American Airlines did something classy today. The airline broke ground on its new combined operations center where the new American’s thousands of daily flights will be managed, and named it the Robert W. Baker Integrated Operations Center.

I don’t want to imply to you that I knew Bob Baker personally, though I did see him on occasion in my previous life. He always made it a point to acknowledge employees. He was a frequent visitor to Washington, DC, and it was not unusual for him to pass through the DCA station. He always made it a special point to stop and chat with one of our longest-serving gate agents. He was known as the “operations guy” around American and the whole industry, but was a Wharton business grad just like our boss, Bob Crandall. Not only was he smart, but he was an all around nice person in every interaction I ever had with him.

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that he was highly thought of amongst all the employees. I believe I’ve said so on this blog before, but if not, I’ll tell you now that I personally believe the story of American Airlines would have been written a bit differently had Mr. Baker not been diagnosed with lung cancer. I firmly believe he was Crandall’s choice to lead the airline, and I believe he would have had he not gotten sick. It was a sad day at the airport when the employees learned of his passing.

It is very fitting that the name of someone so well known for his interest in and dedication to airline operational integrity be attached to the new American’s operational control center. It also gives me a bit of hope (not that I ever lacked any) that American’s new management team is grounded in the reality of who they are, what they’ve accomplished, and what they want American to become. That’s a good thing.

-MJ, July 8, 2014

Royal Caribbean announced yesterday that it is introducing another innovation at sea, Google Street View technology for its largest ship, Allure of the Seas. According to Royal Caribbean,

With just a few clicks, guests will be able to virtually walk through the various decks of Allure of the Seas including the Royal Promenade, a boulevard that runs nearly the length of the ship, flanked by restaurants, boutiques and lounges; Central Park, an outdoor park longer than a football pitch complete with over 12,000 live plants and trees; the Boardwalk, featuring a hand-crafted carousel, two rock-climbing walls and the AquaTheater, a high-dive aquatic performance venue with the deepest pool at sea; Entertainment Place, with an elaborate theatre, night club, comedy club, jazz club and ice-skating rink, which offers professionally produced ice shows; the Pool and Sports Deck featuring a zip line, twin FlowRider surf simulators, full-size basketball/sports court, nine-hole mini-golf course, 15 pools and whirlpools and 22 restaurants, and many, many more.”


I think this is a pretty innovative approach to making more details of the world’s largest cruise ship available to potential and current customers. Allure of the Seas is a big ship, and I think it is entirely possible to spend a week on board and not experience everything that is available. I called Allure “shockingly awesome.” Google Street View should make the cruise experience a little more awesome…or at least easier to navigate.

View Allure on Google here.

-MJ, July 8, 2014

To say that I viewed the thought of a transcontinental redeye in coach with a sense of trepidation would be a mild understatement. The flight out wasn’t so bad, but it was daylight, I had “beginning of the trip motivation,” a great hotel room waiting on the other end, and…well…it wasn’t a redeye. One might ask why I would do such a thing? It’s a fair question. First, I had an expiring “buy one get one” coupon courtesy of my Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex. Second, we needed to get to Seattle, and the coupon helped cover the costs. Finally, the timing just worked.

The details – Delta Air Lines B737-900, row 10, a bulkhead on the ABC side of the aircraft. This was not my first 737-900 ride with Delta, but it was my first in the coach cabin. If you nab bulkhead seats on the left side, there is no partition blocking your feet. You have access to the area underneath the seat in front of you. This would prove handy.


As my backpack was fairly empty, I had some room to work my feet into the space and stretch out. After takeoff, I carefully reclined about 1 inch….nowhere near max recline, and not without looking to see that the person behind me was already out cold. I shut my eyes, and the next thing I knew, we were just over an hour outside of Atlanta. I remember taking off, and that’s about it.

Keys to sleeping on an airplane in coach – picking the right seat that offers a little room to stretch out and being a little tired. I’m sure an hour or so in the Sky Club for a cocktail beforehand didn’t hurt either. In the end, while I found the bulkhead seat a little tight due to the tray table being in the armrest, this might be the one I pick on my next 737 transcon with Delta…. if I can’t manage an upgrade. I hear the rest of the airplane is fairly snug in coach.

-MJ, July 7, 2014

Starting the week like I finished the last one, planes, trains (busses), automobiles. Wrapping up a great trip to Vancouver, BC as I type. Soon it’s back to reality, capped off with a lovely transcon redeye. :) Domestic coach immersion and all. Much to talk about this week including:

  • Hotel Reviews – Hyatt at Olive 8 Seattle
  • Trip Reports – A Little Train Trip Does a Traveler Good
  • Hotel Reviews – Residence Inn Vancouver, BC
  • Getting Out of a Loyalty Slump

A full week ahead with these travel topics, and no doubt more, this week at MJ on Travel.

-MJ, July 6, 2014


A happy holiday weekend to you from Vancouver, BC. I’ve often heard Vancouver called the most beautiful city in North America, and I do quite like it. Part of me wishes we could stay a little longer, but it’s been an enjoyable visit. We’re not here to tour, but to visit family, but have managed to work in a bit of sightseeing and experiencing new things – not counting eating Chinese food for lunch on the 4th of July in Canada, but I digress.

I was wondering if this visit to Canada would offer the opportunity to test the Chip & PIN capability of my Barclays Arrival Card. According to the materials that came with the card, it is Chip & Signature with Chip & PIN capability, and you’ll need to sign for your first transaction. In reality, I’ve needed to sign for every transaction. Not an issue, just an observation. I’m sure some of that is driven by the underlying workings of EMV chips, and what drives PIN requirements. I’ve not “studied” them but I think some of it has to do with attended terminals vs unattended and whether or not there is a real time connection to the payment network. In any event, chip cards are expected here, but each terminal I have used has included the option to swipe. The card has served me well this trip, and the Chip & Signature capability has worked like a charm. So…that’s enough of that Chip card datapoint. Let’s take a look at the week in review here at MJ on Travel.

No matter how you’re spending your weekend, enjoy it! Talk to you next week.

-MJ, July 5, 2014

I’ve always had a soft spot for trains. There are certain markets in our country where true high-speed rail might make a ton of sense. DC-NYC-BOS is the one that gets talked about most, but I happen to think there are others. Making the political decisions on whether or not we want to foot the bill to make it happen is for others to figure out. Whether the train I’m on right now makes financial sense or not is for another blog. It made financial sense for my transportation options today, and I have to tell you that I’m enjoying the trip.


After an overnight at the beautiful Hyatt Olive 8 in Seattle, MrsMJ and I made our way to Seattle’s King Street Station, a beautiful old school rail station. We had pre-purchased tickets online, and made our way to Amtrak’s kiosk to pick them up. Unlike the northeast regionals I’m accustomed to, you actually get a seat assignment for Amtrak’s Cascades train. We didn’t book business class seats (will next time, I think), so we got in the very long queue for a seat assignment in coach. Other than the line, and perhaps a 10 minute wait to get our seat assignments, I can’t complain. Seat assignments are not automated. They pull them off a sticker chart the old school airline way. :) They also use that as an opportunity to verify your passport matches the name on the ticket. Soon enough, we were on our way.


Seating accommodations are quite comfortable in coach, with typical (for trains) 2 by 2 seating. Seats are leather, and plush, there’s at seat power (look way down low), and wi-fi. Amtrak’s wi-fi has been performing about as I remember during my last train journey so I am happy that brought my mi-fi along for the trip. The cafe car offers decent food, and I personally vouch for the breakfast sandwich.  Things are so comfortable on board the train that even LOL Elmo approves. LOL Elmo is on his way to Canada to meet his new best friend, Indy. Our 2-year old kicker of cancer’s ass nephew. Elmo says hi, and he’s ticklish.


So far, it’s been a great trip, and I’m really enjoying the train ride. It gives us an opportunity to relax and let someone else do the driving, get a bit of work done, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Cascades tip – If heading north, try and sit on the left side, and on the right when heading south. I wish we’d gotten to the station a little sooner. Nonetheless, there’s scenery on both sides of the train.


-MJ, July 4, 2014

Good morning from beautiful Seattle! MrsMJ and I flew up last night in coach and lived to tell the story! :) Seriously, it wasn’t that bad. We saved some money using the companion certificate that comes with my Platinum Delta SkyMiles Amex Card, had Economy Comfort seats, great flight attendants, all was well. I was a little sad to see that the upgrade list was one of the shortest I’ve ever witnessed since flying Delta. After all were cleared, there were only 6 people on it. The day before a holiday, we might have cleared. C’est la vie!

One thing that 5 hours in coach did for me was remind me how fortunate I am that I spend more time at the front end of the airplane than in the back. That’s a good thing, because even in Economy Comfort, where one gets a tiny bit more legroom, you get this.


Hey, it’s your seat, and it’s not your fault the airlines shoehorn us into these confines. Recline if you want, but please do so carefully. Consider that there is probably a person behind you that you’re about to lay down on. Don’t just slam your seat back, you could take out a laptop. And when you get up to perform 10 minutes of stretching exercises in front of the whole cabin (yeah, that happened), kindly consider returning your seatback to it’s full and upright position so the person behind you can have a little breathing room while you are preventing thrombosis.

After about 3.5 hours of this nonsense, things finally came to a head when recliner guy started thrashing around in his seat looking for that ultimate comfort spot. Seriously, the guy’s coffee cup started moving around on that tray table, and he’d finally had enough. He rather politely, I thought, tapped recliner guy on the shoulder and said something to the effect of “dude, if you knock my coffee over I’m going to beat your a$$.” A sense of calm ensued, and finally, they made peace.


Ah, the joys of coach.

-MJ, July 4, 2014

First, I’m not a TSA “hater.” Having worked at an airport for the best years of my life, I know how people can get. In a word, they can get nasty…hateful…ugly… snotty…snarky. I was none of those, and neither was the TSA in Atlanta today. That said, I can’t let the sun set on this day without saying something. I’m a Global Entry carrying, security cleared, respectful lover of America. This isn’t a complaint even, just an observation.

My boarding pass was stamped TSA Pre for my flight to Seattle this evening. Three beeps. Good to go. The Walk through metal detector “randomly selects” me for further screening. Oh well…whatever. TSA tries to send me through the nekked scanner. To be clear, I don’t have any radiation fears. It’s just that I’m a type 1 diabetic insulin pumper. Medtronic, the manufacturer of my $5000.00 insulin pump says the following about airport security.

Medtronic has conducted official testing on the effects of the new full body scanners at airports with Medtronic medical devices and have found that some scanners may include x-ray. If you choose to go through an airport body scanner, you must remove your insulin pump, Guardian monitor, Continuous Glucose Monitoring (sensor and transmitter), meter and remote. To avoid removing your devices, you may request an alternative screening process.”

I don’t know about you, but that says to me….do not wear your insulin pump through the nekked scanner. Of course, today at TSA PreCheck, after getting randomly selected for additional screening, I get directed towards the scanner. I point to my insulin pump and say “I can’t go through that with this, and I opt out.” The TSA screener insists I can go through, but I can opt out if I want to, so I say one more time “I opt out.” I then get directed to remove my shoes, belt, and anything else in my pocket, which I do, and then get sent to secondary screening for a full on rub down.

To be clear, no one at TSA was rude or inconsiderate. In fact, everyone was polite as could be, including the pat down guy. It’s just that I was left wondering what anyone proved by sending me to secondary screening? Not only that, why can’t TSA get the idea that my particular insulin pump manufacturer has determined that their “machines” are harmful to my insulin pump? This is the first time in well over a year, if not 2, that I’ve had to deal with this, so perhaps I’m a little over-emotional about the whole thing. On the other hand, this was NOT the first time I’ve been “randomly” selected by the walk through metal detector. It’s just the first time that it has happened and I’ve been sent to the “scanner.” Part of enhanced security procedures this week? Maybe so. That’s fine, but I think I’ll defer to the manufacturer of my insulin pump when it comes to these kinds of things.

-MJ, July 3, 2014

Yesterday, I was perusing a few news articles, emails, etc., over lunch, and a marketing email came in from Royal Caribbean. It contained… wait for it…. tips for the first time cruiser. You might remember I wrote a little 3-part primer on the topic not too long ago.

The email reminded me that I failed to mention something extraordinarily important – travel documents. I can be excused a little (but not fully) because I have called a passport the cheapest travel insurance you can buy for your cruise on this blog more than once. I view a passport as something as natural to have as a driver’s license, so maybe I’m a little jaded about the idea. The truth is, the passport question is one I get more often than any other from new cruisers. It always surprises me, but perhaps it shouldn’t. According to this article from 2012, just over 1/3 of Americans actually have a passport, and that was celebrated in the article as a big improvement over past years.

Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 9.16.40 AM

My advice to any cruiser, first timer or not, if you do not have a passport you should get one. Yes, I’m aware that “closed loop” cruises which begin and end in the same US port do not require them. Yes, I’m aware that getting a passport does have a cost in funds and in a little time. You’re leaving the country, you need a passport. What if you miss the ship in a port of call? What if you get sick, and need to be medivac’d out? You are now an American in a foreign country without a passport. Will you get home? Yes, I have no doubt you will. But the stack of paperwork along with the level of hassle and scrutiny you’ll no doubt receive strike me as exceeding the small amount of time and money you’ll invest in just getting a passport.

Going on a cruise? Please consider applying for a passport if you do not have one. You can learn more about passports and applying for one here.

-MJ, July 3, 2014

The long holiday weekend is approaching fast. Flying somewhere at this late date is likely to be expensive, but depending on where you are, there are options. If you’re into cruising, I’m still seeing a tiny bit of availability on weekend cruises from Florida. If you’re within driving distance of Miami or Port Canaveral, there are a few options. The cheap deals are gone, but if you’re interested, act now.


At this point, a good staycation might be just what the doctor ordered. Right here in Atlanta, the W Atlanta Buckhead is available for this weekend right now at reasonable rates, and you might even catch a few fireworks from the rooftop lounge. Same for the Westin Peachtree Plaza in downtown Atlanta. You’ll surely see some fireworks from the Sun Dial Lounge!

Not from Atlanta? My friends at Hilton Worldwide tell me they have a few great hotels for enjoying holiday fireworks across the country. All of these hotels are bookable through, and HHonors members can earn Double HHonors Points or Double Miles through the Double Your HHonors promotion.

Waldorf Astoria New York

  • Chill out with friends at the pool during the day or get a refreshing spa treatment at the Guerlain Spa
  • Grab a pre-dinner cocktail at the hotel’s on-site legendary Bull and Bear Bar before feasting at Bull and Bear Prime Steakhouse
  • To conclude a day of relaxation and fun, walk just a few short blocks from the hotel to the East River to view one the famous Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks show
  • Start the next morning off with breakfast/brunch at Oscar’s Brasserie

WaldorfAstoriaExterior_HRHilton Chicago

  • Soak up the summer sun on the sky deck during the afternoon and then cool off afterwards at the connected indoor pool
  • Sit out-on the sidewalk patio at the hotel’s Irish pub Kitty O’Shea’s and quench your thirst with one of their signature cocktails or a nice beer/wine
  • 720 South Bar & Grill is the hotel’s classic American grill which makes the perfect backdrop for your 4th of July dinner
  • Once done with dinner, gather your friends/family in your room and pull-up a chair to view the fireworks right from your hotel window
  • And I might add that Chicago has a fine fireworks display from personal experience. Another great way to watch – dinner cruise on Lake Michigan


Embassy Suites Houston – Downtown

  • Spend the day outside getting some color at the hotel pool
  • Enjoy the nightly Manager’s Reception featuring complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and snacks
  • Head to Embassy Grill for dinner
  • After dinner, head back to the pool deck where guests can catch a fantastic view of Houston’s fireworks show
  • The next morning, check-out the complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast

Alternate Pool View

Don’t know about you, but I’m digging that pool! It’s been HOT in Atlanta!! Whatever you decide to do this weekend, enjoy a few days off!

-MJ, July 2, 2014


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