Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dog-friendly in San Francisco: A Lesson

San Francisco is a city with more dogs than children. The SF Animal Care and Control estimates there  are 120,000 dogs in San Francisco while according to U.S. census figures from 2000 and 2005, there are between 108,000 to 113,000 children. When you think of the cost of living in SF and the sheer complexity of raising kids in big cities (quality of schools for starters), it probably isn't a surprising statistic.

With great weather pretty much 3/4 of the year, San Francisco is also perfect for dogs and their people. So - if you open a business in SF and you do not factor in the dog crowd, you are making a tactical error. Perfect example: a business not to far from us recently added outdoor patio space for dining. "Yeah!" I think... but as we walk by I notice this sidewalk patio is accessible only by entering the restaurant and they tell us service dogs only on the patio. Um. Hello? You have a great sidewalk patio with wind-screens and all, in an area with wide sidewalks (so rare) and you choose this as you plan? Guess what? Empty patio for them today on a gorgeous sunny Sunday afternoon. Just a couple blocks away every outdoor patio on Fillmore was filled - and more often than not with dog owners.

Lesson here? Look around your neighborhood and think a little. Sheesh. 

Regional and Global Airlines: Air China Fail

I know I rant about airlines often - so often I'm starting to feel like some sort of hater. I don't think it is too much to ask to be treated like a person and not a sardine being squeezed into a tin can and hurtled through the air for long distances. And some airlines really GET it and they get my business (Virgin, Continental, Delta - here's a big wink to you guys). As for the rest of you...

There are a couple of regional airlines I want to try: Singapore Airlines and Korean Air. I have heard rave reviews about them and I'm looking for an excuse to travel on them. I was also hoping to try Japan Airlines (JAL) but they recently filed for bankruptcy - not sure what their future holds but I hope they survive.

Now - about Air China. While in China on business, I traveled Air China from Beijing to Chengdu. Fortunately for me, on my first flight I was traveling with someone who spoke Mandarin. I arrived at the airport only to be told I didn't have a ticket. Excuse me? I had my American Express business travel schedule on my cell phone and had AMX travel on the phone in a heartbeat (who were unable to help me). Something about a missing eTicket number... finally after my co-worker chatted with them for a bit, I was provided a boarding pass and was able to get on the plane.

I swear the seats are even smaller on Air China than they are on US airlines. With less legroom (how is that even possible?). It was not a comfortable flight and the service was average, at best. No amenities on the plane I was traveling on either (no TV, radio, etc).

The mistake with my ticket - it could happen. Once is a mistake. However, on my way back I connected through Shanghai to SFO and I had the same problem. I was told I didn't have a ticket. I did have a ticket. After much arguing I was given a boarding pass which security seemed very suspicious of and examined in detail many times. At this point I just wanted to get to Shanghai and connect to my United flight (I was looking forward to flying United at this point, it was that bad) and get home to SFO.

Finally, I board the plane heading to Shanghai - airport code PVG. This is VERY important. Every piece of paper I had, every sign I saw, said we were headed to PVG airport. This is the airport with most international airlines and from where my United flight was departing. I landed in Shanghai and after searching for the United ticket counter, I asked information. They were completely puzzled why I was asking for United Airlines when I was in Shanghai airport - code SHA.

Talk about absolute panic at this point! I was traveling alone and had no idea what to do. I called American Express who helpfully told me United had no flights out of that airport (ever) and I had to get to PVG. I had two hours till my connecting flight took off and I started hauling ass. I had a hard time being understood at the taxi stand and only had a limited amount of cash on hand. Another gentleman at the taxi stand stepped in (thank goodness for the kindness of strangers) and told the driver what I needed. Luck was with me - Shanghai traffic was light on that Sunday afternoon. The taxi driver drove like a maniac and got me to the other airport in about 45 minutes. I gave him all my available cash which resulted in a healthy tip for him. At the time, I had Premiere status with United and was able through check-in and security and still have 15 minutes to chill in the Red Carpet Club.

Whew! Disaster avoided. However, I still have no explanation for why I ended up at the wrong airport. I went back and re-checked all my documents and everything said PVG - same flight number, same time, everything. No idea.

For the record, this spring there will be a connector subway will be completed between the two airports. Gee. Just in time for the 2010 World Expo. Could have really used that a year ago.

Lesson for you: avoid Air China. Period.

Happy Travels to your correct destination!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Travel stories from hell: Italy

The other day I was reminded of our adventures going to Italy back in 2004. I was trying to save money and booked plane tickets that had two layovers. Our flights were SFO -> JFK -> Paris De Galle -> Bologna, Italy.


Our flight from SFO took off two hours late due to a passenger having to be removed due to "illness" or something. Our nice layover at JFK (listed as one of my most hated airports, btw) was gone - we had to rush through changing terminals, moving from domestic to international and shove our way through security. There were a number of people on our SFO plane connecting to the same plane, so the plane was held. . . .which meant it was late taking off!

At last, we landed in Paris de Gaulle - this was not too long after a section of the roof collapsed in the airport. Things were chaotic and somehow along the way, we were able to get on our plane to Bologna without our passport being stamped to show we had landed in the European Union. We didn't realize it at the time but let me tell you - the guy in Italy noticed when we went to leave.

Finally, after 24 hours of travel, we land in Bologna in the middle of the afternoon in August. It was hot and humid. We got our car from Hertz and got all of about 5km out of the airport and had a flat tire. At this point, tempers are long gone and we are both hot, tired and pissed. My husband replaced the flat tire (thank goodness he is adept at these things) and we drove back to the airport. We arrived at the Hertz counter looking like something out of a bad sitcom. The guy at the counter took one look at us and without a word gave us a brand new (as in hardly any miles on it) car. Smart choice on his part.

The last part of the saga was the hotel. I had booked a room at a Best Western near the airport knowing we wouldn't want to drive the two hours into Tuscany after all that flying. We finally find the hotel (after several wrong turns) and ... it looked like a refugee camp. Rugs and clothing hanging out over the balconies. It was a horrible, horrible dump. We high-tailed it out of there and drove around till we found a Holiday Inn. It was clean, had kicking A/C and rooms available. 
With a start like this, you'd think the trip never got better - but it did. We had a great time in Tuscany and while I would never recommend traveling to Italy in August, we made the most of it. 
Happy Travels!

Hiking Land's End in San Francisco

When the sun comes out, the city goes nuts. Every path is busy, every hill is crowded. There are a fewer lesser known spots that are a bit less crowded - Land's End is one of those.

Bellagio Gardens: Chinese New Year

The tiger seems a bit sad, but the gardens were gorgeous!

Las Vegas Creepy

I love Las Vegas, but this little "show" at Caesar's Palace was WEIRD.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blogger layouts

I want another layout. This is the second one I have tried and still isn't just right. The templates in Blogger just aren't working for me and I don't have the talent to make my own. Anyone have suggestions?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

All about airlines: Aging planes are safe?

In two recent articles, a very different view was had of the airline industry. The first article on states that many of the airlines in the US have aging planes was painted as an "ok" thing, because airlines are careful about maintenance schedules and following all safety and security measures.

Not a week later (I am not joking here) another report came out about the FAA fining US airlines due to them skipping routine maintenance and violating safety protocols.

In my day job, we have a saying that "perception is reality". If folks perceive you as a good worker, a smart marketeer, a great account executive - then you are. Doesn't matter what is reality. And the opposite is true - if there is a perception problem around you, you are doomed.

I've been on some nasty planes. United airlines has some of the foulest planes I've ever been on. Dirty, missing pieces, still with ashtrays in the armrests. Latches that don't work, old CRT TV's that have a green tinge to the display. Headset jacks that crackle and pop (if they work). When I fly an airline like Virgin, I see clean planes, new features, modern equipment. So what perception am I left for each airline? I am not a fan of United and there have been times I've looked around at the plane and wondered if the inside is that bad, what does the engine look like? When you add the bonus of surly staff,  perception really goes down the toilet. My perception with Virgin is that they must be in good shape because what I see is above average and pleasant and the staff are pleasant and even have a sense of humor sometimes (shocking). 

Perception is not fair. But, it does shape the reality the passengers believe and airlines need to wake up and realize having a dumpy plane interior effects how their passengers feel about their experience and the airline. And quit skimping on maintenance. I mean - really!

All about airports: McCarran Las Vegas International

I'm not really sure who McCarran is, so I'm putting a picture of Elvis next to this airport - cause really, that is who it should be named after!

When is the last time you were in an airport with a sense of humor? "Never" is an OK answer because it really is that rare. The newly re-named (by me) Elvis airport here in Las Vegas has a sense of humor: as you go through TSA, they have videos playing of famous and semi-famous persons (and one robot) going through security and having challenges. Entertaining and funny. At a security gate - love it!

Add to it there is a good Borders bookstore before security, free Wi-Fi all over the airport, and slot machines every where you look, how can you NOT love this airport?

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy Travels!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I (mostly) heart Virgin America

Even though I'm an Elevate member and we jumped on the VX bandwagon as SOON as they opened up shop in SFO, we haven't been on a Virgin America flight in almost a year. We have always had good luck with VX and even when things go wrong, they have been quick to fix it. And pleasant while they do it - versus snarky and bitchy like *some* airlines.

Things have changed a bit, and while I still love VX, they are now a couple of things I can complain about. Luggage (first bag) is $20 unless you are in First Class. An upgrade to first from main cabin was $60 a ticket for a flight from SFO to Las Vegas. I don't remember the upgrades being this much in the past - if memory serves, it was more like $30. However, if you factor in the free luggage check, that brings the first class upgrade to really about $40. Still not thrilling, in my opinion. We gave it go on the way out and the check-in system failed me. I upgraded, picked seats next to each other, then when I checked in I found we had been separated. Given their stellar customer service in the past, I figured I'd just call and sort it out.

Whoa - big fail coming!! I was given pleasant tone of voice, but a no-can-do attitude. No moving of seats, sorry, nothing can be done. O-K. Please put me back in main cabin again. Again: big fail. I was informed I would have to pay the difference in what I originally paid for the ticket and the ticket price currently. WHAT?? Are you SERIOUS??

Needless to say, this really pissed me off. So I decided I would deal with it at the airport. We get there early and when we finally wandered over to the gate, the plane was already boarding. Our tickets said boarding time of 11:40am, but at 11:35am they were already onto group C for boarding. Uh.....

We get on the plane and ask the two ladies sitting in 2C and 2D if one of them would like a window seat so my husband and I could sit together. Attitude. Major attitude (this is clearly not a VX problem). C'mon ladies! It is First Class! You have ass-loads of room no matter where you sit. Do you really need to cop so much attitude? I even asked NICELY. The lady in 2D grudgingly agreed to move and I thanked her sincerely - but for real? Was it that much hardship? I get it in economy and main cabin - if you want an aisle, you need an aisle. Window seats are cramped and don't get me started on middle seats. But in First Class does it really matter that much?

And now, I'm sitting here enjoying my free champagne and Chex Mix, with a nice footrest, a pillow and blanket. Free headphones and Wi-Fi access for $5.95 on this flight. Our flight staff have been pretty darn funny this morning and when the lead goofed up the announcements he just owned up to it and had a sense of humor.

So, Virgin use to be an A+ in my book and right now I'd put them at a B+. Check-in was still easy, staff are pleasant and have a sense of humor. The planes totally rock and are clean and NEW. But they are growing up and having to cope with the economy and have made changes (like baggage fees - grrrr) and changes in fares and upgrades. However, in a world where most airlines score, at best, a D+ in my book, they still stand out above other airlines!

Happy Travels!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A note about posts. . .

Feedback is valuable. Intelligent dialogue is valuable. However, name-calling and pointless ranting have no value. I recently received a rant from "anonymous" on this blog and I chose not to approve it. I shared it with my friends and family on Facebook because it was the typical thing you see under youtube videos from "anonymous": meaning it was inconsistent, contradictory, mis-spelled and had no value other than being funny in a perverse sort of way.

I WILL post messages that have value or a coherent point of view, even if they differ from mine. I'm not about censorship, I'm about adding value with communication and having discussions!