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 |

Weather gods wreak havoc in U.S. & Europe

Written by admin on December 21, 2009 – 3:18 pm -

If your immediate travel itinerary includes a train trip on the Eurostar, you’d better make alternative reservations and hope. Eurostar has announced it’s suspending service indefinitely until the company is able to rectify the most recent problems that caused trains to break down and passengers to be stranded. With Christmas only days away, more than 55,000 passengers’ trips have been canceled.

Saturday was chaos as 2,000 passengers were evacuated from six trains. People were trapped in the Channel Tunnel for up to 16 hours, after condensation caused a series of electrical failures, on Friday night. The stranded passengers had to walk through the darkened tunnel.

Eurostar chief executive Richard Brown has said, “We won’t  resume services again until we’re  sure trains can get through safely. We want to understand what caused this unprecedented breakdown.”

But getting anywhere in Europe may not be easy. Cold snap wreaks havoc across Europe as the EU is experiencing some of the coldest temperatures in recent history. Mother Nature isn’t cooperating with the travel gods. In France, 40 percent of flights out of Paris’s Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports were canceled as a second wave of snowstorms hit northern France.

Airports in Duesseldorf, Germany, Belgium’s Charleroi, Liege and Brussels airports were also closed due to heavy snow. Severe delays and cancellations were reported at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.

In the U.S., airports in the Washington, DC area were closed on Saturday. The region experienced the largest snowfall ever recorded in a single December day. New York area’s airports were closed for a portion of the weekend and passengers were advised to access airlines’ websites before heading to the airport.

If you happened to be in much of the East Coast, even if planes were flying, passengers may not have been able to get to their flights. The mayors of Washington and Philadelphia and the governors of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware declared states of emergency. There simply wasn’t enough equipment to cope with the areas’ accumulated snow.

In West Virginia, blankets were given to hundreds of drivers and some motorists were stranded on highways for up to 27 hours, according to Red Cross spokesman Jeff Morris.

A massive snowstorm headed north to New England and blizzard warnings were still in place in some parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island on Sunday. A record number of car accidents have been recorded during this period.

So many people have been stranded on the roads, in trains and airports that this December will go down in transportation history as one of the worst ever. If you’ve been a victim of the weather, please post your comments. Could transportation officials have done a better job? If so, how?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

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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Posted in Consumer Traveler |