Up in the Air

Written by admin on June 16, 2010 – 11:56 am -

If you’ve been wondering what’s it’s been like, George Clooney had an easy time when it came to being a road warrior.

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies. George Clooney had a great time—believe me. He wasn’t trying to fly his way around volcanic ash or sleep on a cot in an airport for six days. Airport hotels? Heaven on earth given the alternatives.

Goorge Clooney could watch TV in his hotel room or the bar without being bewildered and depressed by cancellation notices, dire forecasts, and overflowing toilets. Nor did he have to deal with people sleeping everywhere or children crying. His life was good—or kinda.

Not wanting to miss the drama, I managed to arrive in Washington, DC in time for my granddaughter’s seventh birthday on the 24th. My flight wasn’t impacted in the same way as people who couldn’t take off last week and until Wednesday of this week. That’s when the airports officially opened in most of the E.U., even though flights were departing from some parts of Europe, depending on the day and the hour.

Please don’t think I’m making light of a dreadful situation. Rest  assured most people have concerns over the impact of volcanoes and climate change. But after all, volcanoes are natural and happen—honest—every day; they just tend to be smaller and politer. In any case, let’s hope we’ll never experience this type of travel disruption again.

Not only were the lives of passengers and flight crews disrupted, but planes weren’t where they were supposed to be. When the skies were declared safe, many flights were cancelled because there simply weren’t aircraft to transport people from here to there.

Robin Worrall, who writes special reports for The Danish Centre for Energy Savings in Copenhagen, was heading to Washington, DC. His initial flight from Denmark to London was cancelled. Luckily he was able to get a connection and made the first scheduled United flight to leave the U.K. on Thursday the 22nd, just when the ban was lifted.

Worrall admits to feeling a wee bit guilty, as well as lucky, as the plane departed, because he’d had a reservation on that specific flight. People who’d been stranded since the time Heathrow closed on the 14th surrounded him.

The flight attendants were in excellent spirits since many of them were returning home. They welcomed everyone as the passengers were boarding. Some commented about how expensive London was compared to the U.S. At least their housing was covered during the paid but unwanted furlough. That wasn’t the case for many others who had no option but to wait it out. No matter what was the reason for their trips, it was as if people had been handed “get-out-of-jail and pass-go-collect-$200” cards.

Before the DC-bound flight took off, the captain assured everyone that United wasn’t taking any chances. Off they went and after a few minutes, everyone clapped. The French aboard naturally shrugged and said, C’est normal. You’d think the plane would have had every seat filled, but much to Worrall’s surprise, there were two empty ones next to him in the Economy Plus section of the cabin. “I was lucky in every way,” he said. “The flight over was pleasant and we landed only eleven minutes late.”

Bonjour Paris’s events‘ editor Lisa Buros didn’t have the same luck. She and her fiancé were headed to the U.S. for their dream wedding, only to have to call it off because the guests would have arrived in time, but they wouldn’t, since their flights from London were cancelled and cancelled again.

Lisa adopted a stiff-upper-lip British attitude and has rescheduled the event. “We’re going to have a hurricane wedding in Las Vegas and do anything we please.” she said. The pair can’t wait to be surrounded by family and friends. Gee, this type of agony might have split some couples up. But I suspect this one will be dining out on this story for many years. And then some. No doubt the grandkids will roll their eyes.

As for me, I managed to make it to my granddaughter’s birthday and on time. But, I would have flown half way around the world to do so—and darn near did.

Please post your stories if you were inconvenienced by the volcano or were waiting for anyone who was. Let’s hope this will be the one and only occasion you’ll have the opportunity to rant this way.

If you were the recipient of an act of kindness while stranded, please share that as well. We’ve been hearing those stories too. Someone was musing as to whether or not there will be romances (even weddings) resulting from chance meetings in airports.

© Paris New Media, LLC

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Posted in Around the World, Paris |

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 |

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 |

Hit the Skies, Jack & Trying for Comfort

Written by admin on June 13, 2007 – 3:48 pm -

As an increasing number of people are hitting the road, they’re devising tricks and tips so traveling feels less akin to drudgery. Unless you have a private jet, there’s little to no way to lessen the pain of getting in and out of airports in these days of heightened security.

Unless you’re sitting in the front of the plane, (and even then), you’re going to notice lots of cutbacks and occasional grumpy members of the crew. Who can blame them? They resent senior management is banking bigger bucks at the end of the year, while their salaries and pensions decrease.

I’m not referring to occasional tourists who are winging their way to a week’s vacation at someplace wonderful and exotic or a spa stay. Even though they may be impacted by bad weather, canceled flights and other aggravations, it’s not a way of life that has a domino effect in impacting personal finances at the end of the month. People who count on commissions have been known to want to set their hair on fire and vow never to book a flight with a layover in Chicago in the midst of winter.

A vast number of  visitors to France travel in order to conduct business, and if they’re lucky and choose to do so, tack on a day or two of vacation at each end of the trip.  Food is food but there’s something special about a dinner in a stellar Paris restaurant.

Many business people want to parachute in and out of business destinations and get home as rapidly as possible. But, what a shame not to see Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal if you’re in that part of the world.

Travel warriors, whose careers depend on being on the go, invariably have developed routines of their own. Many people wear essentially the same clothes whenever they travel, add or subtract items depending on the weather, social functions and what they have on their agendas. Frequently people keep a bag packed in the event that they’re called upon to be on the next plane.

Once, I spent 14 nights in different beds during a 21-day period. The rooms were less than glamorous and I found myself awakening in the middle of the night befuddled. Where was I and what was I doing there? I started freaking out when I realized I didn’t know in which time zone my body was existing.

Finally, I compiled a list of must-take items that helped me feel a bit less disoriented as I jetted around the world.

It requires a bit of space in your suitcase but take your own pillow. I even use it on longer flights when I’m trying to catch a few winks. This pillow has become more essential to my travel comfort than an extra outfit or a fourth pair of shoes. Besides, a woman can never go wrong if she wears black accompanied by scarves and other accessories with a bit of color. Men always look right at a business dinner if the wear a dark grey suit, a white starched shirt and an appropriate ties. You can never go wrong in Paris if you opt for Hermes.  There’s nothing wrong with wearing a tie from this designer even if you’re in London or in Rome.

A picture of your children, family or even your dog or cat to give your room more of a feeling of home. Cell phones are a boon.  Just make certain you’re not calling your children, (much less your spouse) at 2:00 a.m.

A facemask. Different rooms have different levels of brightness and one will aid in giving you a uniform sleep. There are ones scented with different smells to which many people become habituated. There’s lavender scented one that reminds me of Provence and has a cooling and soothing effect.

Pack an alarm clock to which you’re accustomed and can actually see. There’s nothing more disconcerting than awakening in the middle of the night and having to look for a clock or, more often than you’d think, not find one. Scrambling to locate your watch so you’re able to ascertain the time of day or night can throw off your biorhythms.

There is no one answer as to how to beat travel fatigue and or displacement. A key secret I learned was to visibly prop a sheet of paper that included the following information. The name of the hotel, the CITY in which it’s located and the room’s telephone number.   There are a lot of cookie-cutter looking hotels, most especially ones that are targeted for the business traveler.

The Bonjour Paris mantra however, is to try to leave a few extra hours for a mini-vacation.  Go to an art exhibition, a concert or a walk in the park.  They are there for enjoying in every European city in the world.

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Posted in Around the World |