Showing posts with label Alaska Airlines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alaska Airlines. Show all posts

Monday, October 9, 2023

To Greece ~ The best laid plans. . .

Traveling between our US world and the Greek expat life we've chosen is a long haul no matter the route. We've come to see it as simply a condition of choosing to keep a toehold in two far distant points in the world. We make the trip back to the United States once a year. . .

A true long-haul flight between our worlds

Every once in a while, The Scout manages to find a route that shaves a bit of time off the trip while saving us some money.  He had done so this year. . .or so it seemed in the beginning. 

Gates at Kalamata International Airport

First, a bit of background for our tale:  British Airways (BA) flies a couple of times a week into our small Kalamata International Airport, a rather third world looking place that has two side-by-side departure gates, Gate 1 and Gate 2. It is international because flights from other countries land here. 

Its selling points are that it is easy to navigate, parking is 3 euros a day, it's close to our Greek home, and we can fly to Seattle from there, with a connection at London's Heathrow airport.  

We were flying round-trip Kalamata -Seattle - Kalamata although the price savings required a small, but manageable travel blip on our return flight. We would fly from Seattle to nearby Portland, Oregon -- a 30-minute flight -- on BA's partner airline, Alaska Air, and catch the BA flight to London from there.  

First leg: Manson to Seattle over Washington Mountain passes

Sounded simple enough at the time we made the reservation. We'd leave our Washington home at 9:30 a.m. Friday, Pacific Northwest time, make the four-hour drive to Seattle, have a few hours of time to spare at the airport, then some 20+ hours later arrive back at our Stone House on the Hill about 9 Saturday night, Greek time.

The Plans began Unraveling.

No matter how many times you confirm, recheck, and double-check travel plans these days, the travel gods still rule.  And sometimes they need a few laughs. This was to be one of those times.

Our plans began unraveling when we found the British Airlines check-in counter at SeaTac closed. A sign on the counter said it would open 3.5 hours before the next flight, problem was, it didn't say when that would be. A quick internet check showed it departing at 8 p.m. which meant the counter would open too late for us to check in for that little connecting flight to Portland.

Three heads are better than one 

Another woman traveler was in the same predicament. So, the three of us set off for the Alaska Air counters (at the opposite end of the airport). There, among the dozens of self-check-in kiosks, we finally spotted two humans staffing the Business Class counter.  The woman traveler went to one human, and we went to the other. 

Yes, we were assured, they could check us in! Problem was that they couldn't find our reservations nor the flight that British Air had booked us on to Portland. They called in reinforcements - three staff worked on our predicament and two worked on hers.  Finally, the five figured it out, tickets to Portland were issued and our bags were loaded on the conveyor belt.


Bags were heading back. . .were we?

While watching our bags depart, my mobile device pinged. An email from British Air had arrived saying our flight to London had been delayed by little over two hours, 'sorry for the inconvenience'.  

Our new London arrival time would be 2:15 pm. Saturday - 15 minutes after our flight for Kalamata left.

The Domino Effect



Ever notice that when things start going wrong it is like dominoes falling? Well, that was certainly the case with this trip: 

We were hiking back to the other end of the terminal, where the fast security line was located; glad to be part of the US trusted traveler program which allows us to use the speedy service. With all the check-in confusion that relaxing cushion of time we'd allowed ourselves was gone. We needed to get to the gate for the Portland flight. Wouldn't you know?  The speedy line was also being used by long-haul flight crews. We waited for some 80 crew members to be checked in before the 10 or so of us 'trusted travelers' were allowed through. 

Planning to have snacks and beverages at the airport, we hadn't eaten lunch. But no time for that now, we'd be lucky to at least get a final cup of Starbucks coffee before our flight boarded.



At the Starbucks counter a young man with bright blue hair - a color that rivaled that of the saleswoman in the phone store in my last post - took my order for a double latte. As I handed him my stack of dollars (it cost just under $7) he looked at the currency as if it were something repulsive and said, 'Oh, I can't take cash. . .' 

Okay. . .in retrospect, I could have dug out a credit card but that blank stare he gave me and my cash, simply broke the proverbial camel's back with the straw, 'Cancel the order!' I snarled as I stomped from the counter.

 

Sorry, no coffee on today's flight. . .

The Scout was disappointed at my failed mission. I assured him there was coffee on the plane. Our cheerful flight attendant promised it as soon as we were airborne. A few minutes into the flight, she picked up the microphone and, looking towards us, made a sad face, while announcing that our flight was going so fast there would be no beverage service.  

And we are finally off . . .late as promised

Better late than never - we were off!

In Portland, the BA representative issued us tickets all the way to Kalamata while noting we would miss that flight for which she had given us tickets. Ground staff in London would figure it out for us, she said with a smile. 

We actually learned what our new travel plans would be shortly before we arrived at Heathrow. Our flight attendant told us we'd be spending a night in London and flying to Kalamata the next day.


Flight connections madhouse at Heathrow

So many on our flight had missed connections that BA staff had set up a table outside the jetway and handed out dozens of new tickets from it.  Hotel, food and transportation vouchers had to be obtained at the Flight Connections desk, a place I'd call a centralized complaint/hysteria counter a train ride away in the massive Terminal 5. At the counter we fell in line with the dozens of others seeking vouchers.

Nearly an hour later with vouchers in hand, we were off to the bus stop where we'd just missed the hotel bus we needed. Nearly another hour later we were arriving at the nearby Radisson Blue Edwardian Hotel. It was 5 p.m.

At The Hotel - The Dominoes continued to fall

Lobby Radisson Blue Edwardian Hotel Heathrow

The opulent wood-paneled lobby adorned with a massive crystal chandelier was pretty welcome to these now weary travelers. Maybe this layover wasn't such a bad thing, we thought, until. . .  

'I am unable to give you a key to your room,' said the smiling desk clerk, explaining a system failure involving electrical and computer stuff had shut down the hotel's vital systems, like that of making room keys. Handing us a piece of plastic the size of a credit card, she said, 'This is the master key for the room. It is the only one that opens the door. If you lose it, you won't be able to get into the room and we won't be able to get you into the room.' 

You'd better believe we treated it with respect.


Plenty of vouchers - too bad the hotel wouldn't take them

The hotel's restaurant looked inviting. Called Steak and Lobster, it offered some nice menu choices and to our amazement the vouchers we each had were so generous that they covered even the most expensive menu item.  While sipping a pre-dinner glass of wine, The Scout asked if reservations were required. The good news, we didn't need reservations. The bad news, they wouldn't take the vouchers -- in either of the hotel's two restaurants (and not because of the system failure). 

It turned out that a 21-person tour group had also missed a flight and BA sent them to this hotel as well. The hotel had opened a conference room for us all, offering a buffet table meal of beef stew, mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli and cauliflower in exchange for the 23 pound ($28US) per person voucher.  

That proverbial straw snapped again. . .We ate in the restaurant on our own dime. . .and had a fabulous meal while vowing never to return to this hotel no matter what the reason we might find ourselves overnighting at Heathrow. 

Destination: Kalamata ~ Delayed

A new day. . .a new delay


Leaving the hotel in the early morning darkness on Sunday morning, we shouldn't have been surprised when we checked the departure board at the airport for our gate to find that the flight to Kalamata was 'delayed' - those travel gods were still laughing. 

We rejoiced when it really was only less than a half hour delay. We'd be home by mid-afternoon!

Kalamata's runway - finally!

Ready to leap out of my seat with joy when we touched down at Kalamata, my happiness was momentary . . .

With the small terminal some distance ahead, our plane stopped on the runway. 'Folks,' said the pilot, 'we've got too many planes in and have to wait for one to take off before I can enter the apron.'  Within minutes an Austrian Airlines plane raced past us on the runway and was airborne. 

But still, we didn't move.  

We sat. 


So close. . .Kalamata airport terminal

'Folks, again sorry for the delay,' began the pilot, 'but we've still got too many planes on the apron. It is going to be awhile. I am turning off the engine, feel free to come visit the cockpit, use the bathrooms, as it is going to be an hour.'

An hour! 

We both later admitted to having thoughts of hijacking the parked plane, forcing open the door and escaping using the emergency evacuation slide. Luckily planes were shifted, and we were at the terminal 45 minutes later.

Moral of the Story: Travel Gods need their jollies so be prepared.

It's been two weeks so we can tell this story and finally find some humor in it. And those of you who are looking for a reason, not to travel, you can't use this as a case in point, as it was an anomaly (we hope!). We've never had so many dominos of disruption falling on a trip.

We do tell it with a tag line of 'be prepared' when you travel these days. Prepare for delays, detours and other disruptions. 

* Pack your carryon for an overnight stay. I always pack change of clothes and toiletries in our carryon bags, 'just in case' and 'never' need them. This time they came in handy.

*Don't assume there will be time to grab food and drink.  Pack a snack with you.

* Have a 'disaster fund' for emergencies, like needing to pay for an unplanned meal or hotel room along the way. As we learned, even with vouchers, you may end up paying for items.

*And travel with some means of accessing the internet at wherever your destination might be. Airport staff and help desks are becoming scarce. There is an expectation that you will turn to the internet to check in, to find answers to questions, and to solve your own problems.  I can't imagine traveling without a mobile device or laptop nowadays.


The Stone House on the Hill



With those words of advice, I will end our travel tale. We are home on the hill in Greece and have no desire to see an airport anytime soon.  

We wonder how many of you have had travel plans upended in your recent travels.  Please share your stories in the comments below or shoot us an email. Let us know the problem and how it was resolved.  If enough of you participate, I will use your tales in the next blog post!  

Thanks for being with us today. Safe travels to you and yours!


Thursday, February 27, 2020

A Taste of Class - First Class, that is!


I sipped my first glass of champagne at about 6 a.m. London time.  It wasn't my last that January morning either. I don't often sip bubbles so it was a real treat - even more so because I was indulging in one of the complimentary pleasures of the British Airways First Class Lounge at Heathrow Airport.

Bubbles at the entry of First Class Lounge Heathrow

Several months ago when planning our winter sojourn to the United States, we had thrown common sense to the wind and decided to burn a pile of our accumulated frequent flier airline miles. We used our stash of Alaska Airlines miles for round-trip First Class travel between  Athens, Greece and Seattle, Washington.

Regular readers know that The Scout is usually in pursuit of the best deal for the least amount of money or airline miles, but we had a change of heart on this one.

With all due credit to our inhouse deal finder, his research paid off on this trip as well.  He found that for 20,000 airline miles more per person we could fly First Class (140,000 miles)* instead of Business Class (120,000)*.

We had the miles, so why not use them? we asked ourselves.  Why not experience the posh side of travel this time?

A 747 flies the transatlantic routes

Because the aircraft flown between Athens and London was smaller than the wide-bodied ones used on transatlantic flights, we flew Business Class on those segments. We had large comfortable seats in the front section of the plane and were served complimentary beverages and a hot meal on our afternoon flight. (British Air now requires payment for food and beverage service in coach on this route.)


Checkin and security entrance

It was the next morning that we finally entered the world of first class travel. It began at check in when we were directed to a glitzy private area where check in and security screenings were handled as a part of the route to the First Class lounge, dining room and terrace.

I was like a kid in a candy shop or Alice as she tumbled into Wonderland! I left The Scout sitting in a leather wing chair sipping a pre-breakfast cappuccino while I unabashedly scurried about taking photos of this opulent area.   Who knew such a comfy, cushy world existed at airports? (I've been in Business Class lounges before but this was beyond that, so very beyond that!)

While this was likely a one-time shot for us, obviously there is a world in which first class is quite routine. As we were eating breakfast, a well-dressed man passed our table and as he did called out a greeting to the hostess, using her first name. Then added, "I will have my usual. I will be over in my chair." as he headed to the seating area. Incredible!

First class seat British Air



Seat becomes a bed with the turn of a button
Once inside the plane, the small cabin to the front of the plane was as posh as I had imagined it being.  The seats were small private seating/sleeping areas that opened from the aisle. A viewing screen, an individual closet, desk/table area and a seat that with the twist of a button became 180-degree flat bed.  A sleeping pad and coverlet were provided as were slippers and 'sleeping attire'.

A Mimosa while waiting for take-off

We perused the menu and sipped - yes, another bubbly while awaiting take off. When the flight attendant took our orders The Scout asked when the meal would be served. Her reply, "Any time you would like it Mr. Smith."  Yes, just like Alice must have felt in Wonderland!

Men and women received gender-appropriate gift bags containing lotions, lip moisturizer, socks, ear plugs, toothbrushes and paste and a number of other pamper yourself items.

Never has the near 10-hour flight between London and Seattle gone as quickly as this one did.

I followed our journey on my television scree


First Class Part Two


Now our return journey wasn't quite as posh and we can thank the US-based carrier Alaska Airlines, a code-share partner with British Air for tainting an otherwise delightful introduction to First Class travel.


Alaska Air Premium Economy - snack bar and water 

When traveling on award-travel you are not always able to get the flight you want as seats are often scarce. We were unable to get first class seats on the direct BA flight from Seattle to London so flew Alaska Airlines to Boston and then British from Boston to London.  Alaska also has Business Class seats, for which we were waitlisted. . .but never cleared the wait list so a six-hour segment of our return trip was spent in Alaska's economy seats. We paid an additional $99 per person to be seated in Premium Economy a few rows at the front of the coach class section.

Because we were waitlisted we were not allowed to use the Alaska Lounge at SeaTac even though our first class tickets were code-share tickets with the airline.  It was admittedly a 'first world problem' but irritating to think of turning over all those miles and ending up in economy, however. . .


British Air first-class lounge Boston
It was a smooth flight and we arrived in Boston nearly an hour early, which gave us a near four hour layover there.  Plenty of time to enjoy its luxurious British Air first-class lounge - another bit of bubbles and a pleasant experience.


Claim tickets need numbers on them


Alaska Air had been unable to ticket us all the way back so it was while checking in at British Air that we discovered the Alaska ticket agent had issued us baggage claim tickets for our two checked bags without any claim numbers printed on them.  The sharp BA agent caught the error and hand-wrote the numbers on our claim stubs.

That proved to be a good thing because our bags were left in Boston.  A fact we learned in Athens. And there, the first thing the lost bag clerk asked for were the baggage claim numbers

The First Class Story Ends at the Village Service Station


The bags did arrive in Athens on a later flight.  However, we live four hour's drive from the Athens airport in the rural Peloponnese.  We got a call the next day saying the bags would be sent by courier to the Athens bus station and put on a bus bound for Kalamata. There they would be put on a passenger bus bound for the villages to the south of the city. At 2 p.m. the bus would leave our bags at the village service station.


2 p.m. the village service station and there were our bags!

We have three service stations and they didn't know which one it would be. "Ask around the village and someone will know," we were told.  We did just that and at 2:15 the bus pulled into Taki's service station, the bags were unloaded and our adventure into the world of first class travel officially came to an end.

Our first-class travel comes to an end 

If You Want to Book First Class

Appetizers and bubbles

Now before you go rushing off to book yourself in First Class using award tickets let me caution that these were not 'free tickets'.  In addition to the 140,000 reward miles per person we also had to pay $637 per person of which $499 was the 'carrier imposed surcharge' and $138 were taxes and user fees (split between Greece, United Kingdom and the United States). And a booking fee of $25.

That said, it compared favorably with the fare had we simply purchased the tickets as they are about $4,500 per person.

Note the small print when booking award seats whether Business or First Class as sometimes it is a mixed cabin ticket meaning one segment might be in the elite class but other segments will be in the economy section - despite the number of miles you have turned in.

That is it for this week! Thanks for being with us again and we look forward to being back next week with some more tales from The Stone House on the Hill. Until then, safe travels to you and yours~

Linking this week with:


Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday



Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A First Class Start to 2014

We quite literally had a first class start to the New Year when Alaska Airlines upgraded us from coach to those big cushy seats in the front of the 737 on our Jan. 1st flight to Las Vegas from Seattle.

It’s the section of the plane where the real cups of coffee are constantly refilled  and real food is served on real plates.

PicMonkey Collage

A real surprise.
A real treat.
A real reminder of why airline loyalty programs are still worth joining. (If you missed our article on other benefits a few weeks ago, click here.)

[Travel Tip:  The Scout had booked this trip an air/accommodation package on Expedia.com  The airfare was less than $200 per person round-trip, including taxes and fees.]

Vegas2014 046Our return from Vegas brought us back to reality – paper cups, one serving of coffee, and a package of nuts – ahh, but the memory remains of that New Year's Day  flight.

The unexpected upgrade was one of those ‘little things’ that are long remembered after a trip ends.

Sometimes those ‘little things’ fall into the ‘sad-but-true’ category, like this memory of Vdara, the hotel where we stayed as part of the package.





sanantVegas2014 111

Vdara, is a condo/hotel, a part of the recently completed City Center development. To get your bearings, that small tower in the photo above is a side view of Bellagio, home of The Strip’s famous fountains.

PicMonkey Collage

Our room was a Vdara Suite, one of the smaller ones but at 810 sq. ft. plenty spacious for us and we had a killer view of the fountains next door.

[Travel Tip: We saved a tremendous amount eating breakfast and lunch ‘at home’ in the room. Had we needed them, it also was equipped with a washer and dryer.]

The kitchen (similar to the tale I wrote about The Cosmopolitan Hotel) was empty except here there was a coffee pot. (A make- or break-a-place item in my mind.)  However, with a single call housekeeping arrived bearing plates, bowls, flatware, cookware and utensils.  When I had called in advance to inquire about the kitchen I was told that in the beginning the kitchens were fully stocked but because so many items had ‘walked away’ with guests, they had to institute an inventory control system. 

[Travel Tip: The cost of our suite was just under $150 including taxes and booking fees; the resort levied a $28 additional resort fee per day for internet, telephone, use of the exercise facility and daily newspaper.]

We had daily maid service that couldn’t be faulted. . .and then on the third morning I thought the maid had forgotten to leave the wash (face) cloths in the bathroom.  We’d had had three – shower, sink and tub – each day.   I stopped her in the hallway and asked for one.  “Oh, they have to be ordered from housekeeping,” she explained apologetically.

Really?! I mean, really?! Without kitchen supplies for souvenirs could the guests now be taking wash cloths? I am struck with guilt when I forget to leave a plastic key that could be reused, the thought of taking property. . .hmmm. . .

As I said, it is those little things we remember when we come to travel. . .

That’s it for this Travel Tip Tuesday.  We’ll be back again this week and hope you’ll be traveling along with us.  You can follow TravelnWrite on Bloglovin and Networked Blogs or have posts delivered to your inbox. 

We’ve  just figured out Instagram and are posting travel photos there as well. Click the link to follow us there. 

Until next time, happy travels. . .
Jackie, The Scribe, and Joel, The Scout

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Travel Tip Tuesday: More Money Saving Tips

Saving Money tips from you:

VegasAppleCup2013 028I promised I’d share reader responses to our 'hitting the travel jackpot' post about getting  more travel and spending less money on our recent trip to Scottsdale, Arizona  by going via Las Vegas, Nevada:

Mark in Florida sent a tip about ways to save on rental cars:

“We find it is almost always cheaper to rent cars a couple miles from the airport . . . especially if your hotel has a free shuttle and Enterprise (car rental) picks you up.”

Paula in Washington State sent a tip for finding luxury and saving money on the Oregon Coast:

“We were visiting our daughter down in Coos Bay (on the Oregon coast) last month and stayed at the Mill Casino Hotel. I fell in love with the hotel with it's ‘. . . stunning waterfront views of Coos Bay in . . . Northwest-inspired d├ęcor. . .’ It's actually right on the Bay and you can step outside to find all kinds of wildlife.  We found an internet special of $89 a night for a 4-star room.”

KOandSeattle 041Credit Card Benefits Are No Joke!
In that same jackpot post I told you we’d applied for two additional Alaska Airlines credit cards at the encouragement of the ‘sign up man’ working the waiting area in the Las Vegas airport. 

Our new cards arrived last week, the signing bonus 25,000 air miles (good for a domestic round-trip) has been deposited to each of our mileage accounts and we each have a $99 companion ticket in our account – just waiting to be used sometime in the next 12 months. When added to our existing cards, we'll have four 'cheap' trips a year.

Alaska Air, once a regional airline now flies to destinations throughout the entire U.S from the East Coast to Hawaii. Alaska credit cards are available to U.S. and Canadian residents.

Other good news for Alaska Airlines frequent fliers is that the airline just announced they are allowing miles flown on an increasing number of their partner airlines to count toward Alaska elite flyer status. 

Pacific Northwest Deals:
VancouverIs2013 067

Canada: The Wickaninnish Inn, that high-end place on Vancouver Island’s West Coast (they offered us rooms for $420 or $460 per night last September when we stopped and didn’t stay), has a spring get-away special:  book a minimum three-night getaway at the Inn from January 24th through April 30th, 2013, and save $100/night from their regular room rates.   Available for new reservations on select dates and room types. Call 1-800-333-4604 or email info@wickinn.com.

Seattle: Mayflower Park Hotel

Summer2013 031 The historic Mayflower Park Hotel, built in 1927, and located in the heart of the city, next to Westlake Center has a Holiday Traditions Package with weekday prices (Sun, – Thurs.) starting at $139 for a Classic guestroom; $159 Deluxe and $199 Suites. Weekend rates (Friday and Saturday) start at $179 for a Classic, $199 Deluxe and $239 Suites. Good through December 30, 2013. Reservations: 206-382-6990, 800-426-5100 or e-mail at mayflowerpark@mayflowerpark.com.  Keep in mind: rates are based on a space available basis and do not include tax.

That’s it for now. . .stop by on Thursday for our weekly photo tour link up!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Travel Tip Tuesday: How to Hit a Travel Jackpot. . .

. . .or here are some of our latest tips for saving travel dollars.

Our destination earlier this month was Scottsdale, Arizona. So, why then, did we fly to Las Vegas --some 300 miles and a near five-hour drive away – to get there? 

Easy answer: travel deals!

Here is the why and what we did to save some money while extending the trip a few days as well:

KOandSeattle 041Airfare: 

Altered the routing without sacrificing the trip.

The airfare was already significantly less to fly to Las Vegas than to Phoenix when an Alaska Airlines internet promotion offered double airline miles on the Seattle-Vegas route; miles that counted toward frequent-flyer elite status.

Result:  Saved money and earned airline miles by altering our routing.  The mileage assures us that we will be MVP’s in 2014 (which means seat selection advantages, early boarding and best of all, no baggage fees for up to four bags between us!)

PhxtoVegas2013 052Car rental: 

Got more and paid less.

Finding a reasonably priced rental car these days – no matter what the destination – is difficult, especially at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. By flying into Vegas, we also got a much better car rental price than anything we’d found in Arizona. 

The Las Vegas  Fox Rent-a-Car also allowed the addition of a second driver for no additional fee; meaning I could also drive without paying between $140 – $210 extra to do so. Our like-new Toyota Corolla cost $281 for two-weeks. (Upon the return because a computer snafu caused a huge line and much confusion, they refunded $100 of that price as well!)

VegasAppleCup2013 029Result:  We had a round-trip scenic drive that took us past Hoover Dam just outside Vegas and then through the picturesque towns of Kingman and Wickenberg, Arizona.

In addition to loving the wide open spaces through which the route took us, we also had an option of spending a couple of nights in Vegas after returning the car. . .a double win, in our book.



The Unexpected Bonus

So, how many credit cards are too many?

MilanBolgTusc2012 006We fly Alaska Airlines almost exclusively and the frequent flier miles earned from this carrier has taken us round-trip to Europe several times on its partner airlines. (Our miles took us round-trip to Amsterdam in Business Class on this KLM flight to the left).

While awaiting our flight back to Seattle last week, we were approached by the “Alaska Airlines credit card man” offering us a signing bonus,you might say, of 25,000 miles, for applying  for the card.


Brushing off his offer, we told him we each already had an Alaska Airlines credit card.  To our surprise, he replied, “That doesn’t matter. . .get another one.  We have people who’ve gotten the maximum – five cards so they can use the companion tickets.”

One of the ways we earn Alaska miles is using their credit card: one mile= $1 in spending.  The other plus of their card is the $99 companion ticket offered each year in exchange for the card’s fee of $75. Those companion tickets come in real handy at times, for example:

KoOlina2013 023The ticket prices to Honolulu, Hawaii in January are enough to topple a palm tree.

The ticket cost for our upcoming trip came up at $882 for the first ticket, $41.56 for taxes and fees; total $924

The companion ticket: $99 plus taxes and fees of $39.29 for a total of $138.29. (And for you skeptics out there, even if I add in the $75 credit card fee, the price barely tops $200 – a considerable savings indeed.)

Result:  We both applied for credit cards. We each will receive 25,000 miles (which gets us that much closer to a European flight) and also will have two more companion tickets to use each year.

It has been awhile since I put out a call for tips on travel deals from you.  Have any new tips to share? Add them in the comment section on www.travelnwrite.com or shoot us an email and I will add them in.  And then come back on Thursday when we'll take a hike through the real ‘Old West' !

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gratitude ~ For that Woman in Seat 6D

November seems the month in which blog and FB posts focus on gratitude and thankfulness.  So, let me tell you about my seatmate on an Alaska Airlines flight to Las Vegas last Sunday. . .

She was seated in the bulk head row aisle seat  by the time we reached it. Ours were window and middle. Reaching down she moved her legs back and said, “I’d stand. . .but I can’t.”

DCVegasSeville2011 084
New York New York and Excalibur Casinos - Las Vegas

Plenty of room to get in, we assured her, as we stepped over and around and settled in. We often sit in the bit-more-spacious row with seats designated for ‘handicapped’ (and secondarily, frequent fliers) but this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to chat with a person who needed the seat for its real purpose. ( I can assure you while this lady may have been ‘differently-abled’ she was by no means ‘handicapped’ in mind or spirit.)

IMG_20130926_184516_633The flight attendant stood next to Seat 6D as she demonstrated the safety procedures and escape routes. 

As she pointed to the track lighting that would lead us to an emergency exit, I started pondering  how the lady next to me would ever get to an emergency exit. 

Then a more disturbing question surfaced:

(Would we step over her  to save ourselves or would we take her under our care?  Hmm. . .now that is one about which one must do some soul-searching. . .)


She and I began the usual in-air visiting when she complimented my sandals,

“Oh they are Clark’s Bendables and they weigh almost nothing,” I said taking one off, handing it to her, “They are great . . .(for walking.)” I’d almost foolishly added.




As our conversation continued she told me she’d contracted polio 35 years ago – from the vaccine intended to keep her from getting the crippling disease.  But she didn’t dwell on that, instead we talked travel:

DSCF0037

She loved Istanbul and her travels in Turkey. The people there were so kind, she said.

SilhouettePt22012 154
Street scene - Kotor, Montenegro
But those cobblestone streets in old European cities can be difficult to navigate – but she smiled as she added, “it can be done if you are determined.”

“Cruises are getting better now – in the sense of accessibility – they used to have handicapped rooms that had a lip on the bathroom doorway entrance making it difficult to navigate in a wheelchair – they’ve remedied that now.”

Arizona Spring 2012 195
Our room - Scottsdale Four Seasons - I'd not considered the bed's height before
But beds on land and sea can be difficult. “They make them so tall now” she commented, again grinning she added, “It’s good the sheets are tucked in tightly - I sometimes have to use them as a rope and pull myself up and into bed.”

IMG_20131012_114152_123
Cappuccino - Papeete, Tahiti
She passed when the beverage cart came by – while we quickly downed our much-needed early morning coffee. 

Later, she told me the first thing she planned to do upon reaching her hotel was to order a huge cup of coffee.

“ I love my coffee but it goes right through me, though, so I don’t dare order it on a plane,” she explained.

As the plane arrived at the gate, she reached down and pulled her legs back and said, “You climb out over me. I’ll be the last one off.”



I never asked her name, but that really doesn’t matter because I’ll never take another trip without thinking of the Lady in Seat 6D.

When I complain of having walked too much or why we didn’t get that second cup of coffee or when I think the mattress is too hard – I will remember and then be thankful for that brief time I spent with the Lady in Seat 6D and oh, so grateful, that The Scout and I are able to travel as we do.

That’s it for Travel Photo Thursday, head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos and armchair travel.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

KLM Airlines: Flying Up Front Like Royalty

It isn't often that we get to experience ‘how the other half flies’– those front-end-of-the-plane folks who recline in spacious seats behind that curtain enjoying all the treats afforded them there.

We are most-often among those in the cramped economy section  at the back of the plane eating the complementary snack pack of six soy nuts and coffee. . .and earning frequent flier miles.

On our recent trip though The Scout is to be commended for using a pile of those frequent flyer air miles earned in the back of Alaska Airlines planes to get us to Europe in style.

VeniceAmsterdam2012 240We flew Business Class from Vancouver, B.C. to Amsterdam and back from Venice on KLM, Royal Dutch Airline. 

Since it is Travel Tip Tuesday, I thought I’d give you a look what you can get for those frequent flier miles you’ve been accumulating:


VeniceAmsterdam2012 239The luxuries of ‘front-end’ travel begins long before boarding the plane in special lounges in some secluded area of the airport where only those ‘invited’ guests are admitted. The invitation is a Business or First-class boarding pass.

In Amsterdam (picture above) we could have consumed any number of beverages from hard liquor and wine to orange juice and coffee while awaiting our flight.  It was serve-yourself  sandwich makings, a chunky tomato soup, beet root salad and any number of pastries and snacks.
 
But that was just the prelude to the flight:

We learned from our multi-page printed menu that KLM was in the midst of its Third Annual “From Holland Food and Wine Festival” celebrated on board during October and November. As the name implies, it’s designed to showcase Dutch products, dishes and traditions. (Now why couldn’t other airlines do that? Maybe they do and we just don’t get to see it in the back, right?)

VeniceAmsterdam2012 243

These were the first of several glasses of Billecart- Salmon champagne that I sipped during the near 10 hour flight from Amsterdam to Vancouver. (Okay, so it’s not from Holland, but it is my all-time favorite bubbly; its cost keeps me from having it too often on the ground.)

MilanBolgTusc2012 008
We sipped the bubbly while adjusting our seats - an activity that in itself could keep you entertained for a few hours.
(That M in the circle was to activate the massage feature, by the way.) 










So back to the Food and Wine Festival. . .

VeniceAmsterdam2012 244

The starter course was “A baton of braised veal enhanced by beetroot with cumin and a Hollandaise piccalilli cream” (the little blue clogs to the left were salt and pepper shakers) and that was followed by:

VeniceAmsterdam2012 245

The entree:   A mouth-watering MRIJ beef tartlet ‘complemented by jus with VOC spices, mash of Willem van Orange potato and red cabbage with diced apple.”

We opted out of the desserts (although I had to try a Belgian chocolate from the box of temptations offered by the flight attendant after dessert). 

VeniceAmsterdam2012 251

Just before arriving in Vancouver, BC we had our final (oink!) “Light Meal” service: “Eigenheimer potato salad with shrimps served with salmon garnished with herring caviar and trout Hollandaise mousse” in the small dish at the top.

The hot dish is a “Zeeland-fish platter with fillet of plaice and haddock complemented by creamy dill sauce, tomato compote and green marrow peas with onions and carrots.”

In between the eats Joel napped, using  his blanket for an eye shade instead of the one in a kit given us at the start of the flight. It included socks, lotions, lip balm, tooth paste and brush,and ear plugs (mine is the pink bag):

VeniceAmsterdam2012 246

I also reclined but opted to watch one of a dozen movies offered but I also made periodic checks of our position on my individual screen (note, I’d switched to water):

VeniceAmsterdam2012 250

By this point in the flight though I was getting excited for the special treat that I had learned on our flight to Amsterdam would be coming. . .KLM – Royal Dutch Airlines has a tradition for ‘front end’ guests. . . you’ll have to tune in later this week to find out what it was that had me so excited.

How we did it: It required 100,000 Alaska Air miles per person to fly from Seattle (via Alaska Air/Horizon) to Vancouver, BC; then Amsterdam on KLM. [We were unable to connect using FF seats to Milan so we booked Easy Jet, Europe’s low-cost airline for that segment – $100 each, with all charges]. We flew Business Class from Venice to Vancouver, B.C. 

We paid only a couple hundred dollars in taxes, baggage charges, and fees for tickets that  cost in the $5,000 per person range.

Later this week  I’ll tell you about the treat and Joel will have some tips for booking frequent flier seats. Hope to see you then!

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