One lost drivers license can really ruin your whole day

Written by admin on July 6, 2009 – 5:20 pm -

Sometimes, even the most seasoned travelers can find themselves up a creek without a paddle.

I just had a day like that.

Somewhere, somehow between my going through airport security and boarding the plane, I managed to lose my driver’s license.

Was it in the Red Carpet Lounge? Did I stick it among my possessions?  Did this indispensable piece of plastic fall into a tray as I was rushing to collect my computer, bag of liquids, the bag filled with electronics and more cords than anyone should need?

All I knew was I’d become a non-person and even though I’d reported my losing the license to everyone with whom I’d came into contact at United Airlines, I boarded the plane suspecting it was going to be a day of no good news.

I spent the first hour of the flight tearing through every pocket, bag and the new wallet I recently purchased.

I don’t drink alcohol on morning flights but succumbed this time. The flight attendant brought me a screwdriver, which I quickly downed and went to sleep.

Perhaps the license would surface when I awakened.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. As instructed, I checked with airline officials when I arrived at LAX as well as the lost and found. No luck – no news – no license being transported on the following flight.

You don’t come to Los Angeles and think you can exist without a car. Even though I’d rented cars from the same rental company numerous times, there was a pit in my stomach that this would be a no go. Too bad the car was prepaid and that I had my insurance card plus a newly filed police report certifying I was licenseless.

Oh yes, the details of my driver’s permit were on file but there was no way the agent was going to give me keys. “It’s against California law,” he said and called a cab.

After the cab arrived and the driver was given my destination, he said he didn’t know where we were going even though it was downtown L.A.  This time, I was prepared and whipped out my GPS. People complain they’re frequently taken the scenic route when hailing Paris cabs and watch the meter ticking. Portable GPS’s may be the solution.

Since my arrival, I’ve had a copy of my passport, license, French residence card emailed and printed. The United executive advised me I should be at the airport early  for an extra security check and was nice enough to make a notation about my lack of identification.

If you’re into betting, how many people think someone might have found and mailed the license to the DC address that doubles as Bonjour Paris’s office?

If not, I know how I’ll be spending a few hours this week. And the Department of Motor Vehicles isn’t renowned for its charm.

Has this type of incident ever happened to others? I can’t imagine it hasn’t and want to hear how you solved the dilemma.

Karen Fawcett is president of  BonjourParis

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The night the crew saved my flight from hell

Written by admin on June 22, 2009 – 5:27 pm -

When I see a plane, I want to be on it. But after last Friday’s unplanned red-eye between Los Angeles and Washington, I’m having second thoughts.

I’ve been commuting regularly to the West Coast for family reasons and even though it frequently feels as if these flights are like traveling on overcrowded buses, I’ve learned to grin and bear it. So far, I’ve arrived at my destination in one piece and not too much the worse for wear. The revving of airplane engines is a soporific for me.

But this flight was not like the others I’ve experienced and it gave me an entirely new perspective on jetsetting. I’ll call it the flight from hell because it was; and I’m still recovering.

The LAX to IAD flight was scheduled to depart at 4 p.m. and land at Dulles just after midnight. I arrived at the terminal more than two hours early and headed to the Red Carpet Club.

At the appropriate time, those of us who were DC bound headed to the gate, boarded and were set to go. Because the airlines are using smaller aircraft and have cut back on the number of flights going from one destination to another, there wasn’t an unoccupied seat. But this was going to be an on-time departure until the head flight attendant announced that everyone was there with the exception of the pilots, who were detained because of bad weather in the Midwest.

No one wants to hear, “Please deplane, take all of of your possessions and return in two and a half hours.” Some passengers grabbed their cell phones and booked seats on different airlines. They were business types who were flying on full-fare tickets and had nothing to lose since their return was refundable.

I was amazed by how well most people took the delay. There weren’t any visible meltdowns. All was attributed to the weather gods and so be it.

Some people headed to a restaurant. Others went to the bar. Some remained in the waiting area while members of the Red Carpet Club walked back a few gates to make phone calls and continue talking business or vegging out in front of the TV.

At the appointed hour, passengers boarded again. This time, some seats were empty but there wasn’t a lot of griping. When the pilots entered the cockpit, the passengers literally applauded.

The flight attendants were responsible for much of the relatively cheerful mood of the passengers. They had been apologetic, accommodating, scurried to find blankets and pillows and maintained their smiles and sense of humor.

As the passengers were settling in, the captain announced there were some technical problems with the aircraft and it was being “retired.” Another plane would be rolled out within 30 minutes and the passengers would repeat the boarding exercise. The captain was up front about refusing to fly this plane. No one booed — I suspect the Air France crash is too fresh in everyone’s minds.

When we boarded for the third time, the crew maintained its graciousness. Clearly, everyone was fading but we were going and what was supposed to be a late flight had morphed into being a ‘red eye’ since the flight didn’t land until 6 a.m.

No one was happy but there weren’t any unpleasant incidents. Indeed, there was a feeling of solidarity as the pilots navigated through turbulent weather that dictated we keep our seatbelts buckled during the majority of the trip.

After finally landing at Dulles Airport with the sunrise streaking across the sky, the passengers and crew, rather than complaining, talked about surviving a difficult time together. Perhaps this was because of the open communications between the crew and passengers. Everyone knew what was happening and could understand it.

The flight crew was 100 percent professional and didn’t let their frustration or exhaustion show. They were the essence of calm.

I did learn something new about myself and flying — unplanned red-eye flights are a killer. Had I planned to take the red-eye, I would have been prepared and would have slept. I’ve been a zombie for the past two days and am suffering from acute jet lag. Today is another day and thank goodness, I don’t have to board a plane.

I thought I was immune from jet lag as one who lives in any and all time zones. Wearing earplugs and noise canceling earphones can block the sounds generated by crying babies and excited children.

How much of flying has to do with being psychologically prepared? What do you think?  Would you have remained in Los Angeles overnight and taken the morning flight? How many Tripso readers have been subjected to flights from hell? What was your reaction? Sign me tired and curious.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Confessions of a mileage junkie in London

Written by admin on May 28, 2009 – 5:38 pm -

I’m a travel junkie. When I see a plane, I want to be on it. All of these “you can’t beat these fares” ads are nirvana.

When a $500+ fare to London from Washington, DC popped up on my computer screen, it was booked as if I were possessed. In addition, it was on United. I’m going to make 1K this year, come hell or high water.

United has made mileage runs easier since travelers are being awarded double qualifying miles until June 15th if registered for the promotion.

London is a wonderful city of which I never get enough. Plus there was a must-see exhibit closing that Saturday afternoon. Off I went on Friday morning flight at 10 a.m. and scheduled my return to IAD Sunday morning. This was going to be a snap. And it almost was.

It was the first time I’d taken a daytime transatlantic flight. Would it limit jet lag? Would I feel human? In essence, this was a bit of an endurance test. And thanks to a friend, I’d snared a ticket for the exhibition.

So far, so good. Because  I was arriving after 9 p.m. London time, it made sense to stay at an airport hotel. I cashed in points and opted for the concierge floor so I could enjoy all of its conveniences.

I read the hotel’s website: Shuttle service to and from the hotel, priority check in, a club lounge that remains open 24 hours a day, promising coffee, tea, soft drinks and something to stave off starvation, free breakfast, free cocktails and complimentary hors d’oeuvres each evening. And free high-speed Internet or WiFi was included, which is a must in my life or I go into a quasi- catatonic state.

This made perfect sense. I’d take the Heathrow Express from the airport to Central London’s Paddington Station. It takes only 15 minutes and is a pleasure. It’s not cheap but neither is sitting in a cab that’s stalled in traffic. It was more convenient to sleep at an airport hotel than worrying about coming and going after and before my flights.

Where did I go wrong?

How did I know that it would be nearly an hour before the shuttle would appear and there’d be £4 fee. The hotel’s lobby was overrun with people and skip the “preferential” service. I went to the lounge that looked as if it had been trashed. I managed to grab a piece of fruit but had to steal a napkin off of a room service cart that was sitting in the hallway and was still there the next morning when I left.

No problem – I’d plug in my computer and do some work. Why didn’t I understand that free computer time was exclusively confined to the lounge and I’d have to pay £15 for 24 hours if I wanted to connect.

Not to worry. By now I was both hungry and thirsty and headed to the bar. I was greeted with a room filled with people, most of whom had tattoos and were chugging beer. It was 11:02 p.m. The kitchen just closed but I was welcome to peanuts, which was fine with me. The patrons looked as if they were Rolling Thunder bikers. (I knew they weren’t since I’d left them in Washington where they’d rallied for the Memorial Day weekend.) There was no question though that this group was having a jolly old time.

OK – to bed. The room was stuffy. I was certain the air-conditioning had been off. After switching on the air conditioning, I turned to the television. I carefully followed all of the instructions. CNN was my station of choice and, carefully following instructions on the channel card, I clicked on station number 10. What I saw certainly didn’t resemble anything I’d ever seen on the Cable News Network since it was the hardest of hard-core porn. After trying the channel again, I was greeted by the same performance.

Not giving in – remember my internal clock was five hours earlier – I called the desk and a very helpful young woman informed me that I’d obviously clicked on a pay-for adult program. She’d send an engineer up with a new remote and he’d program the television so I could watch the news.

By now I was wearing the hotel’s terry cloth robe. Mohammed knocked on the door and seemed confident he could tune in the news. He was greeted by the same show and said with more than a smidgen of embarrassment that the hotel no longer featured CNN and he’d better tell the manager.

So all shouldn’t be lost, I asked him to regulate the air-conditioning. This was not Mohammed’s night since he was forced to admit that I should leave the window open — and it hardly opened — since the AC hadn’t been turned on for the season.

The yogurt at breakfast was just fine as was the espresso. Off I went to London, perused the exhibit and walked in Hyde Park. It was a stunningly beautiful day. I was back at the hotel in time for cocktails, which consisted of wine, beer and appetizers that more than missed the mark. The assembled group mumbled that the chef clearly was off-duty.

Back to the airport — the shuttle only stops at terminal one, where United operates. I hit the lounge so I could catch up on some emails and do some research. I’m always amazed what a pleasure Red Carpet lounges are overseas compared to those in the U.S. Free food, all-you-can-drink liquor plus lots of space.

Seven hours later, I was back in Washington after having had an adventure. Would I do it again? Of course. And since the flight was full, I suspect a lot of people were making mileage runs and would rack up approximately 9,000 miles.

Next trip, I think I’ll pass on staying at that specific hotel even though it received positive reviews on Trip Advisor. Plus I hope there will be CNN where I reserve.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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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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