Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Let's See, Should I Pay $189, $95, or $70 For Pretty Much The Same Hotel Room & Services?

I have a good client in Columbus, Ohio, and they let me choose whatever hotel I prefer. The fact that they are a Fortune 50 company gives them the clout to negotiate some pretty good rates. I prefer Hiltons, so I called and visited three of the Hilton brand properties, all very close to the client site.

The "real" Hilton quoted me a corporate rate of $169 + $10 parking per day + $10 internet access per day, for a grand total (before tax) of $189. As a Diamond member I would get a free upgrade to the Concierge Level, which would give me access to the lounge, which serves some pedestrian snacks in the evening and a pedestrian Continental breakfast. Also, some free USA Today newspapers. Kinda steep, I thought, for Columbus, Ohio. But they bragged about their brand new big comfy beds and great TV cable channels. Hmmm.

The Hilton Garden Inn down the street offered a corporate rate of $95 (before tax), a price that includes free parking and free wireless Internet access. The Hilton GI also served pedestrian snacks in the evening (to all guests, not just elite HHonors members) and a pedestrian Continental breakfast (ditto). Free USA Today newspapers there as well. Not a bad deal. And they ALSO bragged about their brand new big comfy beds and great TV cable channels. Hmmm again.

Last place I checked was the humble Hampton Inn, the entry level Hilton brand, at the bottom of the Hilton totem pole. $70 a night (before tax) which, like the Garden Inn, included free parking and wireless Internet. The Hampton did not serve much in the way of evening snacks but they did serve the same pedestrian Continental breakfast as the GI and real Hilton. And free USA Today newspapers delivered to my door. Hey, this is a great deal, I thought, but what's the catch? What about the comfy beds? Turned out the Hampton had just upgraded all their beds to the same luxurious standard as the other two brands and had brand new large flatscreen TVs in every room to broadcast their many cable channels.

Just to satisfy myself, I tried all three Hilton properties over three successive weeks. And I found that the only real difference among the three is the price, just as it appears. Sure, the real Hilton has some fancier trappings, and it has a restaurant and bar (neither the GI nor the Hampton have real restaurants or bars). But the premium to have dining and drinking access in the same building was $119 PER NIGHT! The difference, times five nights, comes to an astronomical $595 a week, or a whopping $18,000 over my 20-week project.

Still, it was completely my choice.

I have been entirely happy at the Hampton Inn. As a management consultant, my life's work is to help my clients increase profits, save money, be more efficient, and increase productivity. It was an easy choice for me to stay at the Hampton.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Why You Should Never, Ever Fly To Australia In Coach (Or In Coach On Any 12-16 Hour Flights)

After two tortuous flights in coach seats to Sydney about 1986, I vowed I would never do it again. Either I would find a way to pay for a First or Business Class seat (Business was just then coming into its own) or I would not go.

I never did fly in coach again on 12-16 hour flights to Southeast Asia, to South Africa, to Australia & New Zealand, or to Argentina, and I have never regretted the boatloads of money I spent on upgrades on those many flights.

The horror of the experiences was burned into my mind twenty years ago. But in case I had forgotten how bad it was, this week I was reminded again. A couple who are close friends just returned from a combination business and vacation trip to Australia and New Zealand. When I inquired about their flying experience, which was all in coach, here is what the normally genteel wife reported in her reply email today:

"These f***ing airlines really need to consider just knocking people out after they stow their overhead luggage because someone is going to kill someone else the way they have us all smashed together like sardines. It's really more than a sane person can bear.

"I'm still recovering from the 30 hours we spent waiting, queuing, going thru security, and then loading in no particular order even AFTER they tell you to line up as GROUPS. People do whatever suits them. We're all turning into animals; the airlines are turning us into animals, and if someone doesn't go ballistic soon I'll be shocked.

"The guy behind me on the way home kept gripping the headrest of MY chair and pulling on it- and the b**ch in front of me- a little thing had her chair back as far as it would go. I had to resort to yoga breathing and meditation to keep my hands off their f***ing throats.

"Otherwise it was a nice trip. The Great Barrier reef was the climax. I LOVED it- snorkeling and going on a mini submersible and seeing all the beautiful fish and corals and giant sea turtles and GIANT clams weighing 2000 lbs! And seeing a mother whale and her baby!

"The great game plates at the Red Ochre Grill were unbelievable--and the wines! FANTASTIC WINES!

"A great trip that I had hoped to be the first (meaning there would be a second one), but I don't think I'll ever go again without a stopover of a few days someplace along the way or somehow getting out of coach and into the Business Class or the First Class cabin."

Her remarks just reinforce my commitment to fly exclusively in First or Business when traveling on any airplane for that long.

Monday, August 28, 2006

I Hate It When Everything Goes Right On A Day When Logic Would Dictate Otherwise

Just kidding...mostly. I don't really hate it; in fact, I LIKED it. But I cannot quite understand it. Here's what happened:

This morning, a Monday, I flew American Eagle from Raleigh to Columbus, Ohio, connecting once again (as many times before) through LaGuardia. Because of heavy rain in the New York area, I fully expected both flights to be late.

Didn't happen: Both flights were on time, even with low ceilings going into LGA and long lines on the rainy tarmac waiting to take off when departing.

Thank you, AA and ATC.

I checked my Dopp kit with my toiletries at RDU and carried aboard everything else, and thus I expected delays at TSA checkpoints while they combed through my carry-on to be sure I had no liquids secreted somewhere.

Didn't happen: I had no problems and breezed through at RDU and a second time at LGA (my AA plane arrived at gate D1, and my Columbus flight left from C3, requiring me to leave concourse D and re-enter security at LGA's concourse C).

Thank you, AA and TSA.

When I arrived at CMH, I walked directly from my gate to the luggage belt to collect my Dopp kit, expecting a long delay.

Didn't happen: To my happy surprise, it was just coming around on the belt as I got there. That was 12 minutes after my plane blocked in. 12 minutes!

Thank you, AA. For a change, everything went right.

So, if it can happen today, why not most flights? Why must this be an anomaly? So many things went right today all at once that this gives me hope. Who knows; maybe it's the start of a trend.

SkyWest Still Has Pillows!

Yes, it's true. Not just one or two, either. A whole bunch of pillows on both flights I was on recently through SLC. Nice new, clean, plump pillows. Plenty to go around. Blankets to go with them, too.

Thank you, SkyWest.

Now if you could just manage to get all checked luggage to our destinations out west instead of intermittently leaving bags behind due to "aircraft weight restrictions."

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Checking Only My Dopp Kit

My solution to the "no liquids & gels" ban is to remove my Dopp kit with all my toiletries (tooth paste, deodorant, shaving cream, etc.) from my carry-on and to check that one item only. So far that's working for me. The small kit seems to come off quicker than most bags, and if they lose it, well, I haven't lost much I can't replace quickly.

What are other people doing? I would be interested in solutions more novel than mine.

Friday, August 25, 2006

First "No Liquids" Flights Not As Bad As Feared

My family of four returned home this week from Montana to Raleigh and entered the Billings airport with great trepidation, as we had a lot of luggage and liquids.

We should not have been worried. Although we always pack, even for family vacations, with 100% carry-on, this time we checked most everything through, and getting through security was about the same as always.

Of course there was the random gate check at Billings, which we somehow avoided. Strangely, there was no random gate check at Salt Lake City, our connection point.

On arrival at RDU at 11:15 PM, several hundred Delta customers from 4 different inbound flights all converged on the single luggage belt at the same time, and I steeled myself for a very long wait. I figured Delta ramp personnel closing in on midnight on a Wednesday would be thin. So I was pleasantly surprised when all four of our checked pieces came off in 27 minutes. (Thanks, Delta.)

Bottom line is that this wasn't such a bad experience. Whew!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Direct Flight Options Relieve Pain, Thanks To Delta

Delta Air Lines may have lost more than $2bn in the last quarter as it struggles in bankruptcy, but it has made at least two scheduling decisions which are a boon to me: Delta now has direct nonstop flights from Raleigh/Durham to Salt Lake City and to Los Angeles.

These two nonstop flights are a tremendous benefit for RDU O&D passengers, avoiding, as they do, the hellish connections in either Atlanta or Cincinnati. Delta has put put real airplanes, 737-800s, on the routes, too, rather than Barbie-jets.

My family spends a week every summer in Montana with my wife's parents, and every year for more than a decade we have had to endure 3 flights out and 3 flights home to get to Billings because of the tyranny of hub scheduling. Many horror stories of missed connections, long delays, and lost luggage have trailed these annual odysseys. But on Wednesday this week (thank goodness, just a day ahead of Thursday's terrible meltdown) my family of four was able to fly on just two painless flights from RDU to BIL, thanks to the new nonstop RDU/SLC flight.

Similarly my several clients in Los Angeles are now just one flight away, avoiding hubs altogether and assuring I get to see my family on weekends.

Of course this is a recognition that there is money to be made in point-to-point flights to/from robust mid-size markets like RDU, and I hope other airlines follow suit. These two flights make my trips stressless, and they are prone to schedule integrity as well. I choose my schedules these days more than ever on the basis of scheduling I can rely on combined with the least pain.

Thank you, Delta.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

American Eagle Cancels Homebound Flight 3 Fridays In A Row

AA Eagle
has never been a paragon of on-time performance, and they have often canceled flights on little or no notice, but I can't recall 3 Friday cancellations in a row. Nonetheless, they did it the past three Fridays:

On Friday, July 21, it was LaGuardia to Raleigh/Durham: CANCELED.

On Friday, July 28, it was LaGuardia to Raleigh/Durham again: CANCELED.

On Friday, August 4, it was Columbus, Ohio to LaGuardia (en route to RDU): CANCELED.

A perfect trio of homebound Friday flights canceled.

In each case, however, I was not actually flying because I was with my mom, who was very ill. The AA automatic notification system knew that I had been booked on those flights, and it didn't know that I was not on the planes. So the phone calls came through to my cell phone anyway, letting me know of the misery I avoided.