Preparing for a travel day from hell

Written by admin on December 22, 2008 – 12:32 pm -

As I sit overlooking Hong Kong’s landscape, there’s a nagging feeling radiating through my consciousness that tomorrow is not going to be calm. I know that in preparation for the journey I will need some serious therapeutic relaxation.

I am faced with 24 hours of sitting on three planes, waiting in airport lounges, clearing customs and hopefully arriving at my chosen destination as scheduled, in order to celebrate the holidays with my family. Rather than taking time to look at a last few Hindu and Buddhist temples, I’m praying to the airline and the weather gods.

Watching the boats and ferries navigate Victoria Harbor, the waterway that separates Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, is always magical. Lights twinkle and entice tourists and residents to venture out and explore Hong Kong, one of the world’s greatest playgrounds. It seems so peaceful. But, I know tomorrow will be a stress test.

One of my ways that I pamper myself in preparation for a long day of travel, it to make time for a massage and spa treatment.

As much as I’d like to eat a spectacular dinner, this is the time to pass on a large repast. After a morning spent running from one place to another at a full gallop, in the afternoon, I indulged in being pummeled and pampered at the Four Seasons Hotel spa.

For less than $100, I lived the life of a decadent sybarite. The spa session included a massage, a light lunch at the hotel’s pool and the use of the spa’s facilities. What a fabulous set-up. During my four-hour sojourn, I also treated myself to time in the sauna, the steam room and the Jacuzzi.

After that workout, spending a couple of hours in the vitality lounge where I was lulled into a stress-less sleep was imperative. As if that weren’t enough, each guest is given a spa robe and all of amenities one could want and need. Plus tea and a selection of ‘calming’ drinks and water are yours for the taking.

Each chaise in the relaxation room has its own mini-television screen and earphones, plenty of reading material, extra towels and a fuzzy cotton blanket that would make anyone feel as if they’re in a private cocoon.

Even though showers are mandatory before using the shared facilities, the “after” shower with its “rain sky” shower head is enough to make anyone feel as if they’ve had a mini-escape from seeing and doing. Hopefully, it will minimize any upcoming travel stress.

Some people opt for a massage after arriving at their destination, especially if their hotel room isn’t ready. Some airports have shower/massage rooms for people who aren’t traveling first class. They’re not free, but are godsends if you have to go straight into a meeting or simply sightseeing.

When departing from home there is plenty of pressure just getting to the airport and insuring everything and everyone is in order. A trip to the gym and possibly a swim are perhaps all that can be managed. Long-haul flights are precisely that — long.

But before embarking on the return trip, rather than shopping, it’s probably more constructive to prepare mentally and physically for the trip home. If the hotel doesn’t have a spa, there will be one nearby that does. Or surf the Internet. Unless one is traveling from Siberia, there will undoubtedly be dozens of spas that are unearthed. Perhaps the spas won’t be as luxurious as the one at the Hong Kong Four Seasons Hotel, but after any massage and spa treatment travelers can’t help but be more relaxed for the long haul back home.

If you have other favorite travel relaxation suggestions to add, please do so. Who said flying around the world is easy?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Bangkok – here I am. But where are the others?

Written by admin on December 19, 2008 – 12:34 pm -

During Thailand’s highest tourism season of the year, the lack of tourists makes Bangkok feel somewhat eerie. After arriving at the vast 563,000 square-meter Suvarnabhumi International Airport yesterday, we didn’t have to wait in long lines to clear customs.

The airport, which opened in 2006, is the second largest in the world and was slated by the government to be Southeast Asia’s major hub handing up to 45 million passengers per year.

But that’s not going to be the case this year because the airport was shut down by protestors. People were stranded in Bangkok and others were forced to bypass the country completely. Tourists have been blocked and diverted.  Many people have canceled their travel plans to the region.

After the airport’s reopening, airlines flying in and out of the airport have cut flights and planes aren’t flying at capacity. But now that I’m here, there’s zero feeling of danger. Our itinerary was a victim of the airport’s closure and we were diverted to Singapore before continuing to Laos.

It seems safe to return and there’s lots of room
Bangkok, “the City of  Angels” is filled with upscale and architecturally dramatic and inviting hotels. It’s estimated room occupancy is down by approximately 70%.

The country’s lucrative tourist industry accounts for up to 12 percent of the country’s GNP. Tourism experts state that the long-term effect could be very damaging to Thailand’s economy.

As December is the country’s high season, the lack of tourists isn’t simply a blow to the hotels and hospitality industry but to retailers as well. Residents from this region traditionally come to Bangkok to do their Christmas shopping. Stores cater to all tastes and budgets.

Deep discounts abound
Already there are deep-discounted sales in the toniest of shops. A walk through the Bangkok’s famed Night Market is distressing.

Contrasted with my last visit, there was a sense of depression visible on the faces of the vendors. One said that between the airport’s closing and the downturn in the economy, she wondered whether or not things would ever be the same.

Rather than negotiating for a pair of $10 pants, (and that’s always been a part of the give and take), it was easier on my conscience to pay the full asking amount.

Twenty-four boutique hotels and eleven travel agents have launched a “One Price for All Destinations” campaign to spur domestic tourism. The package features special room rates of 2,000 baht ($60) per night per person, including accommodations, breakfast and dinner plus airport transfers.

The participating hotels are in Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Pran Buri, Krabi, Chumpon, Chiang Rai, Sukhothai, Samui and Koh Phangan. Bookings are open both for Thai and foreign tourists booked now until Feb 28 allowing eligible stays until June 30th. Normally these boutique hotels would cost about 5,000 to 6,000 baht ($150-$180) per night.

Thailand’s resorts are quiet and now is the time to snag a deep-discounted luxury villa you could never have imagined affording.

Even medical tourism is suffering
Medical tourism has become a viable and growing industry in recent years. People from all over the world are checking into private hospitals and clinics for essential procedures as well as tummy tucks and other cosmetic procedures. But, even that side of tourism has suffered; at least in the short run. One plastic surgeon said his clinic’s business has taken a dramatic drop.

It’s sad to think that Travel & Leisure magazine conducted an online poll where Bangkok was picked as the best vacation destination city. And now, it’s begging for visitors. If only I could stay longer and enjoy what the city has to offer. But I have to be home for Christmas.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis and is sorry her trip to Asia is coming to an end.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

8 rules for renting a vacation home or apartment

Written by admin on December 17, 2008 – 12:36 pm -

For a vacation or even an extended working trip, there’s no question it frequently makes sense to rent an apartment or a house rather than staying in a hotel. But how do you avoid ending up in a rattrap? Here are some rules to help find the right place.

Since the launching of the Internet, more rental sites than you can count are created each year. It’s no longer simply a question of surfing the Web. You have to be aware of some of the tricks of the trade and do your homework. After having rented villas in the countryside and rented out my own apartment in Paris, here are basics as I see them.

Dealing with agencies
There are agencies that handle excellent properties. If they’re doing their job, one of the members of the staff will have inspected the apartment, perhaps stayed there and worked with the owner to insure the apartment is in tip-top shape. The agency is your contact and it should be responsible for making your stay go smoothly.

Many have a local representative meet and greet you when you arrive and run interference if something goes wrong. It’s your vacation and who wants to wait for the plumber?

Agencies take various mark-ups over the payment the owner receives. Sometimes it’s hefty and much deserved. Other times, it’s too much for the service you receive. There are good and bad agencies. Some simply want to make the booking, deposit the commission and see you later.

Good agencies count on repeat business and don’t want to alienate property owners or rental clients. They take extra care to make certain the rental is a good match for both parties.

For rent by owner
Don’t dismiss rental sites that cater to people who want to manage their own property. I rent my apartment and I want to know for certain that twelve partying 20-somethings aren’t occupying my home when an agency said there would be four middle-aged adults. That’s happened. I want to establish a rapport with people who are sharing my Paris home and I’m more than happy to act as a quasi-concierge.

Special requests are accommodated. If someone wants an airport pick-up, no problem. No matter where the potential tenants live, a phone call is a cheap investment and creates a sense of bonding. Anyone renting a property, shouldn’t hesitate to ask if they may speak with previous tenants.

Know what’s included with the rental. Many landlords expect tenants to buy everything from soap to toilet paper. If they generally don’t stock the necessities, ask them to do so even if you have to pay. The last thing you want to do is dash to the grocery store the minute you arrive.

Here are 7 what-to-look-for rules:
1. If renting a house or villa, find out if there is a caretaker, gardener, pool person, maid, etc. and what time they come. It’s best if there is someone to speak with if, for instance, you can’t figure out how to light the grill or open the door on the European washing machine. You also don’t want to be surprised naked in the pool when the pool boy shows up at 10 a.m. to clean the filter. Serious owners have all this laid out for you in advance.

2. Know the house location and neighborhood. If it’s a totally new place,  independently determine what the specific location is like. Most disappointments generally have to do with homes in a neighborhood that might be very different than that imagined (farther from the beach, traffic noise, party neighbors and so on).

3. Study all pictures carefully. Wide-angle lenses can make a tiny spaces look like mansions. Ask yourself what can’t you see outside the borders? Don’t make any assumptions. Assume if you don’t see it; it isn’t there or it’s lacking. Be wary of listings where pictures provided look cropped and there are obvious things outside the frame (i.e., if you are assuming there’s five acres of isolated land, but if you don’t see the house surrounded by land in the picture then assume there’s a house right next door). Don’t be afraid to ask the owner to send more pictures if there’s more you want to see — they usually will.

4. Realize that the market drives prices. If a place is listed for 50 percent of the price of other places in the area, ask yourself what doesn’t it have? It’s most likely missing something (e.g. a pool or perhaps the beds are 2 twins in a small closet-sized room), make sure you understand what you’re getting. Study the fine print. Ask for the exact number of square feet or meters.

5. Home and apartment renters are often far more negotiable than a hotel. Unless the listing specifically mentions something isn’t flexible (i.e., “absolutely no pets”), see if you can negotiate check out times, check in times, small pets, schedules, even fees. Sometimes the answer is no, sometimes it’s yes.

6. Ask for discounts for extended stays. If staying longer than a couple of weeks, an owner may discount the rental.  And if staying a month or more, insist on a discount.

7. Sometimes renting a house can be an opportunity to make friends. If renting from an owner. Be friendly and interact with them. Tell them about yourself. Sign the guest book. Owners like re-renting to people who are good tenants. If traveling with children, many owners will be happy to introduce your children to others in the area.

8. Take care of the place, clean it up well, follow all the written procedures and check out by the agreed time. If you really like the property and manage to hit it off with the owners, frequently they’ll offer a free dinner or a discount the next time you have an opportunity to rent. Plus, they’ll email when there are sudden openings and bargains.

It’s judicious to take the time before your arrival to be sure you’re getting what you think and hope rather than spending  a week or more being frustrated.

As much research as you do, you may be still face surprises. The unexpected does happen. I’ll never forget renting a country home only to find that the day after we moved into our paradise, the people across the way started gutting their home. Thank goodness the workers left early each day. But still…

Feel free to add any ideas or tips I’ve missed. And I’m certain I have.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Travels to Laos — flexibility is king

Written by admin on December 15, 2008 – 12:37 pm -

Air travel isn’t what it used to be and leaves some people questioning whether or not it’s worth the hassle to take to the skies. I’m not of that persuasion nor will I ever be. But I have to admit that some trips are easier to take than others, especially when they entail multiple stops and unanticipated changes.

Here is a quick report about my current trip from the road, or airport, or hotel as it may be.

On our way to Asia, we stopped in Seoul and spent a night there to acclimate to the time difference. My friend and I managed to do some sightseeing, walk through a shopping area that caters exclusively to natives, take a fast swing through the National Museum and head back to the airport for a flight the following afternoon.

Our two-for-the-price-of-one-tickets on Asiana Airlines more than made up for the cost of the layover detour through Seoul. The airline service was among the best and most gracious we’ve ever encountered. If we hadn’t been forced to make additional changes to our onward itinerary, we would have been less stressed during our stopover in Seoul. But it has been a good lesson in flexibility (as if we needed the challenge).

Because of internal politics and airport closings, rather than going to Bangkok from Seoul, we flew via Singapore. Not anticipating that leg of the trip, we had done zero research. We were lucky enough to be able to book a room at the city’s newly opened St. Regis Hotel. It’s one of the most spectacular city hotels I’ve visited in years. Thank you Starwood for allowing us to redeem points that covered the cost of our stay (with butler service and all) right off of Orchard Road.

For anyone into the Christmas spirit, the city’s decorations are breathtaking. The airport road is lined with Disney characters — it makes you wonder whether or not you’re in a foreign country. After driving a few miles, the holiday decorations glow and glitter. But they aren’t the least bit gaudy and seem to inspire people to spend money. People from all over Asia head to Singapore for R&R as well as excellent medical treatment.

Singapore is famous for its written rules and regulations that don’t even permit people to publicly chew gum and there’s zero tolerance for drug use. There is no litter nor do you see broken down cars with mufflers roaring. Owning a car is expensive — the government has a lottery system for auto permits and then imposes taxes that prevent anyone other than mega-millionaires from owning more than one.

The one full day we were in Singapore, we hired a taxi to give us a tour of the city. We weren’t interested in seeing only tourist attractions and lucked out when we discovered our driver was a fountain of information and could have worked for the Chamber of Commerce. He committed to chauffeur us for an hour. But after three hours, we asked him to take us back to the hotel. Prior to driving a taxi, he’d worked for the government and wasn’t ready to financially or mentally retire.

During that three-hour tour, we saw most of the city, walked through Chinatown where the original houses have been preserved and upgraded and now house upscale boutiques. We learned about Singapore’s population and its importance as a shipping port as well as being a major financial center. Many multinational companies have headquarters here since Singapore is one of the safest places in the world to live and has excellent schools. Violent crime is essentially non-existent and people of any and all religions peacefully coexist.

The city is growing by leaps and bounds. It has an opera house, on-going cultural events and (for better or worse) will soon have a theme park. in addition to a casino. Its economy isn’t experiencing the same downturn and there’s still employment to be had.

International cusine is available from every corner of the world. Anyone who wants to sample many, head to an indoor or outdoor food court and enjoy food from multiple countries. The city is the quintessential mixing pot for people of all nationalities. What we would have given for an extra day to be able to explore more. The idea of not rushing was becoming a fantasy and how we wanted to really unpack for real.

The Hanoi layover
The next morning we departed for the airport at 7:30 a.m. The Singapore Airport is huge and even though we thought we had the correct departure terminal, we found ourselves in the wrong one and raced via the sky train to another terminal where we were on the next plane to Hanoi.

Our layover was five hours because of our forced rerouting. Spending five hours in any airport is no one’s idea of heaven. The Hanoi airport is one of the least exciting and how we would have loved to have gone into the city (we would have had time to have some clothes custom-made), but we didn’t have a visa to exit the airport.

The transit lounge in the Hanoi airport is tiny. Even though the airport professes to have WiFi, I was only able to receive and send email — it felt like the old days of being on a dial-up modem. I couldn’t even access Bonjour Paris.

Our flights and trip has been changed so many times and changed again –  thank you Imperial American Express Travel Service. This trip would have ben impossible without a good travel agent’s help. Additional flight changes were received today since one of our flights has been canceled and I suspect there will be more.

Finally, Laos
I am writing this from Laos, which is one of the most inspirational countries I’ve ever visited. The adventure has just begun. There’s no question I’ll be in a more Zen place after spending time in Buddhist temples and experiencing a totally different culture and a way of life and being.

In the meantime, here are two not-so-new lessons I’ve learned:

Don’t count on being in constant touch. There is no guaratee about getting an Internet connection or receiving and sending emails via a Blackberry.

Confirm every on-going flight. Travelers may complain about air travel in the US and usually with valid reasons — but when in developing countries, plaster a smile on your face, learn how to say please and thank you in the local language and leave your type A personality at home.

Karen Fawcett is president BonjourParis

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Packing the essentials: cords, plugs, adaptors and more

Written by admin on December 10, 2008 – 12:42 pm -

Not so many years ago, packing the essentials signified clothes, toiletries, medications and probably an adaptor plug or a dual current hairdryer if you were heading overseas.

For many people who travel to multiple countries on business, assembling a suitcase requires an increasing amount of time and attention.

I’m in the middle of my trip. I’m learning how prepared and unprepared I am. I’m collecting a list of essentials as I go. Here’s my list (and muttered comments) after a week away.

Cords, plugs, adaptors and more: they seem to multiply each year and why can’t more of them have multi-uses?

A computer.

Travel with an Ethernet cable. There’re not always easy to come by and don’t count on being able to connect via WiFi.

A Blackberry that may or may not work. If it works as a telephone, it may not be able to receive emails depending on the country.

A quad-band cell phone for which you can buy a local SIM card to make and receive calls at a more reasonable cost. Of course that necessitates being able to get on line in order to inform people of the telephone number of the week – unless you travel so much that you keep multiple numbers operative.

A camera, which necessitates a charger and a UBS card reader so the camera’s memory chip can be downloaded onto a computer and the photos can be deleted.

The most recent necessity is a set of earphones or a Bluetooth earphone (it needs to be charged as well) so you may call people via Skype.

If your computer doesn’t have a built-in web-cam, you may want to take a portable one. Don’t forget the UBS cord.

If you’re wise, you’ll also take some memory sticks or thumb drives to back up your work.

All of these plugs, wires and other paraphernalia will undoubtedly cause your suitcase to be subject to inspection when going through airport security. You can always check these items. But as they have become essential for dong business, most people carry them aboard for fear of their not arriving or disappearing.

Many travelers insist on carrying their personal noise canceling headphones to use during the flight (don’t forget extra batteries) and thick eyeshades.

At this point, most carry-on bags are so full that it’s a struggle to include your files not to mention a book to read.

There are bound to be items I’m forgetting. Please add them.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis

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Discovering day rooms for long layovers at international airports

Written by admin on December 8, 2008 – 12:48 pm -

How many times have you had six to eight hour connections between planes and wanted to do something other than walk the airport’s corridors? There’s only so much shopping one can do or overpriced airport food a waiting traveler can consume. Many airports’ public spaces are so crowded and noisy that the concept of relaxing is an enigma especially since carry-on bags need watching like a hawk.

For a long layover, day rooms are are wonderful alternatives to simply wandering between Gate A-1 and G152. For intrepid travelers the choices for passing time have long been to leave the airport for a short local tour or meal or settling into one of the airport lounges with magazines, TV, snacks and endless drinks. However, both have their drawbacks.

Leaving the airport is fraught with anxiety and often just not practical. The thought of leaving the airport and missing my flight makes me itchy. Anxiety often overcomes the glory of the Eiffel Tower, the symmetry of Plaza Mayor in Madrid or a walk along the Rhine in Frankfurt.

Legally, I have heard, travelers are not supposed to leave the airport’s premises if they’ve checked bags for an ongoing flight or may need an entry visa during a layover to wander outside the airport corridors. And with airlines requiring passengers to be at the airport two hours before departure, there frequently just isn’t enough time.

Airport lounges are invaluable and some frequent travelers invest in yearly club cards so that if they’re traveling in coach class, they may access the inner sanctum, do some work, eat something or simply relax. But it is rare to find a business class level lounge that is good for catching up on sleep or freshening up.

The day room alternative
Airport day rooms are an alternative that I have just discovered after crossing the Pacific. A few airports have day rooms but finding them isn’t an easy Google search. With flights being cut and more travelers being forced to wait in order to get from here to there, day rooms undoubtedly have a growing future.

Here are a few day rooms or short-stay airport rooms that I have found after speaking with international travelers and browsing the Internet.

Amsterdam Schiphol, London Heathrow and London Gatwick Airports have “YOTEL” based on Japanese Capsule hotel models. Passengers don’t have to exit security to access these rooms. The small cubicles feel more like boat cabins than hotel rooms, but the serve their purpose. Occupants can sleep, read, shower, power up computers and use the free WiFi. No one would want to spend an entire honeymoon in a place like this but Yotels are a boon for tired travelers.

There are day rooms at Narita Airport in Tokyo but they’re rumored to be similar to slightly tacky plastic cubicles and are so small that people with claustrophobia want out as soon as they awaken. Others feel they serve their purpose.

The room was small, but we actually fit on the bed, which is more than we can say for most beds in China, including the one in our apartment. Soap and shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste[1], are all provided. They even do wake-up calls.

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport — Day rooms are available for passengers on the 2nd and 4th floor of Terminal 1 & 2 at reasonable rates for six hours with soft drinks, Tel: 535-3710-24.

The Hong Kong airport has shower rooms for rent as well as rooms where mothers may take their infants to nurse.

Singapore Changi Airport offers 73 transit hotel rooms in Terminal 1 and 73 in Terminal 2. Rentals are in six-hourly blocks ranging between $37 and $42 for single or double occupancy. Showers, gym and sauna facilities are also available at extra cost for non-transit hotel occupants.

The Dubai Airport has 88 rooms in the 5-star Dubai International Hotel, on the arrivals level of Sheikh Rashid Terminal. But don’t they come cheap — expect to pay $41 to $62 an hour!

Travelers wanting to rest and relax between flights will most probably have to exit the customs area and head to hotels adjoining the terminals (such as the Sheridan Hotel at Paris’s CDG Airport or the Hilton or Thistle at London Heathrow) or motels and hotels within the airport complex.

Some will advertise “day rates” while others won’t accord occupancy. Many airports have reasonably priced hotel rooms available, depending on the season and whether or not conventions are taking place in the vicinity.

One suggestion: Access a couple of hotel Internet booking sites if you think you’re going to want a room between flights. Last minute rooms are frequently deep-discounted.

Be certain there’s a shuttle service to and from the property and the airport. If you have to hire a taxi, you may find yourself accumulating hefty bills as there’s a minimum charge for leaving and going to the airport. Plus, if a driver has been waiting in line anticipating a hefty fare, don’t be surprised if he or she is cranky.

If you know of other airports that have day rooms, please add them.

Another question for business and leisure travelers is would you use day rooms? If not, what alternative plans would you make? Very few travelers want to live in an airport. And eight hours in captivity feels as if it’s a life time.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis; and is currently in transit in Asia.

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Air travel – what happened to the glamour days?

Written by admin on December 3, 2008 – 12:49 pm -

Speak with anyone about the pros and cons of travel or ask what irritates them about flying and you’ll be barraged by responses. Travelers complain even before getting on the plane about security screenings. Then complaints abound once aboard. Here’s my whining list of procedures and passengers who bug me.

At security checkpoints:
• Inconsistent security screening standards between airports and in different countries.
• People who take too long to collect belongings. Or seem to be taking their time getting dressed after the mandatory strip act in order to walk through the magnetometer. People should collect their things and assemble them somewhere else so others can pass.

Passengers in general during boarding and deplaning:
• Those who are generally late boarding.
• Passengers who bring too many items on board.
• The clueless who bump everyone in aisle seats with their bags as they enter and haven’t a clue as to how to stow possessions in a selfless and logical way.
• Passengers who spend extra time in the aisle looking for a place to stow luggage.
• When deplaning, these same folk take too long to pull their luggage from the overhead.
• Passengers who take too long to get out of the plane, up the jetway and into the terminal.
• Those who stand in the aisle.
• Anyone who reclines their seat during boarding.

Passengers who irritate me during the flight:
• Those who put their seats back during food service (if there’s any) making it uncomfortable for the diner to eat without someone’s head above (or in) their food.
• Overweight people who should be required to buy two seats rather than occupying half of mine.
• People who hog the arm rests.
• A general lack of respect, courtesy or awareness by some.
• Passengers who walk through the cabin grabbing each seat as if it were a handrail.
• Those who place their knees firmly against seat-backs.
• Travelers who rest their feet on the bulkhead or the armrest in front of them.
• Chatty passengers who insist on talking to the person next to them when not invited.
• Or, aloof folk who are so rude that they don’t acknowledge there’s a person in the next seat.
• People who use airplane lavatories in their socks or bare feet.
• And those who use the lavatories as dressing rooms when there are lines of people anxiously waiting.
• Passengers who don’t take the time to wipe clean the WC before exiting.
• Besides loud cell phone talkers, people who don’t shut them off when instructed.

My airline irritants:
• Flight attendants with an “attitude.”
• Pilots who turn the seat belt sign on and off every time the plane vibrates or talk during a night flight.
• Worn out and dirty seat cushions.
• Late arrivals and the clear “we don’t care” attitude of the airlines about it.
• Pushing away from the gate and sitting on the runway in order to have an on-time departure.
• The lack of information or the total lies that airlines tell passengers about estimated takeoff and arrival times during inevitable delays.

And if the above gripes aren’t enough — don’t get into the subject of children, infants, cats or dogs or people who haven’t taken a bath — or those who’ve used too much perfume or shaving cream.

Why don’t you add what you don’t like about air travel?  Or better yet – please list something you like. There must be something!!

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis. Ironically, she loves to fly on long haul flights because it’s where she sleeps the best. One caveat – it should be business class.

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Bangkok-bound? Uncertainty abounds

Written by admin on November 28, 2008 – 12:52 pm -

This time next week, I’ll scheduled to be jetting off to Asia. The first stop on this marathon is Seoul, South Korea. It’s not that I’ve had a deep and dirty yen to visit this country. But, since we’ll be flying from New York, Seoul is a good spot to acclimate to the time change. I’ll have time to take a quick look-see, explore the tiny streets and alleys in the city’s market that people report deserves exploring and 30 hours later, proceed to Bangkok on my way to Laos.

Or so we thought and still hope. As of today, the airport is closed, a battle is brewing and there’s general unrest. Tourists are unable to fly to the main international airport. Some planes are landing and taking off at an auxiliary airport. But the situation is a mess in so many ways.

When the news broke over the radio and TV, I could sense impending trouble. The first call I made was to Sivan, my travel agent at Imperial American Express Travel Services.

Within minutes, she had made additional reservations via Hanoi, Vietnam. At the same time, she advised us to wait and evaluate the travel situation until after the Thanksgiving holiday. This is when you’re grateful for a really competent travel consultant who doesn’t flinch after receiving high-stress emails or semi-hysterical phone calls.

Traveling between Paris and Washington, DC is one thing. But a trip across Asia with late-minute changes requires a pro, who has immediate access to all of the booking engines and can accomplish things with the click of a mouse.

OK   – I can (try to) be laid back but it’s not really my style. And if it were mine, it isn’t Vietnam’s. Visitors are required to have a visa to enter the country and it doesn’t come fast or cheap.

A passport expeditor, he said he’d get the visa within 24 hours. But we’d be required to supply proof of flights and confirmation of hotel rooms. Thank goodness for the Internet … but who needs the drama, trauma and the stress. Don’t get me wrong. I love Vietnam. But I’ve been there three times in the past three years and wanted to see Bangkok this go-around.

Thailand has already experienced a dramatic drop in tourism. This isn’t helping the situation to be sure. Then again, who wants to go to a country in the midst of civil disobedience?

I’ve contacted people I know living or working in Thailand. They have responded that it’s safe to come to Bangkok and I shouldn’t fear for my life. The media tends to loop video segments dramatizing the situation. However, landing at the airport may prove problematic, no matter what my friends have to say.

Yes, I will use my city smarts, be on the lookout for pickpockets and people up to no good. And if the flights are taking off and landing, I’ll request a hotel car meet us. There are times it’s worth the extra money to have an extra barrier of protection.

But unless the flights aren’t going, we’ll be there. Know you’ll hear more about the experience. And yes, we’ll definitely register with the Embassy.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Do you really want to eat after midnight on long-haul flights?

Written by admin on November 24, 2008 – 12:54 pm -

Why do airlines insist on feeding passengers when it’s long after the dinner hour?  Even after midnight? If passengers haven’t already eaten, it’s because they don’t want to. That is, of course, with the proviso that passengers are fed at all, which is rarely the case when when winging across the country on a domestic flight (except on Continental).

Perhaps you have an answer, but I don’t get it. Most people, it would seem, who board planes at midnight or later, prefer to sleep. Three course meals are rarely on their minds. Flight attendants I know can confirm that passengers may want a drink or two (only for medicinal purposes) to help them doze off. But food isn’t of much interest.

During the past week, I have flown on two long-haul flights that departed after midnight. I was fortunate to be able to upgrade to business class with frequent flier miles. The business-class sections on both legs of each trip were full and most passengers were asleep within minutes after the captain announced it was OK to sit back, recline and relax.

There’s another dining conundrum that in my experience U.S. carriers fail to address. After sleeping for six or seven hours, I wake up ravenous. I don’t expect or want a full dinner. But how about something more substantial than potato chips and chocolate bars? On the last 15-hour-long business class flight I took, I had to beg for a sandwich, which was hijacked by an accommodating flight attendant who raided the first class galley.

After comparing U.S. flights to the ones I recently took on Open Skies from Kennedy to Paris, I shot an email to Chris Vukelich, an executive with the airline. I asked him about shifting the dining timetables.

His response was short and to the point. “Most airlines in business class provide some flexibility when it comes to eating. British Airways offers a program called “Raid the Larder” which allows Club World passengers to choose from sandwiches and other items when they want to eat, even if they have had the regularly scheduled meal or chose not to eat it. The lack of flexibility by most U.S. carriers to their business class passengers is incredible.”

Other airlines, such as both Virgin and BA, provide pre-flight meals in the business/first-class lounge. Passengers can then go right to sleep after take-off. These pre-flight meals are perfect when flying on relatively short overnight hops such as Boston-London or NY-London.

When traveling in Asia, I find it’s worth maintaining a club pass for entrance to business class lounges. These lounges normally offer passengers breakfast, lunch and dinner finger food. They also provide snacks, free alcoholic drinks and free Internet access.

When traveling on Asian airlines, if passengers awaken mid-flight, there is always something to nibble on, no matter the hour. In addition, the staff is gracious about serving a hungry passenger in their seat if the passenger requests.

On most U.S. airlines, passengers often come away with the feeling they’re imposing on the staff.

What is wrong with this picture? There’s cost cutting, but it rarely feels like passengers are the priority. U.S. airlines should learn that it doesn’t take much to buy loyalty but it’s up to the airlines to make the additional efforts.

No one relishes feeling like cattle. Heck, even cattle aren’t fed after midnight.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Passionate about shopping? Stop over at Dubai International Airport

Written by admin on November 21, 2008 – 12:56 pm -

If you want to buy it all without paying sales taxes, the Dubai International Airport is the place to go. It may be a bit of a trek for Americans. But some people will do anything for a bargain. Even though many are reeling from the overt signs of a recession, it clearly isn’t impacting others who are born to shop and have the funds.

Dubai Duty Free is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Terminal 3 has just opened and there’s even more glitz. Now travelers can shop in an 8,000-square-meter (86,000 square-foot) mega-retail-center.  Stores are open around the clock. Retailers from every part of the world have outlets. It’s considered one (or probably the) best duty-free shopping complex anywhere in the world.

When the shopping center opened its doors in December 1983, the first year’s revenues were only $20 million. Last year, Dubai Duty Free registered record sales of $880 million — 24 percent more than the previous year.  There were 19 million transactions; that’s an average of 52,000 sales per day, an increase of 18% over 2006.

Dubai Duty Free is projecting another record year in 2008. Mid-year sales were approximately 30 percent ahead of last year’s. If the trend continues, spending will top $537 million.

There’s not even a need for dedicated shoppers to leave the airport since (depending on your nationality), 96-hour visas are available. Visitors holding a US passport can stay up to 60 days. The Dubai International Hotel is right in the complex. But there are many other nicer hotels within 15 minutes of the airport/shopping heaven. Choose from any and every type of decor and be surrounded by all types of places to eat, including way too many Starbucks, McDonalds and KFC outlets. But unless you have an outbound ticket, airport security isn’t going to let you enter the premises.

There’s little to nothing you can’t buy in Dubai Airport Duty Free. It’s a global shopping center, where all you need to do is garner the strength to go from store to store and hand over your credit card. Do alert your card provider before setting out on this foray.  You might want to increase your credit limit.

It’s hard to get close to the counters where gold jewelry and bullion are being sold. Many people would rather invest in it than put their money in stocks and bonds. Buyers will find a lot of 22-carat gold. It’s the closest to the pure metal and you’re charged according to weight. If it’s more than a chain, you’ll most probably pay extra for the design. Keep in mind it’s softer and more fragile than lower grades of gold.

From electronics, to watches, designer clothes, crystal, liquor, cigars and cigarettes, the selection doesn’t stop. There is also gourmet food from various parts of the world including Beluga caviar.

The Dubai Airport is one airport where it’s better to allow extra time before and after a flight. Even for non-shoppers, the airport makes for some of the best people watching in the world. People are everywhere — shopping (of course), lining the corridors, sleeping and surfing the Internet on free WiFi (within limitations because many sites are banned and the government does not permit downloading Skype).

Lucky passengers might win a lottery since there are all types of promotions to entice people to return and return again. Many people from neighboring areas fly in and out of the airport to quench their shopping desires. When it comes to marketing, this group knows how to move merchandise and has won more than 150 awards from industry and media entities.

There are plan for future development in the event people are worried there won’t be enough to buy. And you’re thinking how to cut down on gift buying this Christmas. Some people aren’t faced with the same dilemma.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |
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