first time an affordable, mass-market electric car has been available.

Hakan Matson, jury president said, “Nissan Leaf is the first EV that can match conventional cars in many respects.”

Matson has been driving a Nissan Leaf and stated he’s have been impressed by its performance, range and utility. “We’ll have a full review soon, but the bottom line is the Leaf is more than an impressive electric car. It’s an impressive car.”

The EPA certifies the Leaf has a range of 75 miles (they’ve been clocking high 80s) and the car gets the equivalent of 99 miles per gallon. It has a list price of $32,780, but the $7,500 federal EV tax credit brings it down to $25,280. Several states offer additional incentives.

Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Renault SA and Nissan, has promised more cars with cords from Nissan and its parent, Renault. “With three other electric vehicles in the pipeline from Nissan – and with the imminent market introduction of four additional electric vehicles from our Alliance partner Renault – Nissan Leaf represents a significant first step toward a zero-emission future.”

If you think green, you may be thinking electric when you buy your next car. It’s the way residents of Denmark are going. Will you?

To view the new and hot car: click here. Currently, there are cars available in the Washington, DC area – but for how long? If you want to be the first person on your block to own a “Leaf” – perhaps you’d better hightail it to a Nissan dealership.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Is French food a world cultural treasure? Pizza? Chop-Suey? BBQ? What’s next?

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:09 am -

There are so many reasons to visit France and yes, you can eat some very good food – whether in restaurants – or what can be purchased in markets.

But who ever guessed that French cuisine would be added to UNESCO’s list of world treasures? It’s the first time gastronomy has been ever classified as an “intangible cultural treasure.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a foodie who has followed France’s culinary trends for more than 25 years. I’ve eaten more than my fair share of great meals, spoken with chefs throughout La Belle France and when given the choice, will opt for French wines.

But, the “gastronomic meal of the French” being classified as a part of the world’s heritage? It came as a surprise to more than a few people.

France’s ambassador to UNESCO Catherine Colonna hailed the inclusion, saying,

…[food] makes a contribution to cultural diversity. The French love getting together to eat and drink well and enjoy good times in such a manner. It is part of our tradition and quite an active one.

What the French do well when it comes to food:

- there are numerous courses with mandates on how they should be prepared and presented
- how food and wine is paired
- how the table is set and meals are presented
- precise placement of glasses, for water, red and white wine, knife blades pointing in and fork tines down, are all part of the ritual.

Francis Chevrier, chief delegate of the French mission in charge of submitting the UNESCO bid, welcomed the decision. “It’s very important people realize that knowledge of food is a treasure and something worth cherishing.”

However, the move has sparked some concerns that the UNESCO heritage label could now be used to promote commercial interests.

The inter-governmental committee that has been meeting in Africa has been considering 51 cultural practices from around the world for inclusion on the Convention of Intangible Cultural Heritage. For instance, it’s classified Spain’s flamenco dance as a UNESCO world treasure.

This move is a clear indication it’s not simply architecture that should qualify as world treasures … but still? What do you think? In the meantime, many of us in France are delighted we’re enjoying world treasures when we sit down at a meal. Naturally, there are some exceptions. But let’s not go there.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

5 tips to avoid the chaos of French strikes

Written by kvfawcett on December 17, 2010 – 4:52 pm -

When the French strike, they can cause travel chaos and do. Their motto — Strike first and then negotiate. There have been recent transportation stoppages in some parts of the country, while the French unions have been striking against raising the retirement age from 60 to 62. Here are tips from the front lines.

Some students got into the act. (After all, who wants to attend school if they can participate in what is essentially akin to a 4th of July parade, complete with marching bands and trucks selling food?) The students are unhappy over the fact that if people work an extra two years, they might have a more difficult time getting jobs.

Since I’m in Paris, I haven’t been impacted because the metros and buses have been operational. Some might have been running a tad late, but it’s been no big deal. Ironically, it’s been easier to hail a taxi since some people didn’t or couldn’t get into the City of Light. Others simply stayed away and the taxi drivers have been singing the blues.

Long haul flights haven’t been impacted. Rather, it been the internal ones that were impacted. On Thursday, October 28th, 50 percent of the planes leaving and/or arriving at Paris’s Orly airport were grounded. People weren’t happy, even though they were prepared, since it’s Paris’s school vacation time and the French tend to get up and go.

The retirement proposal has been voted into law by the French Senat. Not wanting to take no as an answer, some airline staff and air controllers may continue flexing their muscles and another strike has been called for November 6th. Some are saying that because it’s anticipated that the weather will be colder and not quite as conducive to a day off, the strike has lost momentum. Also, employees are beginning to feel the economic pinch from striking rather than working.

France does not operate in a vacuum and when flights in one country aren’t taking off as scheduled, there’s a domino effect that spreads.

What to do:

- Check with your airline to make sure the flight is taking off and landing where it’s supposed to.
- Anticipate travel delays.
- If you’re flying into Paris and proceeding to another part of France, you may need to find an alternative mode of transportation (e.g. trains, which may or may not be on schedule) or wait for your flight to take you to your final destination.
- Most long-haul flights are operating but continue checking. Avoid transferring in Paris, if possible. Many business travelers with flexible tickets have already done that.
- Remain calm. Screaming at the airport’s personnel is not going to help and might hinder your getting on an on-going flight.

Check with your airline and access The French Airport site.

Bonjour Paris has been updating its news as frequently as possible. Please be assured it’s safe to come to Paris and we hope you will.

If you’ve been stuck in a French transportation strike, please post how and what you did. Even though many people don’t understand the strikes, for the French, “c’est normale” and they’re a French tradition. Please don’t believe the press reports that France is on fire. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bad news and photo opportunities sell.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Can you travel with this person? Share a room?

Written by kvfawcett on December 17, 2010 – 4:51 pm -

Traveling with someone, other than a significant other (and even then) necessitates a lot planning. How do you make a trip the best possible? How do you keep it from turning into one from hell? No matter how well you know someone, spending a concentrated period of time together, and most especially in an unfamiliar environment, can try relationships — big time.

Sailors swear that if you’re planning a week-long cruise in a smallish boat, you should test your compatibility quotient by spending a weekend together locked in a bathroom. If you emerge without having murdered someone, you’re ready to take to the seas. That may be a bit extreme, but there is some validity to the statement.

Herb Briggs, VP Operational Strategy and Compliance at NCO Group, said, “There’s an old saying: You don’t really know someone until you travel with them. There’s wisdom there. I know from experience. So I think it’s a crapshoot, no matter how many criteria you apply to the selection of a traveling partner.

But, one way to eliminate at least some of the “intolerables” is to observe the way someone treats waiters, security officers, doormen, etc. You can be sure they will treat you in that manner when the stress of traveling unravels their nerves.”

Some Musts:

    – Decide on a destination;
    - Do you want the same type of accommodations? If one person is a back-packer and the other prefers deluxe hotels (and/or is willing to pay for them), bag the trip.
    - Do you have similar interests? energy levels?
    - Are you planning on staying together or will you go separate ways?
    - Eating habits, tastes plus don’t forget budget considerations.
    - Does one person like to wander while the other is more timid and prefers tours?
    - Does one person love to sightsee while another is a shop until you drop type?
    - Are you going to go crazy if you travel companion wants to veg out on the beach and never leave?


    – Discuss finances and make certain there’s a clear understanding about who pays for what.
    - Are you going to keep a running tab and settle up at the end?
    - Money can be at the root of many evils and has been known to break up friendships, not to mention, marriages.

It’s all in the details and they may not be what you think:

Many people feel that unless you have a “dear and close relationship” sharing a room is a no-no after a certain age.

If you’re going to be staying in the same room: the following are some “must discuss” issues.

Sleeping habits and more:

    -Is one person an early to bed type while the other is a night owl?
    -How about snoring?
    -Television watching – how and when?
    -Does one person want to be on the computer while the other person is sleeping?
    -Ditto for reading.

Personal habits:

    -Is one a neat freak while the other lets clothes fall where they land?
    -Sharing a bathroom with a “stranger” can take on new meaning.
    -Bathing times and durations?
    -Does one person use the WC as a library?
    -Do you operate on the same time schedules? Waiting for someone to appear (or not) can break up a friendship.

Ask now and avoid being surprised:

-Is your travel partner a smoker (especially a closet one)?
-Have any habits you might wish you’d known about (e.g. grinding teeth)?
-Do they take so many clothes so that there’s no space for yours?
-Do they take so few, and wash every night, so that you feel as your room is “wash & wear” hell?


If you’re going to be covering a lot of miles, be certain it’s specified who is going to drive and when.

The above questions are only the beginning of what you need to ask when contemplating a trip. Come to think of it, they hold true when traveling with any group — even your family.

Please post other questions that should be asked. My guess is there are a zillion. At the very least….

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Is this terrorist season? Will it impact your travel plans?

Written by kvfawcett on December 17, 2010 – 4:50 pm -

The U.S. State Department has issued a travelers’ alert for Americans heading to the U.K, France and Germany. It is not telling people not to travel to Europe or to return home ASAP. It is advising them to steer clear of congested areas, consider not using mass public transportation and try not to look like tourists.

A CNN article said people should avoid wearing sneakers or baseball hats. Skip shorts because few Europeans wear them unless they’re participating in sports or they’re at a resort.

The reality is there’s potential trouble brewing, but as one person said, she refuses to allow fear to govern her life. Jennifer lived in Manhattan during 9-11 and is adamant that if she survived that, she won’t cancel her European vacation.


The French police have arrested 12 people in two separate counter-terrorism raids and are on high alert.

The UK’s security agency MI5 has upped the threat level resulting from international terrorism to severe, indicating a terrorist attack is highly likely.

Germany’s Interior Ministry was the exception, stating there were no immediate indications of a terrorist attacks.

Security officials in Europe and the U.S. have discussed the possibility of armed attackers staging a repeat in Europe of the 2008 assault against Mumbai, India that left 166 dead and many people wounded.

An informal poll:

Susan Saltzman of Imperial American Express Travel Services stated their clients aren’t canceling trips. “They’re business people and go when and where their clients need them.”

Kimberly Ann Yarnall canceled her Paris trip. “If things calm down, I should be there in the spring.”

Patrick Hollister said, There’s an inherent danger any place you go. It simply boils down to being aware of your surroundings, leaving your Colts jersey at home and acting as if you’ve been there before. Mexico right now is far more dangerous than the EU and living in California, I fear earthquakes far more than many other things.”

Tuwanna Rainbolt exclaimed, “No Way! I’ll be in Europe for Thanksgiving. The “threat” of terrorism exists everywhere these days and keeping people in fear is exactly what these punks want. Besides, Paris is in a better position to handle such uncertainties. Europe has been dealing with this for thousands of years. I feel safer traveling there than here in the U.S.”

Janet Hulstrand said, “Absolutely not. It’s one thing to feel unsettled knowing that there are people in the world who have decided to make their primary goal in life harming people and scaring everybody else about being harmed. But it’s another thing to allow that knowledge to dictate your life.”

José Sanchez-Alarcos wrote, “New York, London and Madrid cases did not have prior alerts. From another point of view, once the government frightens people, the goal of the terrorists is already accomplished without bombs.”

One person said he felt this could be governments “covering their arses” so if there were an incident, people would have had been notified.

Adrienne Sasson, Marketing and Business Development at Redefine Vacations, said she received her first panic call from a honeymoon client traveling to Barcelona and then going a cruise. “The bride wanted to know if she should change her plans. My response was, NO.

There will be much more security throughout the “targeted” areas, some visible and some, not as visible. To cancel travel plans would be playing directly into the hands of those creating the havoc. They’re hoping fear will help them win their war of terror. We must not let them even think they have a chance to even come close to winning. FYI: Travel alerts are updated daily for many destinations. We just don’t hear about them.” Sasson explained.

If you’re an American and traveling overseas, The State Department suggests you register here

Having lived in France for 22 years, I’ve come to accept and appreciate that its intelligence community is excellent and extremely proactive. The CRS police are highly visible and extremely well-armed. I will travel (possibly) even to destinations others wouldn’t. C’est la vie or mine. What’s yours?


Posted in Consumer Traveler |

What not to pack in checked luggage when flying

Written by kvfawcett on December 17, 2010 – 4:49 pm -

Is checked luggage safe? How many precautions can you take? Security belts? TSA-approved locks? Is there an answer? Well, perhaps not and people need to be prepared. Period the end. The longer suitcases are sitting, the more chance there is for things to go awry.

Case in point …

Sixteen luggage handlers at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport have been convicted of stealing €450,000 ($616,000) of worth of goods from more than 500 passengers’ suitcases during 2007 and 2008.

Not only will these men, who worked for Air France’s company Trac-Piste, pay fines ranging between €1,000 ($1,370) and €3,000 ($4,110), prosecutors want them to be sentenced to serve six-months-to-a-year in jail.

Air France lawyers are lobbying for substantially heavier fines of €117,500; plus €300,000 for the damage to the airline’s image and €200,000 for lost business.

These thieves were focused. They targeted flights they considered the richest ones heading to Switzerland and northern Italy. Liberating laptops, iPhones and iPods, video cameras, jewelry, perfume, cash and travelers checks were their M.O. They also stole more than one hundred pairs of designer shoes.

If this can happen in France, it can happen anywhere — and undoubtedly does. So, how and what should place in your checked bags?

There’s a general consensus about what travelers should definitely not check:

Electronic equipment:

- computers
- phones
- cameras
- I-pads

Valuable items:
- jewelry
- silver

Essential documents:
- travel papers including confirmation slips
- prescriptions and medications
- insurance papers
- passports
- sensitive work-related materials
……….and the list goes on.

Between being charged for checking luggage and the fear of having suitcases opened and inspected (mine always are), an increasing number of people are opting to travel exclusively with carry-on luggage. Air travelers are dubious of TSA inspectors and know items that are essentially of little value to them, are very appealing to baggage handlers who make minimum wage.

But this presents another problem. If travelers are going on an extended trip, there’s little to no way they can cram everything into a suitcase that fits in an overhead bin.

Passengers claim to be checking suitcases containing clothes since they can be replaced. This makes me wonder what they do if they show up for a conference and their clothes don’t. Oh well, perhaps this is a case of less is more, depending on the group.

How would you transport items you don’t want to check? Shipping can be an acceptable solution. Be certain you have an inventory, use a service that tracks the package and require a signature when the shipment arrives.

Items that would be on my personal “too precious to check” list would be:

- a wedding dress and all of the accessories
- photo albums, etc. of any and all sentimental value
- CDs of events
- fur coats if you’re ending up in a cold climate and don’t want them going from one airport to another
- documents (that should be scanned if they’re that important); but you’ll need hard copies at your destination
- gift-wrapped presents that tend to disappear
- clothes that can’t be replaced.
- your children’s most precious toys that will cause your offspring to have meltdowns were they to evaporate.

Many people have never had anything stolen. One friend reported her daughter opened her suitcase at a hotel to find three pairs of men’s pants had been ADDED to her luggage. Go figure.

Please add to the list of items you wouldn’t check. If you’ve had things stolen, what were they and did you have success in retrieving them? Plus, how many papers and claim forms were you required to fill out? There must be some interesting stories in the air. Hope they are some of these stories with happy endings.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

9 basics I expect when staying in a hotel

Written by kvfawcett on December 17, 2010 – 4:48 pm -

What do you want and don’t want when checking into a hotel? The list could go on forever. But there are some things most people expect; not all of them are ones you’d predict. After traveling across the world as a business woman and, more recently, as a journalist and journeywoman tourist, I have become a bit demanding. Well maybe not so demanding — all hotels should offer these basics.

People want clean — clean rooms, clean linens and clean bathrooms. Easier said than done. There are frequent complaints about rooms not being up to sanitary snuff. We’re not only talking about down-and-dirty motels on rarely traveled remote secondary roads. There have been many reports about glitzy hotel rooms not passing the white glove and bedbug test.

One person said he no longer stays in hotels that have quilted bedspreads. He prefers duvets with crisp white cotton covers so he can tell whether or not they’re clean. This was before the bedbug crisis. Jim explained he discovered a floral patterned cover had some extra designs that betrayed a lack of washing or dry cleaning.

People do care about thick towels and comfortable sheets. Some would like air cleaners to insure the room always smells fresh. Then there are those who want black-out curtains and a coffee maker in the room with a free selection of coffee and tea. One woman asked why couldn’t there be complimentary bottled water. She’s irritated by having to ante up for it. Others resent to paying $4 for a soft drink. Guess they’ve never heard about profit centers. Please be sure the rooms are quiet. Let someone else’s room be next to the elevator or the ice machine.

Some travelers feel breakfast should be included in the room price. Others said they’d appreciate some fruit and edible goodies awaiting them upon check-in. How about being given something to drink as soon as they walk through the hotel’s doors?

People who travel a lot wish there were a list of restaurants that locals frequent so they wouldn’t end up eating all the time in the hotel or at place next door that’s a tourist trap.

A couple of people interviewed said they’d like access to a change machine, or tips for the staff, added to their bills. They don’t like having to fumble around looking for money or experience embarrassing ‘tip’ moments.

Get connected
Others see red when they have to pay for the internet or are unable to log on without calling someone from the IT department, who’s frequently not available for a few hours. “Paying extra for internet, these days, is like asking someone to pay extra for electricity in the room,” one person stated.

They’re the same clients who want sufficient electrical plugs (a communications console) in order to charge all of their electrical gadgets including an IPod docking station. Many complain about insufficient light. I hate when there’s no easily visible alarm clock that doesn’t require an engineering degree to set the alarm.

And more
Beds glorious beds: Some voiced they’d like to be able to adjust the mattress’s firmness. Other complaints included pillows that are too hard or too soft. It’s a highly personal choice, which is why I travel with my own.

One traveler joked, “After a long trip I’d like to see robotic bed waiting for me next to the front desk so I could fall into it and have it take me up to the room. Then the next day if we get bored we could have motorized bed races in the hallways.” That’s a bit extreme – but hey …

People want doors with good locks on both the doors and windows. Secure parking lots are important with camera surveillance. Hallways should be well-lit.

Service was the main complaint – or rather the lack of it

Clients appreciate being treated with respect and not being greeted as if they’re intruders. They have the nerve to think that after their first stay, they should be addressed by name.

One person said, “All I’ve ever wanted from a hotel is that when I walk in, they hand me my room key. None of this, stand there, sign this, let me rehash everything you already filled out online, let me take your card, even though we have that info.”

Others said they’d like to check in with the same type of confirmation documentation airlines are sending to clients’ cellphones — in other words, a room pass.

According to Joe Brancatelli of JoeSentMe some hotels are getting the message. The Courtyard by Marriott chain is dumping the big, imposing central desk in favor of “welcome pedestals” in its lobby redesign. They’re small areas where lobby personnel can handle the check-in and check-out formalities. The pedestals are designed to allow the hotel employee to step forward and assist guests with other needs too. The new Hyatt Place chain has also eliminated front desks and are making the check-in process increasingly self-service.

Pamper me
Jillian said, “Take care of me. Care that I’m happy and get a good night’s sleep. There are only two hotels I’ve ever stayed in that I’d absolutely return to and that’s because they did pleasant little extra things — free wine tastings, free food at happy hour, a nice exercise room and helpful staff who remembered me. This is in addition to getting the basics right.

Both properties also had comfortable, inviting public spaces. That’s important on long business trips when staying in the room becomes claustrophobic and I’m too tired to go out. I just want the service people to be pleasant and smile.

That’s certainly not asking too much, is it? Please post what you want to find when you stay in a hotel. Perhaps some people who work in the hospitality industry will read your responses and take them to heart. We can always hope.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

6 ways to survive the trials and tribulations of long-haul flights

Written by kvfawcett on December 17, 2010 – 4:47 pm -

Everyone’s agreed, the days of glamorous long-haul flights are a thing of the past. How sweet they used to be. Even if you’re flying First Class (and if so, please don’t complain as much), trips that necessitate multiple changes are a pain in the butt.

Here are six suggestions to make flying from here to there (and there) a little less painful. Do try to remember, there’s hopefully light at the end of the flight or flights.

Pack smart and light:
Pack smart and if all possible, limit your luggage to a carry-on. Select a suitcase with wheels, because it’s easier to lug and if you have to run from one flight to another, you may save your back. Even though you may feel as if you’re “clothing light,” it’s better to arrive with clothes and other necessities than having your suitcase lost or delayed. Be certain the bag has a luggage tag with your destination and a copy of your itinerary should be placed inside the suitcase. If you have to go through security, as in some nightmarish U.S. airports, try to keep your laptop in a pullout compartment that’s easy to access.

Don’t book tight connections:
Even though hanging around an airport isn’t how most people would opt to spend their time, don’t book a tight connection. Some airlines will allow an hour but unless you’re God and can predict weather and traffic, you’re asking for trouble. If you have a close one, alert the airline personnel. Try to reserve an aisle seat in the front of the plane and advise the flight attendants they may need to quarterback a fast exit for you and call the gate where you’ll (hopefully) be boarding your on-going flight.

Keep documents together:
Keep them so they’re easily accessible. Print out all possible boarding and e-passes. Travelers have their own methods and if you don’t, you may want to buy a pouch that goes around your neck (I try to conceal it under my shirt or sweater) so you can save the greatest amount of time and aggravation. If you’re up in the air for many flying hours, such a system comes in handy.

Knowing where to find your documents was once a no-brainer for departure. But discovering documents is considerably more challenging if you’re flying internationally and have been on and off different flights. This is especially true if you’re sleep-deprived.

Request required entry documents for the country where you’re landing before you disembark. There’s nothing quite as much as fun as waiting in the immigration line and filling out forms while simultaneously doing a balancing act on your suitcase.

Stick to one airline or one termnal:
If possible, try to take the same carrier. If you’re flying on different airlines, you’ll invariably have to change terminals. Airports that accommodate long-haul international flights appear to be expanding each week evolving into mini-cities.

Before departure, access the Internet and print out the airport’s terminal map. Study it and mark where you’ll need to go to board your connecting flight. Depending on the country, you may or may not have to go through customs. If you’re lucky, you’ll be allowed to stay in a transit area.

Dress comfortably:
Most people try to be comfortable but please do not go sloppy. Wear shoes that can easily be removed when going though security, skip the belt if your pants won’t fall down (or put it on after clearing the screening process), wear a sweater, take something that can be a headrest or a pillow.  Carry some munchies and a water bottle in the event of delays. Remember to empty the water before going through security and fill the bottle up afterwards. Water fountains come in handy.

You might want an IPod/IPad or the electronic toy of your choice. I’ve just invested in a Kindle for an upcoming trip.
 Some people swear by ear plugs, earphones and eye shades. Whatever makes you more comfortable and takes up the least space.

Join a lounge, if only for a day:
If you’re not in first class or business class or travel regularly and have a club card, you may want to join Priority Pass for the trip. Just that bit of relaxing and pampering can make an enormous difference in how you feel when you disembark.

Priority Pass gives you access to executive lounges at most airports world-wide. You’ ll be able to sit in more comfortable surrounding, have something to eat and drink while you’re waiting for the subsequent flight. Most lounges have free WiFi, an additional big plus. Some of the lounges even have chaises so you can nap.

Remember some credit cards like Diners Club also provide lounge access, mainly at international airports.

These are just a few tips as to how to travel long distances and not arrive at your destination feeling like a dish rag. Please add your suggestions and know they’ll be appreciated by long-distance travelers.

They’ll even come in useful for people who are going from the East coast of the U.S. to the West coast. How many connections can you make? How I miss the days of wearing white gloves to go visit my grandfather in California. The stewardesses were so elegant, wore hats and looked as if they were models who wanted to make passengers happy. But, who could possibly be that old to remember those days? Pas moi.

Photo: © Leocha, all rights reserved

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Don’t cry for hotel owners

Written by kvfawcett on December 17, 2010 – 4:46 pm -

Don’t cry for the owners … but when was the last time you used a hotel’s room phone? It used to be a significant source of revenue that’s essentially dried up with the advent of cell phones and laptop computers.

Before the electronic revolution, travelers expected to see phone and business center charges at the bottom of bills when they checked out. Some tried to fight being ripped off (you mean, that one-minute-long phone call cost THAT much?) by accumulating coins and using pay phones.

Unless you were among the super rich, most people who were staying in hotels would call someone and ask for him or her to call them back so they weren’t playing beat the clock. Who wants to make a hotel’s coffers richer by running up tabs for speaking by the minute? And don’t forget the surcharges plus the taxes, thank you.

The hotel industry, already struggling to pull out of its worst slump in decades, is being forced to deal with a loss of income because of the booming popularity of cellphones and laptop computers. Not only can clients use computers to initiate phone calls, but they’re also entertainment centers. Laptops can be loaded with games, movies, music and if there’s free Internet connect, au revoir to some additional bottom line easy income that hotel owners previously factored into their P&L statements.

So what’s a hotel owner to do? Even though the proceeds from phone calls and movies represented a relatively small share of a hotel’s overall cash flow, they made a difference. Coupled with the lowest occupancy and room rates in decades, this loss has the hospitality industry rethinking its strategy as to how to compensate and generate additional income.

When it’s tough, the tough get going. Bring on the Sunday morning brunches, Saturday night movies at the pool, spa treatments, enticing cocktail hours with “signature” drinks and let’s learn the tango on the dance floor in the bar after dinner.

Times are hard. The hotel industry’s recovery has been slow, even though leisure travelers began to spend some money on summer travel. Analysts with Smith Travel Research forecast a modest 4.4% increase in occupancy rates for 2010; they predict daily room rates will remain flat.

“Occupancy is starting to inch up,” said Jeff Higley, a spokesman for Smith Travel Research. Still, he said analysts believe room rates won’t return to pre-recession levels for at least two or three years. “Hotel managers are reluctant to charge too much and rates have really taken a beating.”

The industry has a long way to go to overcome a slump that pushed down the average hotel occupancy rate in the U.S. to about 56% in 2009; the lowest it’s been in more than 20 years. Revenue per room dropped so sharply that hotel foreclosures in California quadrupled last year.

According to Colliers PKF Hospitality Research, annual revenue collected by U.S. hotels from phone calls dropped to an average of $178 per room in 2009 from $1,252 in 1999 which is a decline of 86%. Income from in-room movies and games dropped to $126 per room from $171, a decline of 26%, according to the research firm.

Hotel operators are realistic and know they’re not going to recapture that revenue and have to find alternative income sources.

If you were advising industry specialists how to generate revenue, what ideas would entice you to part with your money? We know there are ways. List some of your ideas. After all, we’re signing the credit card bill when it’s time to leave the hotel. Let your imagination flow.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |