….but I’m completely OK with it if you do! Of course, the driver behind this post is the recent news about the United Airlines flight diverting when a couple of jack wagon passengers managed to get themselves into an altercation by refusing to work together.

You won’t find me ordering a knee defender anytime soon. Here’s the deal, it’s your seat, so if you want to recline, be my guest. You’ll have no complaints from me unless you break my laptop. It’s possible for all of us to be comfortable, OK…semi-comfortable, even in coach.

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If you must recline, simply do so responsibly. It’s always nice to turn around and say “hey, I’m gonna push my seat back a bit,” but certainly not necessary. When it’s time to recline, just e-a-s-e (don’t slam)  the seat back. That gives you your modicum of comfort, and it gives the fellow traveler behind you a bit of time to adjust things if they need to move something to accommodate your recline. I travel with an 11.1″ MacBook Air, and even that is not completely safe in coach. Just give me a second or three to move it out of your way if I need to. That’s all I ask! :)

And if you leave your seat, why not return it to its upright position while you are away? It’s not our fault these rows are so close together, but it’s the world we fly in together. Returning your seat upright gives the passenger behind you a break, and likely makes it easier for the folks behind you to get in/out of their seats in case they need to stand up and stretch their legs too. Working together, we can make coach survivable without knee defenders or fights. This concludes today’s public service announcement.

-MJ, August 26, 2014

I’m going to tip-toe into the subject that blew up the blogosphere on Sunday/Monday. You won’t find the next big thing in these comments, but will find a reiteration of what I’ve been saying for a long time. Just a little history at a very high level:

  • Sometime Sunday (as far as I can tell), news hit the interweb of a potential major devaluation of BA Avios based on an award chart posted by Iberia
  • The world lights up
  • Many trips were booked (I hope so after all that noise)
  • Turns out that Iberia just made public an award chart that had been unpublished
  • A sense of calm ensues, and the world is declared right again

For the record, I have no idea if BA is going to change anything with Avios or not. I do have my doubts that 4,500 point one-way short haul awards (a sweet spot that has literally saved me thousands of dollars) are going to last forever, but that’s neither here nor there. What I do know is that along with death and taxes, a certainty in life is that the value of miles and points will not remain the same forever. I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t have an aspirational redemption or two in mind over the next year or so, and the points sitting in my pocket to pay for them when I am ready. That said, in general, I am burning miles and points the moment I can find a use for them that does not involve a toaster or new iPad.

Miles and points are easy enough to earn for now, and while I can’t deny that I like my miles, I try not to be overly emotional about them. Now, more than ever, don’t hoard, burn ‘em. It’ll make the inevitable shocks to the system like the recent Avios scare a lot more tolerable, and probably save you a few bucks on your travels too. YMMV.

-MJ, August 26, 2014

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I know I’m easily excited by cruise ships. Heck, I freely admit that I get just as excited about a weekend cruise aboard a 25 year old ship as I do about a 14-night Mediterranean voyage. That said, I think Quantum of the Seas may just be the most exciting development in cruise ships in a very long time. Today, Royal Caribbean revealed the latest details of the technological innovations soon to set sail on Quantum of the Seas. Royal Caribbean is calling Quantum of the Seas a SMART ship, and it’s easy to see why.

SMART Check-in – With the debut of Quantum of the Seas, Royal Caribbean will push even more of the check-in formalities that accompany the typical cruise to the guests’ homes, to be accomplished in advance, including uploading a photo ID. You’ll receive digital boarding confirmation. Royal is promising “sidewalk to ship” in 10 minutes using its new processes. Further, luggage will be tagged with RFID technology curbside, and guests will be able to track the progress of their luggage until it arrives at their stateroom. They can track its progress off the ship on disembarkation day too.

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SMART Concierge – Quantum of the Seas will feature RFID wristbands that will allow guests to make onboard purchases, double as a room key, and more. Royal Caribbean will roll out new apps for smartphones including Cruise Planner which allow guests to make dining reservations, book shore tours, and spa appointments too. Royal iQ (which will be available as a downloadable app as well as at stations around the ship) will allow guests to manage details of their cruise. No more fumbling around for your daily cruise newsletter!

SMART Connect – Real internet speeds will set sail with Quantum of the Seas. Royal Caribbean has partnered with O3b Networks for satellite based bandwidth that will allow for streaming video and more while at sea.

SMART Experiences – Bionic Bar may be the coolest feature aboard Quantum of the Seas. Place a drink order via tablet and watch a robot make your drink. Robotic technology will also drive much of the entertainment behind an interesting new venue, Two70, offering 270 degree ocean views and 270 degrees of entertainment powered by six Roboscreens.

SMART Service – Crew members onboard Quantum of the Seas will have access to custom apps to keep better track of guests’ preferences such as dining desires, show times, and more. In keeping with the idea that a happy crew equates to happy guests, Royal Caribbean will provide every crew member aboard Quantum of the Seas with a Microsoft Windows tablet that will offer services and apps just for them. As other ships are upgraded with similar technologies, the company plans to give every shipboard employee across the fleet their own tablet too.

SMART Sustainability – Quantum of the Seas was designed to be more environmentally friendly than other ships, and will have a special energy saving hull configuration and energy design. All lighting on board will be provided with low-energy LED or fluorescent lights. I can’t wait to set sail aboard this innovative new ship this December!!! Here’s a video highlighting some of the new technologies debuting aboard Quantum of the Seas.

At 10:00am EDT, Royal Caribbean will host a live streaming event from the Meyer-Werft yards in Papenburg, Germany where the finishing touches are being made to the line’s newest vessel, Quantum of the Seas.

Click here to tune in - http://bit.ly/1l8lqZv 

-MJ, August 25, 2014

The business of operating an airline behind the scenes is quite a feat. A lot of moving parts are carefully orchestrated by the minute, indeed, the second, to ensure an airplane pushes back on time. Putting the right people in the right place with the right equipment when it comes to airlines is a thing of beauty. Even though I spent 10 years in operations management at a very big airline, tacitly get how things work, and even contributed to making it work, the industry still fascinates me. I well remember explaining to a “senior official” outside the industry why 20 aircraft can have the same departure time at a major hub and getting the skeptical raised eyebrow. Loading an aluminum tube with kerosene, and launching it across an ocean at 9 miles a minute should be complicated.

On the other hand, airlines start to lose me when they make things needlessly complicated for their customers – the folks that pay the bills. Yes, I know the theory of revenue maximization, but I’m talking about more than that. The act of purchasing transportation between two points on a map from an airline comes with its own set of complications, and frankly I’ve always wondered why? I once printed the fare rules for a particular fare from DC to Chicago. I stand 5’10″ tall, and the reams of “dot matrix” printer paper stretched from shoulder height to the floor and beyond. Why? Yes, I know there’s a history behind fare rules, but I don’t care. The idea of my purchasing transportation should not come with 5 feet of small character fine print.

Then, there is Delta’s recent tweak to its same day confirmed policy. Granted, Delta could take the Southwest approach here, and just say you fly what you bought or you upgrade it to full fare, but there’s a story here. The most recent change to the SDC policy disallows moving from connections to non-stops, but allows moving from non-stops to connections, and comes with a list of other caveats. If the original post in the FT thread that outed this change is true, and I have no doubt that it is, one of the drivers behind the change is that Delta’s own agents either can’t or won’t follow its own fare rules. Likely, a combination of both – who has time to read 5 feet of small character print when they need to close a call and move to the next one?

There are other examples of needless complication. A recent favorite of mine comes from American Airlines. As they’ve rolled out meal changes on certain routes, they also decided to change their method of taking meal orders from customers. Historically, this was done with what is fondly known as FEBO. They start taking orders at the front of the cabin on even numbered flights, and the back on odd numbered flights. Seems simple enough. They’ve now improved upon this with a new method that goes something like this – If you’re flight is headed east and changes time zones, they’ll take orders from front to back. If the flight is headed west, and changes time zones, orders are taken from the back to front. But if you aren’t changing time zones, they’ll take orders from front to back if you’re headed southbound, and back to front if heading northbound. Glad they cleared that up. In fairness, you can avoid all of this nonsense by pre-ordering your first or business class meal within 30 days of your flight at aa.com/menu.

I could go on for days with examples of this, but I won’t. Then there are the labyrinth of fees in addition to your ticket. My position on change fees is probably worth its own post. To be clear, I’m not advocating a return to the days before bag fees. I happen to think it is entirely appropriate to charge for transporting and delivering checked luggage, although I have always felt JetBlue’s one checked bag included in the ticket price model is the best of all. What I really wish for is an uncomplicated, understandable, and fair transaction when one enters into an agreement for transportation (aka buying a ticket) with an airline. Is that too much to wish for? Probably so.

-MJ, August 25, 2014

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It’s been a busy week here at MJ on Travel. This week, we’ll have two hotels to review, a quick trip to take, and more. Last week, I was able to complete my trip report on the first class experience aboard American’s A321T, which I broke into two parts, ground services and boarding, then inflight services. One of my better uses of US Airways miles in a while. I just wish I could do that every weekend! Here’s a look at our weekly recap of posts at MJ on Travel.

And this week at MJ on Travel -

  • Hotel Review – Marriott Marquis, Washington, DC
  • Commentary – Airlines Are Complicated Businesses, but the Relationship With Their Customers Should Not Be

These travel topics, and no doubt more, this week at MJ on Travel.

-MJ, August 24, 2014

Trip Report – The AA A321T First Class, JFK-LAX (Part 1 – Ground services and boarding)

Trip Report – The AA A321T First Class, JFK-LAX (Part 2 – Takeoff and inflight services)

Not only did we push back on-time, but we enjoyed a fast taxi to the runway as well. Within minutes, we were taking the runway and blasting off for Los Angeles. I took a little video of the takeoff. Lots of plane porn to enjoy during the takeoff roll.

The takeoff and climb out were smooth, and I decided to experiment with AA’s 3D flight map. Pretty cool stuff. I should have closed the window shade before I took that shot.

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Within a few minutes, the flight attendants were starting service. Menus had been distributed on the ground, and the purser checked in with me to verify that I had pre-ordered my meal. This was the first opportunity I’ve had to test pre-ordering meals on AA, and based on this sample size of one, it worked. Here’s a look at the menu.

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Gone are the days of caviar and lobster in the tossed salad served seat side, but fairly respectable choices. Service began with wine, and the ever-popular ramekin of warm mixed nuts.

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I should have made a point to take a look at the wine label. I’m not convinced it was the red wine choice featured in the menu as the Purser referred to it as merlot. No matter – it was quite good for airline wine, and our great crew never let my glass get below half full until I finally gave up towards the end of the flight.

Dinner service began with a smoked salmon and seared tuna starter, which I enjoyed a lot.

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This was followed by a salad – spinach and romaine with hearts of palm, strawberries, and pecans. Dressing choices were Caesar or balsamic vinegar. I apologize for being a bad blogger and half devouring the salad before I realized I had not taken a picture!! It was fresh, tasty, and accompanied with a choice of breads. I went with cheese bread.

Next up was the main course. I had pre-ordered the gorgonzola crusted beef filet with red wine beer sauce. It was accompanied by roasted potatoes and broccolini. It was served medium. I don’t know why I order steaks in the air when they’re available. I didn’t love it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. I enjoyed the meal, however, I usually find that steaks in the sky are over cooked for my tastes. That’s just me, but I think I’ll try the chicken next time.

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The beef had a decent enough flavor, and the accompaniments were tasty too. But we all know what we’re really waiting for….. the world famous ice cream sundae!!!

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The sundae was good. Enough said.

Flight attendants were frequently in the aisle throughout the flight checking on customers, refilling wine glasses, etc. One of the better AA crews I’ve had in a while, so good that I sent a note to American about them. The inflight entertainment system has an extensive library of options, but I had brought my own entertainment so I did not partake. Headwinds were lower than forecast, and we were making great time towards Los Angeles. Our flight was passing all too quickly! Towards the end of the flight chocolate chip cookies were served.

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Weather looked great in LA as we smoothly descended towards an early arrival at LAX.

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We blocked into a gate immediately across from the LAX Admirals Club. I decided to drop in for a quick break before heading to my hotel. I was again offered Flagship Lounge access. I went in for a quick look and found a pretty decent spread of food and drink, not unlike what I had seen at JFK earlier. With that, my AA A321T first class adventure came to an end.

The Bottom Line

I’m so glad I finally made the scheduling work so I could experience the only true 3-class transcontinental service by a US airline. It was obvious that things weren’t the same as they used to be from a meal service perspective, but the product is still nice. The seat was truly comfortable. A great way to spend 6 hours, and even more on my next 777-300 flight with AA to Europe. In the end, the crew made the flight a great experience and everything else was just gravy.

Speculation abounds that the new AA management team will not continue this 3-class service now that the competition has dropped their 3-class cabins in the market. I’ve been guilty of buying into that, and it may eventually become true. On the other hand, the only true first class cabin in the market might be a strong marketing advantage for a certain set of well-heeled customers. Only time will tell. I’m actively looking for reasons to fly the A321T again! :)

-MJ, August 23, 2014

I seek to avoid flying on Mondays and Fridays, but as a business traveler, sometimes our wants are not what we get. A late week business trip forced me to fly on a Friday. Not just Friday, but Friday afternoon at 6PM. Prime hours departing DCA. I had an exit row on the aisle, and life was good. I checked in via Delta’s iPhone app the day before and I was #4 for 2 seats, a place I remained well into Friday. Not just well into Friday, but while I was in the cab heading to the airport. I arrived early enough to catch the 5PM departure, but I elected to sit tight, grab an early dinner, and camp out.

Between the front door and passing security, my 6PM departure became a 6:35PM departure. I had my bag with me, and really just didn’t care about the delay. As I enjoyed a gourmet dinner of chicken fingers and fries, I decided to check the Fly Delta iPhone app. My flight was still delayed, but suddenly, I was #4 for 6 seats. I didn’t get my hopes up as I knew the later flight folks could start arriving and working their way onto my flight. Dinner, a glass of wine, and what do you know, I was #4 for 7 seats. And then, I was here -

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The bottom line – never give up on the upgrade, even on a Friday night.

-MJ, August 22, 2014

This is risky, especially on a Friday night, but I’m going to give it the old college try. I’m going to throw a topic out there and see if we can get some discussion going. The topic – is it just me or are GoGo’s speeds increasingly unacceptable? I’m sure the particular market you’re flying has something to do with it, but overall, I found United’s satellite based wi-fi speeds on SFO-ATL to be better than DCA-ATL using GoGo inflight wi-fi on Delta….a route I frequent, and a flight I’m on as I type this. Does anyone else get slow speeds and frequent complete drops of the GoGo signal? Am I being unfair? Was I lucky with my sample size of two United flights with satellite based wi-fi? There you have it….LET’S DISCUSS!

-MJ, August 22, 2014

Just before boarding my 2:30PM flight from Atlanta to DCA today, the agent announced that they would be trying out a new boarding process. He was reading from a sheet of paper, so I take it this is something Delta is seriously considering. In short, boarding would go like this based on what I heard:

1) People who need extra time.

2) Families with children/strollers

3) First Class

4) Diamond

5) Sky Priority

6) Groups 1 through 4

While I’m not entirely sure how different this was from the way it’s always been in theory, they seemed to make a point of it, and really enforce the boarding order. I can’t say boarding went any better than usual as I was in first class, and boarded when I was told like I always do. As I passed the boarding pass scanner, I was handed a card with an email address to let Delta know what I thought of the new boarding process. Can’t really say as it just did not seem all that different to me. Has anyone else experienced this on a recent Delta flight?

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-MJ, August 21, 2014

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