Category Archives: Travel

A dozen quick travel trips

[NOTE #2:  Some of the comments interspersed through this document about a certain carrier that some considered snarky have been removed.  This should make this blog post more suitable for sharing and forwarding.  AG 2014-02-06 9:50PM]

[NOTE #1:  I originally wrote this as a reply in a private Facebook group to someone who is flying for the first time.  I am not the most experienced traveler in the world, but hopefully this will be of help to some of you.  AG 2013-04-24 1:00AM ]

  1. Clean the house a little before you leave. Coming home to a dirty house that needs to be cleaned is… suboptimal.
  2. Pack everything the night before and have your luggage ready to go. Don’t put it in the car overnight, though, in case something happens to the car. Leaving it by the door works for me.
  3. Pack a spare set of undergarments in your carry-on bag, in case the airline decides not to deliver your checked bag with your clothes and toiletries for four days, lying to you saying they will bring you your bag that day and refusing to pay for any clothes or toiletries you had to buy (on a very expensive international business-class ticket). Some clear plastic Zip-Loc™ style sandwich bags are also useful to have in your carry on to separate… things you might be carrying.
  4. Traveling for N days? Pack N+1 days of clothing, in case you get stuck for a day, or require an additional change of clothes due to inclement/sweaty/inclement-and-sweaty weather.
  5. Charge all the things! Have everything that uses electrons filled up. Bringing a penlight? Fresh battery/batteries in that before you leave, too.
  6. If you typically carry things other than keys on your keychain (penknife, keychain-sized tool, etc.) remove it before you leave. It either doesn’t go on vacation with you, or travels in the checked bag.
  7. Inside your checked bag? A pen light, perhaps a small travel power bar, if you’re traveling somewhere that is more a tourist than a business destination, and 1-3 unused, empty plastic garbage bag(s) (takes up no space on the way out, holds all your dirty laundry on the way back). Taking anything fragile and/or liquid? Wrap securely in another garbage bag (or two) and place in center of luggage, where clothes + everything around it act as a shock absorber. Returning with anything liquid and/or fragile? Same thing, but put it in the middle of your stinky sack, er, laundry bag for shock absorption and extra isolation from people who steal out of luggage. You should also have your noise-cancelling headphones, canalphones (in-ear phones, ear buds, or whatever term you use) or ear plugs in your carry on, as well.
  8. Not inside your checked back? Anything valuable/fragile like a radio, MP3 player, camera, ebook reader, cell phone, laptop, external hard disk drive, etc. Those go in your carry-on luggage.
  9. Carrying on? I recommend a backpack for your computer, as it distributes the weight of your laptop/notebook/slate/tablet/desktop-replacement/(whatever) evenly across both your shoulders so you don’t end up aching the first night from walking miles with a laptop bag over your shoulder in airports where the staff is very unhelpful and unprofessional. If you don’t have a backpack specifically for your laptop, look into adding a padded travel sleeve for it. If getting a bag, make sure it has a padded storage compartment for your laptop, as well lots of little, separate pockets/holders for things like AC adapter, spare battery, digital camera, backup HDD (you do back up your data regularly don’t you?), cables, USB flash drives and other electronic devices. I find zipper mesh bags (your local dollar store, or try a travel store for more upscale packing versions) great for storing little electronic things in. You can use those sandwich bags from (3) in a pinch, but they’ll start dissolving by your second trip.
  10. Print out all travel documents and have them available in a transparent plastic folder easily accessible from your carry-on bag, in addition to electronic copies loaded on to everything you can load them on to and show someone.
  11. Check in as soon as you can online (may be 12-24 hours before flight). Join the airlines frequent flier program, even if you think you’ll never fly on them again. Leave extra early and show up extra early for your flight. This allows you to take your time checking in, inquire about a first-class upgrade at check-in, and make your way through the TSA checkpoint. Do not go through a body scanner. Nobody actually knows what the long-term effects of mm wave scanners or backscatter X-ray technology are as they simply have not been in use long enough for any scientific studies to be performed. Always be friendly and polite to the TSA employee–it’s not their fault; just say you opt-out and want a pat-down, instead. It takes 5-10 minutes at most, and is completely safe.
  12. It’s best to buy magazines, non-liquid consumables (candy, gum), ear plugs, and, if traveling internationally, power plug adapters before you leave, as they cost more at the airport. Make sure all your power adapters are world compatible (automatically switching between 110 and 220V, or even 100V if going to Japan and 240V if going to former British colonies), but mostly 110/220V. About the only exception is your laptop AC power supply: If the AC line cord is detachable, you should still carry a power plug converter for it, but look for replacement AC line cord in the host country. The common two prong one is usually a C7 (non polarized) or C8 connector (polarized) and often referred to locally as a teapot or kettle power cable. Just bring your old one with you and pantomime.

Good fortunes and safe travels!

Aryeh Goretsky

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Getting there is not half the fun…

[Lightly edited and updated from my original Facebook post.  AG]
My horrible journey from San Diego, California to Larnaca, Cyprus, courtesy of @DeltaAirlines, @KLM and @Cyprus_Airways.

My original schedule was as follows

May 29th, Delta Flight # DL2792 from San Diego to Atlanta, scheduled to depart at 1:35PM and arrive at 8:53PM.

May 29th, Delta/KLM Flight # DL9375/KL0622 from Atlanta to Amsterdam, scheduled to depart at 9:35PM, and arrive the folowing day (May 30th) at 12:10PM.
May 30th, KLM/Cyprus Airways Flight # KL3281/CY0499 from Amsterdam to Larnaca, scheduled to depart at 2:00PM and arrive at 7:10PM.

Of course, that was just on paper (or electrons, as it may be).  Here’s what really happened:

Flight DL2792 leaves San Diego correctly and arrives on-time. We (I’m travelling with a co-worker) have to hustle to make the connection since we have only 40 minutes on the ground and our flight to Amsterdam is in the next concourse over.  We make it over to Concourse E with plenty of time to spare, where we find the jet is sitting at the gate with the engine cowling wide open with mechanics crawling all over it.  There’ is some sort of mechanical problem with the engine and they are waiting for parts to arrive from Detroit to affect repairs, then test and verify.  The new estimated departure time is midnight and because Delta says they are going to fix the engine, they will not put passengers on alternate flights or rebook anyone because the flight hasn’t been canceled.   The parts arrive in about an hour and the mechanics begin installation and testing.

The first test fails.
The second test fails.
The third test fails.
It is now just past 3:00AM and @DeltaAirlines finally announces they have canceled the flight. Funny how they had to wait until all other flights which could have possibly routed passengers to somewhere in Europe had left the airport.  Throughout these delaying tactics, the Delta gate personnel cannot tell us anything, they just wander around and disappear as people line up at the gate counter.  One person announces they will begin provide status updates every 15-20 minutes or so, and then wanders away without any updates for hours. Oh, and Delta is kind enough to offer people a can of soda and small package of 3 cookies.  No meal vouchers are offered, of course.
At 3:00AM the Atlanta airport is a cavernous empty place, with only cleaning people waxing the floors, gathering carts and emptying trash cans. The airport had pretty much closed around 11:00PM or midnight, and it is impossible to put us on any other flights per their own Rule 240 (international flight, so it’s Rule 87, Sections D, E and F).  At 4:00AM we finally get vouchers for taxis and hotel rooms and are told to proceed to baggage claim to pick up our luggage, an amenities (toiletry) kit, then go outside where taxis await to take us to the hotel.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Atlanta, it’s a huge international airport:  It’s Delta’s hub, for that matter.  We were at Concourse E, the farthest, most remote concourse which marks one end of the airport and Baggage Claimis located at the exact opposite end.  How far is the distance between each concourse?  They use trains to go between them.  At 4:00AM the trains are not running nor are there any carts or drivers to take us to baggage claim.  It’s a 40-minute sweaty walk to reach our baggage.
At 5:00AM, we arrive at the hotel in downtown (I think) Atlanta and begin to queue up.  Unlike Delta, the staff of the Omni is friendly, polite, knowledgeable and efficiently begins checking people in.  I’m in bed by 5:30AM.
Around 10AM, I crawl out of my cocoon of twisted sheets and call Delta Airlines at +1 (800) 221-1212.  I find out they have rerouted me on their computers and that I now have the following schedule:

May 30th – Delta Flight # DL1513 from Atlanta to Detroit, scheduled to depart 6:50PM and arrive at 8:57PM.

May 30th – Delta Flight # DL0248 from Detroit to Amsterdam, scheduled to depart at 9:50PM and arrive the following morning (May 31st) at 11:45AM.
May 31st – KLM/Cyprus Airways Flight # KL3281/CY0499, from Amsterdam to Larnaca, scheduled to depart at 2:00PM and arrive at 7:10PM.

I burrow back under my blankets for another four hours of sleep and go to Atlanta, where I get in line in to check in, and come out with my baggage checked, a stack of stapled boarding pass cards–or what I think are my boarding passes; wait for it, this gets better–and go to the gate for the flight to Detroit.  I have, by the way, quite incorrectly assumed that the reason I was routed up to Detroit was that all the other flights to Amsterdam from Atlanta were fully-booked.  Apparently, they were not.  At the gate in Atlanta, I hand my packet to the gate agent, whose computer is down.  She looks at the mass of cards I have given her and waves me on the flight.  A little over an hour later, Delta Flight # DL1513 is wheels down down at Detroit.

I have a short connection–like 50 minutes–so I rush down the concourse for my next flight to Amsterdam.

They are boarding by the time I get to the gate, and I give Cynthia S., the gate agent, my packet of stapled-together board cards. Cynthia S. starts inspecting them as if they were something mildly distateful form of paper (Delta stock certificates, perhpas) and announces that I do not actually have a Boarding Pass, to get on the flight, just a Flight Schedule, and that I need to get a Boarding Pass issued before I’m allowed onto the airplane.  I try to explain to Cynthia S. that I was allowed on to my previous flight from Atlanta–after all, how else would I be inside the Detroit airport at the gate to board the flight–and she allows me on, but proceeds to tell me that my ticket to Larnaca has been canceled and that there is no one at Amsterdam who can or will help me me get a Boarding Pass and to not even try.

I board Delta Flight # DL0248–what else can I do–and sit down and wait for the flight to begin.  And sit.  And wait.  The plane sits at the gate for about an hour.  It seems one of the igniters in one the engines (I guess they come in two pairs) is not working. We pull out a little over an hour late and are finally in the air.

I spend the next several hours anxious, miserable and unable to sleep.
The flight arrives late into Amsterdam; we were not able to make up any time in the air, so by the time I get to the concourse it is about 1:15PM and my flight to Larnaca leaves in 45 minutes.

I run to the first automated ticketing transfer kiosk I can find and try to print a boarding pass for my flight which now leaves in about 40 minutes.  No luck, the computer cannot find me.  An airport employee directs me to a transfer station staffed with people.

I run down there and present my bewildering stack of papers to a KLM agent, who looks at them amd just directs me to go to the opposite end of the concourse to catch my flight–they can help me better at the gate.  I ask her if she can at least call ahead and let them know I’m coming.  She begins helping the next person in Dutch (or maybe German).

Twenty minutes later, I’m at the gate and the last person to arrive.  As some of you may know from meeting me or seeing a photo, I’m not used to running across airports and show up out of breath, my shirt hanging out and my clothing soaking wet from sweat.

Before the gate agents even speak to me, they grab a stack of paper towels and give them to me so I can wipe myself off.  I begin to explain my story to them and present my paperwork to the gate agent, who then turns to her co-worker and begins to have a conversation in rapid-fire Dutch.  They give me a seat in coach (I had a first class seat) and actually write out the boarding pass by hand.  I now have a KLM boarding pass that just says "Goretsky 19A."

At this point, I figure I have probably be been given the last seat on the plane, so I am just glad to be on board.  I walk down the jetway, hand my pass to the flight attendant and look down the aisles. The plane has, perhaps, 30% occupancy in first class and is maybe 40% full in coach.

The flight attendants are getting ready to do their usual preflight announcements, and I go to the closest one and try to explain that I had a first class seat for this flight leg, and since there are plenty of empty seats in first, can I please have the seat that I paid for.  The flight attendant tells me if I want to sit in the seat I paid for, I have to get off the plane with my luggage and go back to the gate to get a new one.

At this point, it’s just under 10 minutes before the plane leaves.  There’s only one flight a day from Amsterdam to Larnaca, and I have the suspicion that if I step off of this plane, I will not board it ever again.

I walk down the aisle of the airplane to my seat.

I find my seat and stow my baggage and begin to settle in.  Since the plane is so empty, at least I have an entire row to myself.

Being that I’m a big guy, I don’t fit in a coach seat very well, and ask the flight attendant for a seatbelt extender.  It is not a big deal to me now, I have to do it all the time, and a flight attendant usually brings one over quickly and discretely.  In this case, the flight attendant looks at me and instead of going and getting one, yells something like "leevascala" down the length of the plane to the flight attendant at the other end and points at me.  The other passengers scattered around me look at me with amused or disgusted expressions.  I don’t really care at this point and just sink into my seat as the other flight attendant brings over the extender.

After we begin taxiing on the tarmac, a guy in a seat over from me informs me the Flight Attendant announced to everyone there was a fatass in my seat.

I get to Larnaca, meet up with a co-worker who was sitting up in front and we go to baggage claim to pick up our luggage.

My bag is not on the conveyor belt and I go to the lost baggage agent.  There’s only one flight a day on Cyprus Air from Amsterdam, so it will be at least 24 hours before my bag arrives, plus 90 minutes to get to my hotel.  The airline will reimburse me for up to 40EUR worth of toiletries.

By the time we get to the hotel in Pafos to check in, it is about 10:00PM.

I came to Cyprus for business:  It’s my employer’s annual World Partner Conference and I am there to present the results of three years of planning and work to several hundred of my co-workers and peers in travel-stained jeans and a shirt.  Who the hell knows where my suit is now at this point? Did my luggage even make it to Europe?

I grabbed dinner with my co-worker, then got some toiletries across from the hotel at a kiosk.  Anti-persiprant and anti-fungal accounts 10EUR of my 40EUR allowance.

I don’t have a spare change of underwear, T-shirt or sockss/  Assuming I could even find anything that fit me, I am sure it would be far more than 40EUR.  It would probably cost me a thousand euros to get a suit tailored to fit me in time for my presentation, assuming I could find one that fit well enough to begin with they tailoring.

At this point,  I’m just numb:   I don’t know what to do, and everyone I’ve dealt with at the airlines has seemed to have an attitude that somehow it’s my fault for their late flights, broken jet engines and missing baggage, and even speaking to me is a big intrusion into their lives and that they are somehow doing me a great favor just by talking to me.

The next day (June 1st) I am working with our conference planner (who is juggling arrivals and departures for several hundred people, in addition to the minutae of handling an international conference) and try to make arrangements to have my luggage picked up by a courier taxi (the conference hotel is about 80 mile away from the airport) from the lost baggage folks.  My attempt to have my bag placed on a taxi picking up co-workers fails, and I attempt to get the lost baggage folks to put it on another taxi so it will come over later in the evening.  No problem, they can do that.

I go to what passes for a department store and spend something like 140 EUR on the few things I could find which would fit me.  Underwear is not among the things I find.
I call later that evening, to find out what time my bag will be in.  Oh, it’s too late to bring my bag over, because it would cost them a lot of money.  But they will have it over first thing early in the morning on June 2nd.
Then it will be there at noon.
At 1:00PM, my bag leaves the airport in a taxi, but it will be a while, since they have to deliver lost luggage to all the other hotels, too.
Just after 4:00PM, my luggage arrives at the hotel and for the first time in several days I had clean underwear.

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