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 |

Cold, stranded and in Paris

Written by admin on January 7, 2009 – 12:23 pm -

This past week has sent chills and freezing temperatures throughout Europe and Paris experienced something it rarely (if ever) does.

Snow brought traffic to a halt. People were stranded and even the Eiffel Tower was closed for a couple of days. A few metro lines weren’t functioning. Paris doesn’t have snow removal trucks because snow is essentially an enigma.

People were forced to walk and some Parisian children who’d never seen REAL snow were able to fulfill a fantasy. While school was canceled, they built snowmen and even threw snowballs – ever so much fun for the uninitiated.

It was time to bundle up since Paris’s temperature plummeted to below  -9 degrees Celsius (15 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s a record low for the City of Light. It’s so cold that the police are turning people away and not allowing them to enter the Luxembourg Garden. In my 20 years of living in Paris, this is a first.

Utility companies in France and throughout Europe were operating at full tilt and there were some power failures. The count still isn’t in as to how many people died because the lack of heat.

Passengers were stranded at Paris’s Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport. Heavy snow last Monday forced Air France to cancel 150 out of 400 scheduled flights from Roissy. Three thousand passengers had  to stay at nearby hotels while another 2,000 people camped out in the airport’s terminals.

Ironically, flights in and out of Paris’s second airport, Orly were operating on schedule.

Global warming appears to be taking its toll on the highs and lows of temperatures throughout the world and the joys of travel.

If you were stuck in Paris (or another EU airport), please post your experiences.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Back in the States, it’s plane chaos

Written by admin on December 24, 2008 – 12:31 pm -

I hate to bitch and moan – but here goes. Yes, the weather has been terrible and there’s been a pyramid effect impacting planes taking off and arriving. The airports have been bedlam and filled with people trying to get to their chosen destinations for the holidays. The weather gods have not been kind.

But that doesn’t diminish my irritation with the lack of communication airline personnel give passengers or are supplied by their organizations. To compound the normal travel chaos and my ultimate sense of disappointment, I was receiving messages on my Blackberry advising me that “all was well” after I landed.

According to all of the electronic messages, I was informed electronically I was going to sleep in my bed, after a nearly-20-hour flight from Hong Kong. Here in the good old USA, my problems started.

My plane from Seoul, Korea arrived at Kennedy Airport only seven minutes late. I had nearly two hours to get through customs, collect my baggage and take the SkyTrain to the United terminal.

My heart was beating. I can’t tell you how delighted I was that I was in time for my connecting 9:30 flight to Washington/Dulles Airport. The United representative who issued my boarding pass assured me I was living under a lucky star.

All went well at JFK until I I arrived at the gate only to be told that my flight was going to be nearly two hours late and the plane that was about to depart was oversold. And forget it, there wasn’t a chance in hell there would be a single seat.

Feeling exhaustion consuming my body, I asked if I could postpone my departure until the following day. Sure, they told me, but I’d lose my ticket and would have to be rebooked. And who’s to say there would be an available ticket? That option seemed out of the question.

OK — all was not lost. I’m a member of the Red Carpet Club. I paid for this privilege in the event I encounter such situations. Off I went only to find it closed at 8:30 p.m. Perhaps I’m rigid but why do I think the club should remain open until the last flight has departed?

Luckily, I ran into a friend who was London bound. He took pity on me and invited me to be his guest in the British Air lounge. Until the airline’s last flight departed, I could have a drink, something to eat and fire off emails on one of their computers.

The BA lounge reminds me of those in Europe and Asia and it doesn’t leave clients with the feeling they’re lucky if they can grab a cup of coffee or glass or something non-alcoholic. If you want a drink, expect to pay $6 for a tiny pour.

The United Express flight was further delayed to the point that the pilot apologized more than once, explaining that the flight was late leaving Roanoke, Va., before proceeding to D.C. and continuing to Kennedy to make a fast turn-around to DC.

As we departed at 1 a.m., my adrenalin was in high gear. Thank goodness the flight was fast or I might have suffered cardiac arrest.

Once on the ground, the next step was collecting the luggage (thank goodness it was there) and racing to the taxi line. Naturally, taxis aren’t forming long lines at 2:30 a.m.

When one appeared I wanted to kiss the driver and, naturally, I was delighted when he arrived at my holiday abode.

After thinking about it before falling into bed, I realized it has taken seven hours to travel between Kennedy and my final destination. The trip between Hong Kong and Seoul was substantially shorter and included a gourmet meal.

If I’m not making 100% sense, it’s because I’m suffering extreme jet lag. But tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so I have to get my act together. It’s when our family celebrates all together.

I wouldn’t miss seeing the smiles on my grandchildren’s faces for love nor money. They’ll have to forgive me if their presents aren’t perfectly wrapped.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis. She wishes everyone a happy holiday season.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

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 |

The Grey Skies of Paris

Written by admin on January 22, 2007 – 3:15 pm -

It’s only the very beginning of November and already people are slinking around the exterior walls of Paris’s buildings. And now that clocks have been set back an hour (a week, sometimes more, earlier in France than the US), it feels as if it’s the middle of the night.

When Paris is grey, there’s nothing like it to make some residents want to jump from windows. How many studies have been done documenting direct correlations between light and people’s mood swings? Perhaps, some of the vacations to which the French are legally entitled, are realistically methods and means of keeping them working constructively and conscientiously in their offices.

OK  – today is one of those days when it feels as if the sun never shines nor will it ever again. It’s been the same for over a week and if you work at home, you can order your groceries on-line and avoid having to rip off your pajamas.  That is, unless you have an appointment in the “real” world where that attire wouldn’t be acceptable.

Even though Bonjour Paris’s mantra is people should never come to the City of Light for the weather, those of us who live here and aren’t on the tourist circuit, occasionally want to set our hair on fire and head someplace sunny. That’s one of the reasons some people have houses in Provence; once the TGV crosses the Valence border on its way to Avignon, it’s often akin to arriving in another weather system — a mistral may be blowing down the Rhone River, but at least there’s sun. You’ll see people sitting in wind protected nooks and crannies with their heads facing the sky trying to absorb every ray of solar energy.

Friends and I’ve been known to take advantage of last minute deals that come flying across our computer screens. We’ve gone and been places that aren’t high on our must see lists – but at the very least, they were sunny and gave us a needed break from what felt like a Faulknerian cloud. Naturally, this is an extreme reaction but who knows?

The weekly cyber announcements from  last minute sites just hit my email box; they’re filled with deep discounted deals that are of the moment. Because of the current Euro – dollar exchange, if you want to go to the US for the weekend, it’s yours for the booking.

There are shopping tours, theater trips and — even though there’s no guarantee until you press reserve whether or not you’ll be flying charter (more than likely, it will be in the far back section of an Air France flight) – the booze is free on European carriers. At least that will ease the pain of the less than glamorous “get to airport hours early” cow herding (coupled with security hassles that are part and parcel of hitting the skies these days).

With some of these bookings, you won’t know in which hotel you’ll be housed immediately. But these trips are cheap. Often they’re terrific buys as airlines like full load factors and hotels count on room occupancies clocking in at a certain level.

After looking at the prices, it’s quite possible it costs less for the French to visit Las Vegas than it does for US based residents. And why does the Air France fare from Paris to the Big Apple cost less than $500?  You can’t get transport that cheap if you’re originating in the States. What happened to parity unless there are a ton of taxes added when you press the button?

Even though web site travel booking is up, people are accessing call centers. has succumbed to posting a telephone number so you can hear the sound of a real live voice. Naturally, this is after being kept on hold. But that’s the norm and who doesn’t want to scream? Is voice mail an asset or a curse?  But, that’s another article all together.

The destinations to which I invariably gravitate are Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Istanbul and other places I might not choose if left to my own devises. The cultures are so different… but there’s sun! Plus, they don’t take forever to reach from Paris and you don’t need to combat jet lag. Remember, supposedly, it takes one day for your body to acclimate to each hour of time difference. That’s a luxury business travelers can’t afford.

With these “buy now or soon” sites, you may be able to choose the precise date for the weekend or if it’s a charter flight, you’ll invariably have some choices immediately and others further out. There are a few other options such as how many stars the hotels have plus different activities. More than likely, breakfasts and dinners are included in the package. Once in Tunisia, there wasn’t a meal where a variation of fennel wasn’t served. Seeing some rendition of it in the early a.m. isn’t my cup of tea. But you don’t have to eat it and there’s always that country’s version of bread and accompanying condiments.

One of the cheaper than cheap trips was enticing enough to cause me to head to Cairo with a group. Some of us were mighty surprised when we were sitting on camels. None of us were sure we would have opted for that journey had we had the time to contemplate it, but Egypt was an experience, and seeing the Pyramids is a must-do.

If you aren’t duty bound, take the leap and hop on one of these last minute trips. If you’re not crazy about the dinners in the hotel or pension, you can always splurge and eat elsewhere.  You won’t even feel guilty with the tiny euros you shelled out! And who knows, you may experience an adventure you’ll never forget.

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Posted in Around the World |