Are Air France and British Air’s Open Skies starting a trend?

Written by admin on April 9, 2009 – 6:08 pm -

How can travelers get from here to there without feeling like pretzels sitting in the back of the plane especially on long-haul flights?

Is Air France going head to head with British Air’s Open Skies by introducing a private cabin called Premium Voyageur? Scheduled to debut this fall, the twenty-two seat private seating area will be located between the Economy and Business class sections. Previously, there would have been 40 seats. Having fewer seats will give Premium Voyageur passengers 40 percent more space than if they were flying coach.

The seats are fixed shells with an 18.9” wide seat that reclines 123 degrees and has a pitch of 38.2 inches, plus a leg rest that may be raised. Each seat will have 3.9” leather armrests so you won’t need to wrestle with your neighbor.

All of the seats will have a 10.4-inch wide individual video screen and passengers will be able to access 500 hours of on-demand viewing. Those flying this class of service will receive business class amenities including a travel kit, a bottle of water, noise-reducing headphones, a feather pillow plus a pure wool blanket.

At the airport, passengers receive priority check-in, increased weight allowance for their suitcases and their bags will be delivered to the carousel at the same time as Business Class luggage.

A sample round trip fare for the New York to Paris route starts from $1,431 including all taxes and fees.

Air France’s first available destinations will be New York-JFK, Tokyo and Osaka. But the Premium Voyageur cabin will ultimately be on Air France’s entire international long-haul network of Boeing 777s, Airbus A340s and A330s.

At the same time: Open Skies has completed its merger with L’Avion, creating the first all business class airline that operates nonstop flights between New York and Paris and between New York and Amsterdam.

Having taken this flight, I gave it thumbs up and could find no fault in terms of comfort, service, food and more.

Do you think other airlines are going to hop on the band wagon when it comes to establishing more moderately priced seating than Business Class fares?  First class and business class compartments appear to be fairly empty these days unless people are using upgrades. Or frequently the seats are occupied by employees of the airlines. I’m raising my hands and crossing my fingers that other carriers get the idea.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

7 steps to planning a great family vacation

Written by admin on April 7, 2009 – 6:12 pm -

Many parents have been known to say a specific vacation will be the last they’ll ever take as a family. As their children approach college age, many of them have no patience for the older generation — especially if they happen to be authority figures, for example, parents.

Plus, teens develop lives of their own, want to do things with friends, hang out or (hopefully) get summer jobs that preclude leaving town.

If, in spite of these hurdles, you’re planning a getaway as a family unit, there are ways to facilitate making it a trip everyone enjoys. The magic is called planning. Plus, throw in a little TLC, some to give and take, compromise, cooperation and free time.

The first decision is what type of vacation you’re going to take and where the family will be headed.

1. Chose a Destination: There are plenty of questions when it comes to this decision.

Do you want to go near or far? Will you need air transportation, train or by car? Are you looking for an all-inclusive vacation? For example, a cruise, a vacation at a dude ranch, a Club Med, a safari, a biking or hiking trip? Do you want a resort that has camps targeting different ages and interests?

Do you want to stay in a hotel or would you rather rent an apartment? Is the trip intended to be educational or do you to relax on the beach? Is it going to be a sports or water related get-away? You get the idea.

2. Budget: Set a budget and have it fixed in stone. Depending on how small or how big, this will dictate where you may and may not go. Wear your brutally realistic hat when you’re using a calculator and doing the math. Anyone who says a family of four can “do” a city in Western Europe on $100 a day is dreaming.

Some frugal travelers might be able to pull it off if they’re willing to sleep on the pavement and confine their meals to bread, cheese, possibly some fruit, rotgut wine and tap water. Personally, I don’t consider that a vacation.

On the other hand, for the camping, biking or hiking types, it’s doable. I’ve camped in France and discovered parts of the country I would never have seen had I stayed in a hotel.

3. Involve your children in the decision-making process: If you don’t, you’re doomed. They’ll feel as if they’re being dragged to a destination they haven’t chosen. This is where it gets tricky since not all members of a family necessarily like to do the same things at the same time

There are different types of excursions and something for everyone. Let your children take ownership of specific days — One day (or more) might be dedicated to museums; other days might be designated to outdoor activities.

Have an agenda. But don’t be so rigid that nothing can be changed under any circumstances. The key to a successful trip is when everyone feels as if his or her preferences are being accommodated.

4. Give each member of the group specific responsiblies: Teens are amazing when it comes to doing research on the Internet. One may be fascinated by specific destinations while another may excel at identifying accommodations and places to eat.

5. Give children freedom: Clear boundaries need to be set about what’s appropriate and what’s not.

- acceptable norms of the people at the travel destination

- acceptable behavior of the family unit even as if they weren’t traveling

6. Keep a journal and take photos: Start at the beginning of the planning process and record everything until the end of the trip.

Photos are a great way to capture memories. In these days of digital photography, creating a trip website doesn’t take forever and is a means of sharing.

7. Include unscheduled time for spontaneous fun.

Vacations are experiences that will be with you far longer than the trip itself. Please add any and all ideas you may have for making a family vacation a memorable one. Times such as this deserve to be cherished.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

10 hotel bathroom fantasies

Written by admin on April 2, 2009 – 6:15 pm -

For some, hotel rooms with big beds, fluffy pillows and amenities are important. Others find their lodging pleasure in the bathrooms. Well, what used to be known as bathrooms. You remember – a toilet, a sink and a tub for a shower or bath.

It’s no longer sufficient for hotels to have free business centers, WiFi, Bose iPod docking stations, lush Continental breakfasts and a mini-store where some supplies may be purchased. Now the bathroom should be grand enough that you can invite people for a party.

Here are my 10 secret hotel bathroom fantasies:

1. A huge tub (preferably with a Jacuzzi) plus a separate clear glass floor-to-ceiling shower stall with multiple jets and a rain shower spray. Preferably, it should be big enough for two people.

2. Enough hot water that you can sit or stand forever and the pressure is super strong.

3. How about a flat screen TV visible from every angle?

4. Naturally  – a telephone. And please, a clock.

5. A powerful hairdrier.

6. Two sinks — it’s hard to share. Please include good lighting and a no-fog magnifying mirror.

7. More towels and washcloths than you can possibly use– the thicker and fluffier the better. So much for the green movement.

8. Robes – who wants to pack their own?

9. Designer toiletries and they shouldn’t be the mini-mini size.

10. Flowers in the bathroom in addition to the bedroom.

I remember when I was pleased to find a super clean bathroom, a high voltage hairdryer and water faucets that were correctly marked and turned in the right direction.

Clearly, those days are a thing of the past. Bring in the luxuries, giant mirrors and elegant marble décor. And yes, would the housekeeping staff leave candy or some cookies at night.

In Europe, I always found a bidets. But, they are a luxury that I’ve only used to cool champagne and to wash underwear and pantyhose.

My bathroom fantasies sound terrific to me and to other hotel dreamers. But I’m certain I’ve forgotten some of the true nitty-gritty necessities. Plus, I’m certain you have your own fantasies. Feel free to add them.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

15 basic hotel room requirements

Written by admin on April 1, 2009 – 6:18 pm -

Hotel prices in most corners of the world are dropping, but people’s expectations, when it comes to hotel rooms, aren’t. Travelers don’t want to settle for less, even when only forking out bargain rates per night.

No matter what price I pay for a hotel room, here are 15 basics I want to look for before booking, certainly before returning again.

1. Clean, clean and then spotlessly clean.

2. Convenient location — If the hotel is in the city, easy access to public transportation; if people are driving, they want a secure and locked parking area.

3. A solid room door with a secure lock designed to minimize noise from other hotel guests.

4. Beds should have firm mattresses that don’t sag in the middle. Travelers want the equivalent of a Radisson’s sleep number bed or Sheraton’s Sweet Sleepers with duvets that aren’t threadbare.

5. A selection of pillows, but not so many that they end up on the floor. Hotels should ask clients what type of pillows they like.

6. Closet space to really unpack as if they’re staying for more than a night.

7. Good lighting.

8. An alarm clock, easy to set, that doesn’t go off by itself at 4 a.m.

9. A phone next to the bed and another unit on the desk. Of course, there should be voice mail.

10. Free WiFi

11. Sufficient, accessible electrical outlets. Who wants to climb on their hands and knees to plug in their electrical “musts.”

12. A television with a good selection of channels.

13. Sustenance basics: A coffee maker with a selection of different coffees and teas, a small refrigerator, perhaps a microwave?

14. An ironing board and iron. (Maybe a trousers’ press.)

15. Blackout curtains.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

How Many Ways can you say the Economy is Rotten?

Written by admin on March 27, 2009 – 12:21 pm -

No one is happy about the world’s financial situation. If we’re not experiencing a depression, it’s certainly one hell of a recession. Economists can call it what they like, but unemployment rates are spiraling out of control and even though we’re allegedly not experiencing inflation, certain necessities feel as if they’re more expensive. Perhaps it’s because people have less disposable income. Expats have to deal with the situation in the old country as well as where they are living at the moment—and realize there’s no place to run. 

A trip to my local grocery store has me looking at the receipt more than once. Why did it cost so much to buy so little? There was less of a sting last year and the only really good buy that appears to be left are bottles of wine at Ed, the discount grocer at the end of my block. For less than three euros, I can buy bottle of wine good enough to serve to company and drink it with a baguette. The French are still buying bread because it’s part of their religion as well as tradition. And perhaps it’s because the cost of a baguette (not specialty breads) is price-fixed by the government.  

Americans are used to clipping coupons and trying to make the most of their purchasing power. But as long as I’ve lived in France, I’ve never received a brochure before now telling me that Franprix (a medium sized grocer with numerous stores in every quartier) was going to be open on a Friday night between 8 and 11 pm. It was a nocturne exceptionnelle (which is not the same as a Chopin composition) and six euros would be deducted from clients’ bills if they spent more than 30 euros.  

My neighborhood store wasn’t mobbed and the salesclerks looked bored silly. Perhaps people who live in the more upscale areas of Paris would rather dedicate a Friday evening to going to the movies. What might have been a huge success appeared to fall flat. 

However, you’d have to be blind not to see that deep-discounted “promotions” are taking place in many stores in Paris. It may not be sale time, but when there’s a will, there’s a way to persuade customers to buy—or die trying. 

Each time I turn on CNN, it is clear that things are worse in the U.S. and that it’s time for banks and financial institutions to be regulated. If you weren’t feeling nervous enough, the constant re-looping of the same bad news story is enough to make people not want to leave home — if they still have one. This isn’t to minimize the severity of the crisis; my friends in the U.S. send emails filled with doom and gloom scenarios.  

How could things go so awry with AIG, one the world’s largest multi-national companies? As for Bernard Madoff, it’s hard to imagine that so many people could have been snookered by the king of Ponzi schemes. Where was the SEC in spite of numerous warnings? 

The French aren’t happy at all when it comes to their present and future security. On May 19th, more than a million people throughout France went on strike. Employees of the private sector joined traditional public sector strikers such as teachers, transport workers and hospital staff. People were protesting President Sarkozy’s cuts to the public sector and to France’s welfare system and are holding him accountable for failing to protect workers from the economic crisis.  

Ironically, even though there were so many people striking, people who live in or were visiting Paris didn’t feel much of a disruption unless they were near the Place de la République where the demonstration took place. Because of a recent regulation, buses and metros are required to operate in Paris – with less frequency – but people could still get around.  

Unemployment is on the rise and the French are scared for their futures. All of this has a familiar ring. But contrasted with the French, Americans rarely take to the streets over economic conditions since most labor unions, such as the AFL-CIO, are substantially less powerful than they were in the 1950s. 

All we can do is hope for the best — and that the hard times won’t last too long. But as the man in the White House said, we didn’t get into this mess overnight and we won’t get out of any quicker.

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Posted in Around the World |

Jet-lag jungle survival tips

Written by admin on March 26, 2009 – 6:20 pm -

There’s an alleged rule of thumb that when crossing time zones, it takes one day for every two hours of time change to acclimate to a new destination. That means, if you’re jetting from the East Coast of the U.S. to Europe (a six hour time difference), your internal body clock might take three days to get into sync.

Most people just don’t have that kind of time to get on schedule. For that matter, they could be home before they do. Luckily, people are generally adaptable or air travel might not be a viable option for them. Even three hours from the east coast of the U.S. to the west coast can set a person’s sense of time amiss.

Ask flight crew members how they cope. Some will tell you they always stay on the same time zone in order to function or be able to work during their out-bound, ongoing or homecoming flights. Some people are definitely more adept than others and quite a few cabin attendants confess to suffering from frequent sleep deprivation. Such is life and they have learned to smile — most of the time.

Frequent vacation travelers and most road warriors often have suggestions as to how to combat jet-lag. There are no universal answers but here are a few hit-or-miss ideas.

Get in shape and prepare for your trip before leaving home. Gradually adjust your sleeping pattern. Some people go to bed an hour earlier or later each day (depending on whether they’re traveling east or west) and attempt to get into that destination time zone before the departure date. Focus on where you’re going. As soon as you board the plane, set your watch so many hours ahead – or behind. Ideally, you’ll be less tired if you’ve already partially shifted your schedule.

Some people vow the worst thing to do on a plane is drink alcohol. Other passengers swear they have one or two cocktails or glasses of wine in order to relax and facilitate drifting off to sleep.

Some passengers opt to pop a pill with their drink and skip dinner if it’s an evening flight. They eat something before the plane departs and immediately will themselves into a Zen-like state. They resort to eye-shades, earplugs, headphones and a neck pillow and try to sleep all the way to their destination. Ask not be awakened for duty-free shopping or a second meal – if there is one. Wear your seat belt so it’s visible in the event of turbulence. Who needs to be disturbed by a crew member who’s checking to see whether or not you’re complying with the rules?

Request a large bottle of water so when you awaken during the flight, you can take a swig and remain hydrated without having to summon a flight attendant for a refill.

To nap or not when you arrive:
There are a many theories when it come to whether you should or shouldn’t. Some people say you should force yourself to stay awake the first day. You may be dragging but if you’re able to keep busy, eat an early (and light) dinner and hit the sack at a quasi-normal time, you’ll be good to go the following day.

Others say they couldn’t live without a nap, but it shouldn’t last more than a couple of hours. A lot depends on whether or not your accommodations are ready upon arrival plus your personal needs. And don’t be surprised if they change as you get older.

Many business people (and they’re usually the ones sitting in the front of the plane) swear that a workout in a gym gets their bodies and adrenalin going. Frequently, they’re expected at meetings the day they arrive and need to be in optimal form. They may even be scheduled for a business dinner their first night that can be more trying than pleasure.

On business trips, there’s a written rule that can’t always be followed: Never sign a binding document or contract before having a good night’s sleep. Doing so may cause you to regret having put pen to paper.

Jet-lag is often caused by the body’s internal clock being out of alignment when it comes to the Circadian Cycle or more commonly known as the sleep cycle. This controls when the body releases melatonin, which signals your brain when it’s time to sleep. Some travelers swear that taking melatonin tablets in preparation for a trip does the trick. Others give it little or no credence.

Some people use a light therapy unit (Apollo Health sells a travel kit) that might help adjust your body clock. Some people swear by artificial light as an antidote to winter/seasonal depression or “SAD”- Seasonal Affective Disorder as well as jet-lag.

Another theory suggests getting extra sleep before and after your trip when crossing multiple time zones. It’s as if you’re stocking up or making up for lost hours in bed.

If people agree on anything, it’s that you shouldn’t spend a long haul flight catching up on all of the movies (good and bad) you haven’t had the chance to see at home. Teens may be able to pull all-nighters; but even they suffer upon landing.

One thing I’ve noticed during my many flights is people in business and first class appear to sleep from lift-off time even if it’s a morning or mid-day flight. Let’s face it; it’s rare when it’s worth staying awake to sample the gourmet food.

If you have any secrets, ideas or suggestions as to how to beat jet-lag and falling on your face on the first and second days of your trip, please post them.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Camping as an alternative family vacation

Written by admin on March 23, 2009 – 6:23 pm -

This year, many families are considering axing their annual family vacations.  Traveling is a luxury and people are looking at their expenses and their bank balances with fear and trepidation.

If you’re in the U.S., you might want to consider camping. Campgrounds at state parks, national parks, national or state forests, and other public recreation areas as a destination for your family vacation. The cost of gas is down and there are numerous options when it comes to accommodations.

What can you expect at the campground?
They cost approximately  $12-$25 per night, considerably less than a motel room.

Park rangers, who also provide security at the campgrounds, typically run the parks. Frequently, they conduct programs where people can learn about the ecology and more of the area. Many campgrounds have activities targeted to children (and adults) with different interests. A great number have evening lectures and even sing-alongs.

Most campsites have a fire-pit, a charcoal grill and a picnic table. During high season, it’s prudent to reserve; different campgrounds have regulations as to precisely how long you may stay.

You’ll find an area to set up a tent and a place to park your car. There are dedicated buildings for bathrooms and showers. Don’t forget your personal belongings such as soap; shampoo, and rubber flip flops and other sundries.

All camping areas have drinking water available as well as places to do dishes and toss your trash.  Many are equipped with laundry facilities and some have mini-markets, which aren’t the least expensive place to buy groceries but are convenient. There’s some work to camping but hey … family members save a lot of money when everyone gets involved in doing the chores.

If you’re not into the tent culture, many camp grounds offer rental cottages. Some are more primitive than others. Or you can rent an R.V. if you want to travel in a self contained unit. Or you may prefer to drag a trailer behind your car so you can park it  and go off exploring.  Visit camping lots in your area and you’ll find there are a lot of used campers as well as trailers for rent and for sale. Many owners are delighted to rent them in order to generate some income.

Possible things to do  in a campground.
Most public parks have hiking trails and many parks have lakes for fishing, boating and swimming.

Discover nature — some city children have never seen a deer crossing a path much less a mushroom sprouting from the ground. Hummm, watch out for poison ivy.

Many camping destinations have recreational facilities such as basketball courts and playgrounds with swings and slides for the younger set.

Don’t forget to bring bikes, inflatable floats and pool toys, softball equipment, Frisbees, board games if the weather isn’t cooperating.  Remember your children’s favorite toys.

Yes, you can break down and ever bring a portable DVD player.

Bring a telescope so you can star gaze and a include a bird book if that’s your thing.

Locating camp grounds (both public and private) is only a question of surfing the Internet. In France, there’s a manual rating camping areas as if they were hotels with the equivalent of Michelin stars.

One caveat: Don’t assume you can pull off and camp anyplace you want. Depending on the state and local regulations, you might be breaking the law and awakened by the police in the middle of the night. Plus campgrounds offer greater security from people who might be up to no good.

I’m not an avid camper but have gone camping both in the U.S. and in France. I have some great memories and have amassed some tips. But, let’s hear your dos and don’ts and how you’ve maximized your camping forays. And whether or not this article is inspiring you to launch out on one?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Health Care for All

Written by admin on March 21, 2009 – 12:23 pm -

One of President Barack Obama’s goals is to make health insurance affordable and accessible to all Americans by utilizing the current healthcare system. This would include using existing providers and insurance plans.

As an American, this would be a dream. Not everyone can afford the wildly expensive health insurance policies, many of which have so many deductibles that people may find their insurance isn’t worth much except in the event of a catastrophic illness.

Some states in the U.S. forbid insurers to decline patients because of pre-existing conditions. In other states, it’s the insurer who makes the call and can do as they like and do.

In addition, monthly premiums might run as much as your housing costs. It’s not a pretty picture and, as a result, too many Americans go without medical insurance.

Being a French resident has increased my awareness (as well as the funds in my bank account) that medicine in France is a whole lot cheaper than in the U.S. A consultation with an internist costs 22 euros. And French healthcare is exceptional.

Because of government controls, prescription medications cost a fraction of what they do in the States. I was just able to buy a six-month supply of a pill I take for the cost of one month’s supply of the same pill purchased in the U.S. My cost for a month’s worth of pills was two dollars less than my co-pay. 

Having said that, if you need an aspirin in France, its much more expensive than in the US. Expatriates, once back in America, stock up on enormous bottles of vitamins, aspirin and other over-the-counter drugs. There’s current legislation pending that will enable French residents to buy non-prescription drugs for a reasonable price at certain grocery stores and parapharmacies.

Being an expat of a certain age, I don’t understand why Medicare doesn’t cover people who don’t live in the U.S. Some of us view it as discrimination and can’t believe it’s so difficult to do the mathematic calculations between what a procedure costs in Nebraska and what it would cost overseas. In spite of ongoing lobbying, American citizens who choose to live outside of the U.S. are under the financial gun. We’re hoping this will change sooner rather than later.

As things stand now, the same doctor’s visit and other medically related procedures cost very little in the E.U. (and even less in countries that are developing medical tourism, such as Singapore and India).

A few U.S. insurance companies are sending patients overseas for complicated surgical procedures to save on costs. Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently did an in-depth report on CNN, explaining this may become increasingly prevalent. The hospital he toured in India was nothing less than state of the art and many of the physicians had been trained in the U.S. 

The differential cost in medical care personally struck home recently when I had a houseguest from the U.S. His vacation was spent in misery, since he developed numerous symptoms from some mysterious illness. Don’t get the wrong idea – I usually don’t aim to kill people who stay with me. But on his second day in Paris, he awakened with the rash from hell. His body was covered with hives and it wasn’t a pretty sight, not to mention he was in excruciating pain from the itching.

Off I went to my local pharmacy to explain the situation, and returned with a box of antihistamines and some body lotion. The pharmacist couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating. Contrasted with the U.S., there’s a drug store on nearly every Paris block and they sell almost nothing but medications. In France, you may be able to buy a toothbrush in a pharmacy, but forget milk and other sundries—la pharmacie is not CVS.

When my guest wasn’t better the next day and had developed additional symptoms, we headed to the pharmacy (which can’t be more than 500 square-feet in size). Two of the pharmacists held a conference and decided he should go to the doctor. 

One phoned a near-by one and made an appointment for him to be seen immediately. We were told to rush to the office since it was a Saturday and the office was only open until noon. So we wouldn’t lose time getting lost, one of the pharmacists drew a map to show us the most direct route.

My guest, now the patient, was seen within minutes of arriving in the doctor’s office. None of this “sit and wait business” I’ve become accustomed to in the U.S., in spite of having a walk-in appointment.

If someone becomes sick in France and can’t make it to the doctor, he or she can call SOS Médecins — a network of 1000 doctors who make house calls 24 hours a day. When you speak with the dispatcher, explain you’d prefer a doctor who speaks English and describe your symptoms. The price varies depending on the hour you call. But the group guarantees a physician will be there within an hour. And it’s usually sooner. They can come to your house and even give shots at your home.

Many people say that all of the perks of the French medical system can’t last, as the French social security system (sécurité sociale) is under severe financial strain due to an aging population, which has contributed to a huge increase in spending on healthcare, pensions and unemployment benefits in recent years. As of February 2009, France’s health spending alone is around 10 percent of its GDP. Then again, America’s is over 14 percent—and I’m not always sure we get the best care for the high prices.

You can’t help but wonder if there will ever be parity when it comes to medical care and goods and services. For right now, I have US insurance, and I also tap into the French healthcare system when needed. Fortunately for me, I have the best of both worlds.

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Posted in Around the World |

For hard-core travelers, only one kind of airline ticket will do

Written by admin on March 19, 2009 – 8:34 pm -

Let’s face it: These days, most people are cutting back on travel costs. But if you’re conducting business, there are times when you have no choice but to bite the bullet and go.

This is especially true if you’re dealing with clients or suppliers in foreign countries where you must press the flesh to get a deal done.

Frequently, it’s less expensive to purchase Around the World (RTW) tickets rather than going from here to there. Some road warriors have more than one open ticket going simultaneously. Thank goodness I don’t need to do that type of travel, but I fully admit to being a get up and go travel addict and love to visit old and new places.

I’ve finally found a savior and have delegated the worries to them. I was especially glad when I went to Asia this past December and the airport in Bangkok was closed. I had to be rerouted and rerouted again. Imperial American Express Travel Services was on the ball and sent me emails (as well as calling) to ensure I wasn’t going to be stranded. If I had been planning the logistics myself, I would have been a nervous wreck. As it was, it was only inconvenient. But hey, I wouldn’t have seen Singapore if something hadn’t gone awry.

Imperial American Express Travel Services is based in Canada, which gives them a definite advantage over U.S. agencies. What I learned is that if an Around the World trip originates in a county that costs less, most tickets are required to be raised to the (higher) U.S fare. For some reason, and I’m not going to refute it, Canada is the exception.

People taking long haul flights would rather travel business class or first class, and you can’t blame them if they’re going to be spending hours in route.

The airlines (with their partners) can and do offer RTW trips. But each time I’ve tried to book one, I’ve never been able to find the best price if I’ve wanted to make any detours. Unless you’re really savvy and have a slide rule coupled with a computer for a brain, you can spend not just hours, but days, planning the air portion. This agency has managed to ticket me in business class for less than coach class would have cost had I been doing the travel planning myself.

When friends and family inquire how I afford to indulge in my passion for travel, I advise them to access Imperial American Express Travel Service’s site and specify their itinerary needs.  With all of the promotions, advanced purchase requirements and rebate stipulations, there’s no way I can possibly compete with these pros. They have had the pleasure of planning four trips for me. If they can survive my constant emails, they deserve to be nominated for sainthood.

I’d much rather book the hotels where I want to stay, the sights I want to see and leave the air details to a company that has resources I simply don’t and will never have.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

Editor’s note: is an online agency that specialized in RTW tickets. It might be another option.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Which airport do you dread the most?

Written by admin on March 16, 2009 – 8:39 pm -

It feels like sacrilege to be writing this, considering I’m someone who loves and lives in Paris. But that doesn’t mean I have to relish its main international airport Roissy – Charles de Gaulle.

Perhaps it was because I was flying on a Friday the 13th and because Terminal One is (still) being renovated that getting through passport control and security was enough to make most people experience heart palpitations.

Departure passport control madness
There are numerous airports I try to avoid when clearing security or customs is mandatory. London-Heathrow is one of them as is Chicago-O’Hare. Airports in India and some developing countries are no fun either. But Paris? I’d never had such an experience when departing.

Arriving at the airport nearly three hours before take-off should have been more than enough time especially because I was flying business class. (Thank goodness for accumulated miles with which to upgrade.)

Obtaining the boarding pass was a no-brainer and I was given a pass to the Red Carpet lounge where I could relax before boarding. I must admit I was surprised I had to pay a €36 departure tax that previously had been absorbed by the airline. But times are tough. It’s only money and so far, so good.

That’s where the good luck ended. Only one checkpoint was open where passengers were required to show their boarding passes and passports to take the rolling sidewalk up to passport control. I had a deja-vu feeling of arriving in New Delhi, India only to find myself in the midst of hundreds of people pushing to get into the front of the line – as if there were a line – in order to clear customs.

The Aéroports de Paris inspector stopped the hoards of people who were trying to get to their planes and instructed them to wait since there was a back up at passport control. There’s nothing like hearing those words when your flight may be leaving without you, even though you’re supposedly there in plenty of time.

When the impatient crowd was permitted upstairs, there was more than an hour’s wait to have passports stamped to leave France. The four inspectors looked at each and every document as if people were trying to come into the country rather than exiting. The line kept getting longer and longer and people looked increasingly nervous.

By the time I arrived at United’s Red Carpet lounge, there was already an announcement to go to the gate for security clearance. We had to wait again to have our luggage searched and to have our passports and boarding passes inspected yet again for our flight on a U.S. carrier.

The line went on forever and the inspectors were none too swift; there certainly weren’t enough of them to contend with the numbers of people and their carry-on luggage.

Eventually, passengers heading to Dulles were given priority so the flight could take off on time. As it was, people straggled onto the plane until the very last moment and the pilot advised everyone to take their seats immediately or we’d lose our take-off slot.

On-board disappointments
One of the perks of flying business class is being given a drink before take-off. I opted for a Mimosa in order to quench my thirst and hopefully calm my nerves.

When it was time for a drink before lunch, I requested a glass of champagne. Colette, the very French flight attendant who’d been with the airline for more than 15 years, apologized by saying that all United serves in business class is sparkling wine imported from the U.S. and she was humiliated that flights originating in France were no longer serving French wines. “It only stands to reason that French wines are substantially less expensive in France.” Colette kept repeating as a point of national pride.

She went out of her way and highjacked a flute of French champagne from first class. How spoiled I was even though it certainly wasn’t Dom Perignon. Lunch was lunch but certainly not the same as it used to be. Colette explained they did the best they could, but with such massive staff cutbacks only so much was feasible when it came to food service and it certainly wasn’t French.

U.S. customs ease
Going through customs at Washington’s Dulles Airport was the height of organization. Everything went smoothly until an inspector randomly waived me to another exit area where each and every bag was checked for food products. I had none and know better. The extra inspection didn’t take too long.

Perhaps I should just chalk it up to bad luck and plan not to book another flight on Friday the 13th.

Which airports do you dread the most when it comes to going through security and/or passport control? Some are clearly easier than others.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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