Kitty—She Stole People’s Hearts and was the Ultimate Jetsetter

Written by admin on July 30, 2009 – 2:08 pm -

She appeared at the kitchen door of our Provence home and even though the last thing I wanted or needed was a cat, she adopted us.

Perhaps the plate of milk and a little bit of tuna persuaded her she’d found some suckers. But, there was no way we could have a feline friend dependent upon us.

We traveled too much plus we commuted between Paris and Provence. Stability was not our middle name. There wasn’t even a reason to name this cat since there was no way she was going to become a family member. As a result, she was called Kitty—even though a friend named her Voilà. I was having none of it since she wasn’t a keeper. Or so I thought.

After a ten-month-long absence, we returned to Provence to be greeted by a striped cat with a crook in her tail waiting in the parking lot. My husband was delighted. I was not. On top of that, she was feral and would drag snakes to the door as a present. Plus the carcasses of birds she snared. For someone who’s a city person, this was too much.

Fast forward—Kitty wormed her way into our lives and into our home. Before I knew it, she hiccupped and produced four offspring. Thank goodness Sarah Fox, Executive Editor of Bonjour Paris and her three-year-old daughter were visiting and took over supervising the miracle of birth. I knew it was natural. But it was too natural for me especially at 5:00 a.m.

When I took her to the vet to be spayed, have her shots, and so on and on, I knew I was trapped. By this time, Kitty was adapting to being an indoor cat and liked sleeping under an electric blanket when the mistral was blowing.

Perhaps Kitty liked Provence but I didn’t love it during the winter when it was cold and the wind was roaring down the Rhone Valley. Could Kitty adjust to being an apartment cat? After buying a carrier, she hopped in it and we both started commuting by TGV between Avignon and Paris. Her ticket cost five Euros. She was a trooper and never made a peep throughout the entire trip. When she was in the apartment, she’d look outside but never attempted to escape. Kitty knew when and where every ray of sunshine was going to appear and you could find her in the precise spot—sleeping.

She was such a seductress that she even persuaded Joseph Lestrange to take her to a café. I was against it but had zero say. Kitty liked Paris and quickly understood why I so loved the City of Light where there was action and so many more people to make a fuss over her.

When I started needing to spend more time in the U.S., I found out what it was really like to spend money. In order for her to have an E.U. passport, she needed to have a series of shots including rabies. After six months, she needed a blood test to show the shot had been effective. The regulations are constantly changing but those were the days when animals couldn’t be admitted to the U.K. unless they were quarantined for six months.

Then there was the obligatory identification chip that had to be inserted in her neck (90 Euros, merci) and the vets on both sides of the Atlantic knew they had an annuity since Kitty needed an international health certificate (how many stamps can you put on multiple copies of the same health form?) within ten days of traveling. When I heard my neighbor on the plane hack and sneeze, I wished the same criteria applied to humans as to our pampered pets.

Kitty crossed the Atlantic a minimum of 25 times. When United Airlines raised its fee to $250 EACH way, I would stay on the phone and tell the agent Kitty deserved frequent flyer miles not to mention a meal. All I asked for was some ice in case she was thirsty.

The adage that pets become like their owners and vice versa is true. Kitty would board a plane and immediately fall asleep and stay that way until we landed. Many people are allergic to cats, but no one ever complained about my furry companion since no one knew she was there. I’d put a blanket loosely over her carrier and she wouldn’t even snore.

Kitty was accumulating a packet full of papers, instructions in French and in English, two vets and numerous caretakers to cover when I was traveling to Asia or places where she wasn’t welcome or would have been a prime catch for someone’s dinner.

Thank you Stacy, Riza, Jenny, Jonann (who’d send me a daily update about the princess complete with a photo) and Budd who became a second parent for this femme fatale feline. Budd and Kitty were so bonded that she’d go for walks with him in the hall of his apartment building.

Kitty died prematurely because she had feline AIDS and couldn’t fight off an infection. When I held her as she was going to sleep, she mumbled a meow. I’m certain it was with a slightly French accent.

To Kitty—thank you for being my friend and companion and I’ll miss you forever. And to be sure, when we have our “conversations,” we’ll continue to discuss how you were able to get an E.U. passport and I wasn’t.

With love, July 27, 2009

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Posted in Paris, and more |

Weekend in Sydney: Confessions of a mileage run junkie

Written by admin on June 15, 2009 – 5:30 pm -

Who goes to Sydney, Australia for only two days? I did. And there were specific reasons.

First, it was a mileage run. Since United Airlines has been holding a double your miles incentive program to entice people to fly (and that means qualifying miles that count towards one’s premium status) which ended today (June 15th, 2009) a trip to Sydney from Washington would add nearly 40,000 miles to my United account.  Some people access their bank statements on line. Others check their airline miles. Then there are those who do both.  I fall into the latter category.

More people than you think do mileage runs. A flight attendant told me she’d had a passenger who’d flown from San Francisco to Sydney and returned the day she arrived. That’s a bit extreme.

But, the man sitting next to me explained that being a 1K member of Star Alliance, enabled him to book the least expensive ticket (and since United was running a promotion, it cost approximately $800 round-trip) and use a system-wide upgrade. As a result, he was flying business class.

Second, it was an endurance trial. As a woman of a certain age, I wanted to test my stamina and how I would cope with jet lag. Would I arrive “down under” and spend my two-and-something days there in the hotel room? Not on your life, even though the 100-room The Blue Sydney was a more than tempting place to veg out.

So many business fliers and road warriors fly from one city or country to another and never give it a second thought. In the past when I’ve had to be lucid upon deplaning, I’d find myself nodding off during the presentation. But then, I was flying coach.

Third, I wanted to experience United Airline’s business class. I’d never flown on the new 180° flat bed seat with individual 15” monitors and plugs and enough room to work on my computer and even be able to look at some reference materials without dumping them on my neighbor or in the aisle. Most seats in coach don’t have plugs so people who want to work are out of luck when the battery goes dead.

From San Francisco to Sydney, I flew on the upper deck and sat downstairs on the return portion of that run. If I have the choice again, I’ll opt for the upper deck since it’s quieter and there’s not as much commotion. One caveat about the new seats: as wonderful as they are, there’s not a lot of overhead storage for suitcases and there’s no storage on the floor. And the person sitting next to the window needs to be agile enough to climb over his or her neighbor if the seat is configured into the bed position.

Fourth, I wanted to see how much I could see in two days of non-stop sightseeing. Thanks to some dear friends, I compressed a week’s worth of seeing into two fabulous days  — which I’ll write about sooner than later.

And lastly, as I have been on the road so much recently and have crossed a total of 18 time zones in the past month, I wanted to see whether or not a person could actually live in no (or all) time zones without losing their sanity. The resounding conclusion is yes – but they may need to resort to medicinal aid.

I’ve discovered, after spending so much time in the air that as soon as I hear the plane’s engine revving up, my body now goes into a sleep mode no matter the hour. After popping a pill, I use my own pillow, blanket, wear men’s cashmere socks, put on my noise canceling earphones and padded eyeshades, and slip into a cocoon. It’s essential to get as much sleep as possible, even if there’s a movie that’s been on your wish list forever or a book you’ve been dying to read. It’s not that you can’t do those things. But make sleeping your priority.

Other hints: Even if you have a drink or two of alcohol (and many people say it can be your ruination on planes), drink a lot of water. No matter in which section of the plane you’re flying, either request a big bottle of water or bring an empty plastic one through security screening and fill it when you’re in the safe zone from the nearest water fountain.

When you board the plane, set your watch on local time and hope your body takes the hint.

Other frequent flying things I’ve learned: Having to change planes and make connections can be the straw that breaks the camel’s (or your) back. Being a member of an airline club makes life easier so you can relax. Plus, if there are delays, you’re somewhat covered and less frezzled when you board the next flight. This is the time when buying a “day pass” to a club can be an excellent investment.

Another revelation: I must have the look of a terrorist or the customs officials at the Sydney airport are as strict as they come. I was stopped twice for a passport check before I was exiting with my luggage.

I thought I was all clear but was ushered into a line where a very polite young woman unpacked my suitcase, my carry-on plus my purse. Contrasted with some TSA officials I’ve encountered, she repacked everything with total precision. I never could figure out what she was hoping to find. I literally had nothing (not even nuts which are verboten) that could qualify as contraband.

As soon as I arrived at the hotel, I made a fast run to the gym and worked out as quickly and hard as I could. The shower did wonders and off I went for 12 hours of touring.

No, I was not upgraded to business class on the U.S. portions of the flight. It would have been a nice bonus — but I managed to sleep anyway and went to bed at midnight after returning to DC.

It’s a bizarre feeling to have crossed so many time zones, the equator, lost and gained a day and still be alive to write about the adventure. And after two days in one place, I’m preparing to board another plane.

If I don’t make 1K this year, I’ll be one very unhappy person.  Come to think of it though, because of this past promotion, there will probably be so many 1K members that we’ll all be sitting in the back of the plane since there are so few upgradeable seats when flying domestically. The airlines are using smaller planes and cutting the number of flights.

I’ll never be a Global Services Star Alliance member since those are people who don’t buy discounted tickets or use miles to upgrade. It’s rumored they need to spend $50,000 on tickets per year to qualify.

People are welcome to post their tips as how to best deal with living in the skies as well as their jet lag secrets. And please confess whether or not any of you are doing mileage runs. Obtaining your preferred carrier’s top status comes with all types of perks. At least, let’s hope it does.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Why am I landing in Brussels instead of Paris? Not enough fuel

Written by admin on January 27, 2009 – 9:16 pm -

Dear powers that be:

I am writing to protest my recent trip between Washington/Dulles and Paris, France.

My United MileagePlus account was credited with one segment and 3,861 miles. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Because there wasn’t enough fuel on board due to weather conditions, we were forced to make an unscheduled stop in Brussels. Rather than landing 30 minutes early as the Captain announced upon take-off less than six hours before, we landed in Paris approximately two hours after our scheduled arrival time.

I recognize things are tight at United and another 1000 employees are being laid off. There will be additional cutbacks and times are tough.

But how much did that unscheduled stop cost? Weren’t there landing fees incurred with our Brussels visit? What did it cost to file an extra flight plan?

Rather than a non-stop Paris landing, the plane was forced to fly an extra leg. This dictates additional fuel, not to mention wear and tear on the plane and the passengers. And what about the turn-around time for the aircraft?

Was United forced to pay extra to the French workers who were responsible for the aircraft’s inspection and turn-around? I don’t know about the French aviation union but if it’s like other French unions, a rush job probably carries a premium.

The crew was angry and conveyed the feeling this wasn’t the first time they’d made an unscheduled stop. One mumbled the flight’s captain was none too happy.

It’s becoming clear that the potential of saving some money is more important than catering to those who have boarded the flight. The crew did its best to smile but was having a hellava time.

What would your reaction have been had you been on that flight? Can anyone calculate how much that unscheduled stop cost United? Is this the future of travel especially when it comes to US carriers?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Kudos for answering complaints, United!

Written by admin on November 13, 2008 – 12:58 pm -

United Airlines has just been commended by an independent advisory panel for improving its customer relations program. Airlines are now being rewarded for communicating with their customers. Wasn’t that once a basic good and expected business practice?

The Global Six Sigma and Business Improvement awards for Best Project in Achievement, Marketing and Customer Experience said the airline has made significant new gains in dealing with its public relations challenges. It’s implemented a new system to improve the quality and timeliness of customer responses, inquiries, compliments and concerns.

Barbara Higgins, vice president of customer relations, said “While United is taking aggressive steps to address the causes of complaints, we are equally focused on ensuring that concerns are addressed quickly and effectively. This award is indicative of some very significant progress.”

The normal domestic traveler may not notice a great deal of difference when winging their way from Chicago to Denver or Boston to DC. However, the airline does far better when it comes to long haul flights, most notably flights to Asia where service takes on a different look and feel.

Perhaps there are three contributing factors:

1. Many of the passengers are business travelers and are paying substantially more for their tickets.

2. Others use their premium status and miles to upgrade to business or even first class.

3. The flight crews tend to be more senior than the ones flying between Washington, DC and Chicago several times a day since it’s a short hop, skip and jump.

Airlines are certainly more solicitous to passengers they’re sure to see again and again than people who take that once-per-year vacation.

Hopefully, United will find a way to extend their long-haul service attitudes and procedures to their domestic routes. That will go a lot further toward improving customer relations that simply answering complaints more efficiently.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |