In this exciting episode, we enter the world of International long haul flights and the airlines that provide them.

Airlines tend to put the best foot forward for long-haul flights, those that cross the Atlantic or Pacific heading to faraway places.  That is not uniformly true, especially with United Airlines announcing new service to the U.K. from Seattle recently. They are guaranteed to suck because it’s a vital part of their culture.  So let’s talk about the process of finding that great roundtrip to London.

Going across the pond opened up the possibility of using a foreign carrier. The choice was rather limited considering the travel time, the layovers, and the increasing chance of luggage not making onto every flight.  Whenever possible I prefer direct flights. Yes, they can be more expensive but consider all the factors.  As I studied the advantages and disadvantages of using multiple partner airlines to get from here to there it became clear that, at least to me, there are swiftly diminishing returns considering value for money.

Some flights take you from Portland International to New York, or Atlanta, some hop from there to Iceland where you get a layover hours long then a flight into London where you get to arrive absolutely exhausted.  Sound like fun to you?  Is that the dream vacation?

The answer is the direct flight aboard British Airways (BA) from Seattle to London Heathrow where the airline has a huge dedicated terminal that provides easy connections via various means to central London.

That flight is advertised at less than ten hours flying time which is still a long time to spend in an economy seat. I opted for the premium economy after looking at the business class.  It was the right choice.

Business Class seating is very poorly designed on that airplane. Look up business class BA on YouTube and you will see the seats are built with narrow surrounds that alternate facing forward and facing backward. You end up staring directly at the person next to you. That’s where the issues start. There are just way too many things wrong with the whole setup.

Premium Economy gets you a wider seat with a foot rest. Meals and all beverages are provided at no extra cost. You are served Champaign pre-flight with a warm towel to freshen up.

You are provided with noise canceling headphones and a comprehensive entertainment system with every movie currently in theaters along with classic films, television shows, or play video games if you prefer. That’s all included.

The menu is taken from business class items and is a full three-course meal with two choices of mains. A quick breakfast is served just before landing.  Afternoon tea is included as well on return flights.

You also get a comfort kit with blanket, pillow, eye shades, and a toothbrush, I really liked the flight socks. 

In short, this was the business class experience without the funky seating. The only thing lacking was a bed.  However, their premium economy seats recline farther than the regular economy and there is still plenty of room for the person behind you. The section for the premium economy has three fewer seats per row compared to the economy and is in a separate section between business and economy. No screaming children.  Heaven.

The pilot caught a tailwind and we arrived at Heathrow early. Now ordinarily that would be a good thing. I could have stayed on that plane a little longer.

I should point out that British Airways is in the process of replacing the aircraft we flew with new Dreamliners which should correct the issues in business class and make premium economy even better but it’s not necessarily good news for economy passengers if the seating plans I’ve seen so far hold true.

So, Winner..British Airways

 

Thanks for the nice ride.

 

 

Tom Freel

 

 

 

 

 

After my post offering a few tips on London travel, I got the question I expected.

Did I feel safe?

My travels took place about a week before the story broke about that first van attack on a London Bridge which, just days before, we had walked across as we were exploring the city.  I felt a very personal connection to that story because I had just been there strolling casually past the very spot where a lunatic ran down innocent people to instill terror.  Then it happened again on a different bridge.  In both cases, the British people refused to give in to fear. I admire that attitude and agree that to do anything else would mean that sort of criminal action works to the desired effect.

The question was a fair one though and gives me the opportunity to write about traveling safely.

The first thing to do is put these things in perspective. These desperately ill-conceived acts, committed by people with something very wrong going on upstairs, are quite rare.  Once it happens it is magnified by press coverage for days and weeks, Sometimes, months after it happens because it is news.  You can’t get away from it.  That leaves a lasting feeling of dread in some people. 

I’m not saying it’s not horrible. It clearly is. But it’s not a reason to assume that it’s a common occurrence. It clearly is not otherwise it would not qualify as news.

With that said, it is possible to take steps to help ensure your trip will be as safe as can be reasonably expected.  You need good data to get to that point and there are trusted resources available to help you decide where to visit and where not to go.

If I plan foreign travel my first stop is the U.S. State Department travel alerts website.  That site contains specific information on countries that may not be safe and best avoided. The data is put together by American intelligence services and offers a concise briefing on specific issues and a recommendation on whether or not American citizens should travel there with cautions for those who plan to do so anyway.

Beyond the threat of terrorism or civil unrest, there are some things you can do to better protect yourself and your property. 

First, leave the bling at home. 

Expensive watches, jewelry, and the other trappings of personal wealth are just an invitation to be knocked in the head.  If you are on a cruise and taking a port excursion don’t take a lot of cash, all your credit cards, and adorn yourself with glittering temptations. 

We made that mistake once.  On a cruise line endorsed dive excursion. For some reason, my lovely other half decides to leave cash in her purse on the dive boat.  Why a purse on a dive trip? I don’t have a good answer for that one.

When we got back on board the ship the cash didn’t make it back from the diving trip with us. Not a terribly expensive lesson, but a good one.

Always be aware of what is happening around you.  Thieves are not interested in hard work so they welcome wallets in back pockets and hanging backpacks that with one quick knife slice drops all the contents into the waiting hands of some bad guy who disappears in the crowd. A real favorite of the purse snatcher is someone with a shoulder bag slung across one shoulder.  

If you feel you need more information on this and other good tips, in general, you might enjoy the writings of travel expert Rick Steves.  Just Google the name. He’s absolutely everywhere.

 

So, did I feel safe?  Sure.

 

Tom Freel

The only thing I still remember clearly about our first trip to Hawaii decades ago is not the beaches or the wonders of the Aloha Spirit.  It was the airline.

That may come as a surprise considering how truly awful domestic flights have become in the 21st century.  There was a time when air travel, even in coach, could be wonderful and you don't have to go back to the days when guys wore suits and ladies wore dresses and flying was just for the privileged few

It was a Northwest Airlines Flight from Portland International to Honolulu.  Boarding the aircraft was leisurely. We were welcomed on board and shown to our roomy seats on the equally roomy 747 that felt like a lounge and not a cattle car. The sound system was playing a classical music selection softly in the background. Lighting was subdued.  The flight attendant was really wonderful. This was a time before she would be expected to act as the security guard for the flight.

It was her job to make sure my family was comfortable.  She served us a preflight beverage, made sure our things were properly stowed and moved on to the next group.  This was in coach!

We were served breakfast. Watched a movie. We were served lunch. We were offered a warm towel before landing in Honolulu. There were no extra charges unless I opted for a cocktail. (Well. Yes, I was on vacation after all)

It was, without a doubt, the perfect flight.

Then Northwest was absorbed by my nemesis Delta. I can’t begin to tell you how much I detest Delta. United is just as bad in every category, made worse by using evil and practically worthless O’Hare Field Chicago as a hub. I don’t need to tell you any of that because chances are good you already know. If you have been lucky enough to have a good flight with no complications on either of these carriers then I urge you to invest in Oregon Megabucks while your lucky streak is still hot.

So, in conclusion, my favorite airline is one that no longer exists. 

 

Tom Freel