RDU Terminal 2

RDU Terminal 2

Friday, December 4, 2015

Travel Story - A Tailwind Helps

Location: AA 138, High over the North Pacific

I was on my way back from Singapore via Hong Kong and DFW.  On the way out I took AA 137 from DFW to Singapore, which is scheduled for 16 hours and 50 minutes.  The reciprocal AA 138 is scheduled for 14 hours and 20 minutes, or 2 and 1/2 hours less. Why?  Because it is flying with the jetstream versus against it going west.

I witnessed how significant the jetstream can be on my way back from Hing King to DFW.  I looked up at the monitor and saw we had a tailwind of 174 mph!

As a result, our groundspeed was an astounding 731 mph!

I don't recall ever seeing a groundspeed over 700 mph.

As a result of the big tail wind, we got in an hour ahead of our scheduled arrival, and I was able to catch an earlier flight home.  Hooray for the jetstream!

Also, hooray for upgrades.  I was fortunate enough to get upgraded on both trans-Pacific flights.  This particular airplane is a 777-300ER, and is quire nice.  Here is a review of business class on this plane:

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Travel Tip - An Analysis of Updates to the American Airlines AAdvantage Program - Miles and Status

Location: Home

American Airlines recently announced changes to the way that their AAdvantage program will work in the second half of 2016. As a frequent flyer on American, I have been worried for a while about this type of change. I wanted to better understand how the changes will affect me, so I ran some numbers.

This analysis will focus on earned miles and status.  Later on I may write another analysis based on changes to awards travel.

Summary of Impact on Me

The impact on me is somewhat negative, but not too bad. Here is my projection of the impact based on a full year of the new rules.
  • Qualification for Elite Status: no change
  • Systemwide Upgrades: loss of 2-4
  • Awards Miles Earned: 22% less

My Travel Profile

The changes will affect different travelers in different ways, so it would be good to understand my travel profile.
  • Consistent  (2012-2016) Executive Platinum (EP) traveler.
  • My trips are typically planned in advance, so my tickets are usually discounted.
  • I do not buy First or Business Class tickets.  I occasionally buy premium coach for international flights on carriers that have that option.
 2015 Specifics:
  • 30 itineraries booked
    • Carrier: 
      • 25 booked on AA, which includes US Airways and code share flights
      • 5 booked on OneWorld partners
    • Region:
      • 17 domestic
      • 13 international
  • 87 segments
  • 150,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) earned
  • 1730 miles/segment average 
  • 389,863 total award miles earned 
  • 304,588 award miles earned from flights only (excluding hotels, misc. bonuses, etc.)

Elite Qualification

I tend to fly relatively long segments, so I qualify on miles rather than segments or the now disappearing points.

Net change for me: None.

Systemwide Upgrades

One of the big benefits of qualifying for EP status is the 8 systemwide upgrades granted per year. These are good for all the segments of one part of a journey, including international flights.  They can also be used for others, so they are very valuable.

In the new plan, EPs will earn 4 systemwide upgrades at the 100,000 EQM level, with the opportunity to earn 2 more at the 150,000 EQM level and a final 2 more at 200,000 EQMs.

In 2015 I will earn 150,000 EQMs, which means a total of 6 systemwide upgrades.

In 2012-2014 I earned 101,000 to 129,000 EQMs, which would be 4 systemwide upgrades.

Net change for me: Loss of 2 to 4 systemwide upgrades

Award Miles

This is the area of biggest change.  In the past EPs earned awards miles equal to the twice the actual distance traveled. AA is now moving to a plan where the award miles earned depend on the amount paid for the ticket.  At the EP level this amounts to 11 miles per dollar spent.

Here are some examples of the current rules versus the new rules.

Itinerary  2015 Rules 2016 Rules Notes
  • 1,062 miles each way
  • 2,124 total miles
  • 2,124 bonus miles
  • 4,248 award miles
  • $432.20 total
  • $56.38 taxes
  • $375.82 fare
  • 4,134 award miles

  • 5,047 total miles
  • 5,047 bonus miles
  • 10,094 award miles
  • $437.20 total
  • $72.55 taxes
  • $364.65 fare
  • 4,011 award miles
Reduction of
miles in 2016

  • 3,872 miles each way
  • 7,744 total miles
  • 7,744 bonus miles
  • 15,488 award miles
  • $1976.00 total
  • $693.00 taxes and fees
  • $1679.60 fare+fees (est.)
  • 18,476 award miles
Increase of
miles in 2016

I wanted to get a better view of the total effect of the changes over the course of a year.  I did an analysis based on my 2015 travel and spending.  The monthly breakdown is shown in the table below.

  • The award miles earned in 2016 will be based on spending for airfare and carrier-imposed fees. It does not include taxes. This makes the calculation tricky because AA does not always break out the taxes separately, especially for international travel. Based on some quick research, I used 15% as an estimate of the taxes for where the taxes were not specified. Note that this figure has a big impact on earned miles.
  • AA has not yet specified the formula for award miles on OneWorld partner airlines.  For this analysis I used the same formula as for flights on AA.

       Month     2015
February 24,079 13,423  Long discount flights will earn a lot less miles
March 40,899 36,961
April 2,000 0  I assigned the award miles for the initial flight
May 36,182 23,266
June 32,778 36,961
July 10,180 11,432
August 15,512 13,151
September 13,988 10,082
October 8,726 3,551
November 51,886 48,672  Long international flights on Cathay and BA in premium coach
December 47,324 13,903  Long international discount flights on AA
January 21,034 24,927
Total 304,588 236,273  68,315 fewer award miles or 22% less in 2016

Net change for me: 68,315 fewer award miles, or a 22% reduction

Note that February, May and December accounted for 80% of the awards mileage reduction. These months included long trips bought at a low fare.

Closing Thoughts

AA says that the changes are aimed at "giving our best customers access to our most exclusive benefits." Anybody who buys business or first class tickets falls into that category, and they will see big benefits.  As a very frugal traveler I will see some reduction in awards miles and systemwide upgrades.  Even so, I think that the AAdvantage program will remain beneficial for me overall.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Travel Update - Top Ten Sights in Duseldorf

Location: Dusseldorf, Germany

I have been to Dusseldorf several times, but never had any opportunity to do sightseeing. This time I had a full day and wanted to make the most of it. I found a list of the "10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Düsseldorf" and used it as a guide. Here is the list:

1. Königsallee - Germany's Most Elegant Avenue
2. Schloss Benrath
3. North Rhine-Westphalia Art Collection
4. Kaiserswerth
5. The Museum of Art: Kunstpalast
6. Old Town Düsseldorf
7. Neue Zollhof and the Gehry Buildings
8. Nordpark's Japanese Garden
9. The Hofgarten
10. The Magic of the Rhine: The Embankment Promenade

Schloss Benrath (#2) was a taxi/train ride away, so I removed that from my list. Also, I didn't think that I had time for museums, so I scratched North Rhine-Westphalia Art Collection (#3) and The Museum of Art: Kunstpalast (#4).  I divided the remaining 7 into two tours:
  • North: #4 and #8
  • South: #1, #6, #7, #8 and #10

North Tour

I was staying near the Dusseldorf airport, so the sites on the North Tour were nearby. I took the light rail up to Kaiserswerth. I then walked around to see the town including the Church of St. Suitbertus and the Kaiserpfalz.

 Map of Locations on North Tour

Me in Front of the Kaiserpfalz (#4)

In Kaiserswerth looking toward the Rhine (#4)

I then took the light rail down to the Nordpark, which includes the beautiful Japanese Garden.

Japanese Garden (#8)

Flowers in the Nordpark (#8)

South Tour

After finishing the Nordpark I went back to my hotel, collected my belongings, and rode the light rail down to the Swissotel in the Neuss neighborhood.  After dropping my bags I rode the tram into town were I resumed my walking on the southern part of the tour.

   Map of Locations on South Tour

View of Dusseldorf from across the Rhine at Swissotel in Neuss

Buildings at Neue Zollhof (#7)

Konigsallee (#1)

Sculpture and Buildings Near The Hofgarten (#9)

Sadly, my phone ran out of juice before I could get pictures of the Old Town (Aldstadt - #6) or the
Embankment Promenade (Rheinuferpromenade - #9). 

Here is a view of my steps for this tour:



Overall I very much enjoyed the 7 sites I visited.  Here is my prioritized list of my favorites.

1. Königsallee
8. Nordpark's Japanese Garden
6. Old Town Düsseldorf
10. The Embankment Promenade
4. Kaiserswerth7. Neue Zollhof and the Gehry Buildings
9. The Hofgarten

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Travel Story - A SIM the Easy Way

Location: Singapore

My mobile phone works internationally, but my international voice and data plan has confiscatory rates. I don't want to change carriers, so the answer is to get a local SIM card.

I previously had bad experiences trying to buy a SIM card in the UK and actually buying one in Italy and Aruba, so I was not optimistic when I decided to get one in Singapore. The experience could not be more different.

I went in to the Singtel store and came out 5 minutes later with a tourist SIM card (pictured below):
  • 100 Gb data
  • 500 minutes local calls
  • 30 minutes international calls
  • 100 texts
  • 5 day usage period
  • $15 Singapore dollars (about $10.50 USD)
What a great buying experience, and what a great deal!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Travel Story - Another Up and Down Travel Day

Location: RDU, JFK and Hong Kong Airports

The more I travel, the more I understand that you need to be ready for anything, and that you never know how things will turn out.  Today was a good example.

I was on the first leg of my round-the-world trip, traveling to from Raleigh-Durham to Singapore via New York JFK and Hong Kong. I don’t like having two stops because of the opportunity for travel disruptions, but it’s hard to avoid when going from RDU to Asia.

Disaster, Part 1
I got to the RDU airport in good time for my 6:05 AM to JFK. As I was eating a light breakfast I got a text on my phone. My flight to JFK was delayed by 45 minutes, but that was OK.  I still had 90 minutes for my connection. Then the wheels fell off.  I got another text saying my flight to JFK was now delayed to 10:00 AM - past my departure from JFK. Time for Plan B.

Recovery, Part 1
I called the airline hotline and got myself rebooked through Dallas-Fort Worth. I had originally booked a premium economy ticket, which gives some extra legroom and seat width. Hey, it’s a 16 hour flight, so every little bit helps. The bad news is that now I would be in regular coach.  Also, I would get in to Singapore 4 hours later than planned, but I would get in. All seemed well until I went to the counter for the DFW flight to get my new boarding passes.

Disaster, Part 2
The online agent had mistakenly booked the second leg (DFW to Hong Kong) for the following day, which would mean spending the night in Dallas, and getting to Singapore a day late. Not Good.

Recovery, Part 2 - Maybe
However, my local gate agent pointed out that my original flight to New York was going out at 7:30 AM, not 10:00 AM as reported by phone and the gate.  She apologized for the misinformation and was able to rebook me on my flight to JFK. There was a question of whether I could get to the gate on time at JFK with the reduced connection time. Also, there was some question as to whether my seat on my original flight was reconfirmed, as reported by the airline partner program.  I would have to go to JFK and see.

A Close Call
We were further delayed getting out of RDU, so when I got off the plane at JFK they had already started boarding my Hong Kong flight.  Sadly, I had arrived in terminal 8, and my flight was departing from terminal 7. Transferring between those two terminals meant going out of security, catching the JFK AirTrain to terminal 8, and going back through security. I have TSA pre-check, but it didn’t apply to this flight.  I did get through security and to the gate before the door was closed, but then there was the problem of my seat. The gate agents were expecting, but it eventually took 3 gate agents to sort out the de-booking and re-booking.  

A Very Pleasant Surprise
The bad news was that the premium economy section was full. The good news was that they bumped me up to business class.  Newly printed boarding pass in hand, I was the last person to board the plane.

One Last Bonus
I arrived in Hong Kong in good time and was able to take an earlier flight to Singapore. That was really good because my original flight wound up being delayed by 2 hours due to the typhoon Mujigae.

Keep Calm and Carry On
I was pleased with the upgrade and with the service that I got from the airline folks. For my part, I didn’t panic, and I was very polite and respectful. Not sure that helped, but I am sure it didn’t hurt. Finally, this was on one of the times that having priority status on partner airlines helped make the process go better for me.

What started out looking like a disrupted travel day would up going better than planned. You just never know.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Travel Story - Around the World

Location: Home

Tomorrow I embark on my first trip around the world.  My itinerary:

Leg 1 / October 3-4: Raleigh-Durham -> New York JFK -> Hong Kong -> Singapore
Leg 2 / October 7: Singapore -> Bangalore, India
Leg 3 / October 10: Bangalore -> London Heathrow -> Dusseldorf, Germany
Leg 4 / October 16: Dusseldorf -> London Heathrow -> RDU

Below is a map showing my route.  Here are some posts related to this trip:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Travel Humor - Could be a Rough Ride

Location: A taxi in Chicago, traveling to the McCormick Center

I saw this sign posted in a taxi in Chicago.  Having never before seen the line item charge for "Vomit Clean-up Fee," it made me wonder if I was in for a rough ride.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Travel Humor - A New Low For Apostrophe Abuse

Location: London, near the Imperial War Museum, British Museum and Shepherd's Bush

I am constantly being irritated by the use of apostrophes to create plurals.  Most of these are garden variety offenses, like this sign seen near the British Museum.

Here is another where the original building painter got "eels" right, but whoever did the awning felt the need for a random apostrophe.  Despite that, A. Cooke's serves a very tasty pie with mash and liquor (sauce, not booze).  I didn't try the eels.

Bad as they may be, they are very commonplace abuses.  However, I saw an example in the Imperial War Museum that takes the cake - two apostrophes in the same word!

It hurts ... make it stop!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Travel Story - Who needs FitBit when you have FitBrit?

Location: London for the Network Virtualization and SDN World show

I was spending this Memorial Day in London, so I went to the Imperial War Museum to see some new exhibits. I decided to walk back before dinner to help shake off the jet lag. On my preprandial perambulation I passed the London Eye, Westminster, Big Ben, St. James' Park, Buckingham Palace, Green Park, Hyde Park, the Victoria and Albert Museum. Not every day you can have a stroll like that!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Travel Story - Keep Calm and Carry On

Location: Flying from Raleigh-Durham to Chicago

Three interesting events happened on my flight today.  All were minor, but all could have escalated and/or caused disproportionate mental anguish.  The fact that they didn't was a testament to the crews involved.

Medical Event - About a third of the way through the flight the flight attendant came on and calmly asked that any doctors or nurses on the flight make their way to the back of the plane.  Apparently some passenger had a medical incident.  The issue was resolved quickly, and there was no need to make an emergency landing.

Bird Event - We were making our approach to O'Hare airport and were close enough to have the landing gear down.  We then pulled the gear up and climbed back up and started circling.  The change was done so smooth that I didn't realize it had happened.  The pilot came on announced that we had to divert from our approach due to birds on the runway, and that we were going to use a different runway.  Air Traffic Control quickly sorted out the issue and we landed ahead of schedule.

Pushback Event - After landing we stopped just short of the gate. The pilot came on announced that the gate was still occupied.  The plane there was being pushed when the tug's towbar broke.  The ground crew found another very quickly and got the plane pshed back.  We were able to maintain our early arrival.

The TakeawayThree events, none of which was a big deal - but they could have been, or at least seemed like it.  Instead, the various staff sorted out the issue and kept things moving. My personal takeaway was that it is not just how you handle an issue, but also how you appear to others.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Travel Image - Throwback Thursday, Airline Style

Location: Miami Airport, Waiting to Fly to Aruba

American Airlines has now merged with US Airways, and the planes are getting a new paint job.  AA is also creating a few throwback planes, recognizing the former airlines that have been rolled up.  One of these was Piedmont, an old favorite of us in NC.  I was pleased to see this plane in Miami, with a hybrid of the AA and Piedmont colors.

Here's a closeup on the tail:

A pleasant reminder of days gone by ....

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Travel Story – Efficiency Everywhere

Location: Honolulu

I recently spent the week in Honolulu on business. I shared my hotel with a ton of Japanese tourists. One thing that I noticed was that they would always push the "close" button on the elevator after somebody boarded. Doing so saves a couple of seconds waiting for the door to close automatically. I thought this was a little too efficient, but not a big deal.

I appreciated that spirit of efficiency when I boarded my flight from Honolulu to Tokyo.  As you might expect the passengers were mostly Japanese.  We loaded a new 787 “Dreamliner” in 15 minutes, with no pushing or fighting over bin space. Having been on a lot of flights over the years, I found this achievement to be astounding.

Admittedly it is a dual aisle plane with plenty of overhead space, but a big part of the quick loading was the politeness and efficiency of the Japanese travelers. This was a big contrast with my experience on Qatar Airways.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Travel Story - A Close Call

Location: San Francisco and Dallas-Fort Worth Airports

I was traveling from San Francisco (SFO) to Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) on my way home to Raleigh-Durham (RDU).  My original schedule gave me 1 hour and 40 minutes to connect in DFW for my 8:25 flight home.  I had to change terminals at DFW, as shown below, but with 100 minutes between flights there was plenty of time - or so I thought.

Unfortunately it was foggy in San Francisco, so we were delayed in departing.  I received the first update at 11:45 am PST, and it dropped my connection time to 1 hour, so no panic yet.

I started to worry when I received the next one at 12:27 pm PST.  The 8:05 pm CST arrival dropped my connection to 20 minutes, which would be difficult to make.

I received another update 7 minutes later, and my connection time dropped to zero.  I felt that my chances of getting home that night were shot.

That was my last update before boarding.   While in flight I checked the AA.com web site and saw that my departing flight was delayed to 8:35 pm, and that we were scheduled to arrive at 8:20 pm.  15 minutes to make a connection between terminals?  Unlikely, but it turns out that I made it.  Here's how:
  • I had gotten and upgrade, so I was the very first person off the plane when we landed.
  • The flight attendant asked the gate agent to call the departing gate and ask them to wait for me.
  • Both gates were reasonably close to the stations for the DFW "SkyLink" train.  I ran to the station and caught a train almost immediately.
  • Upon arrival I ran to the gate, but the plane had already pushed back.
  • Best of all, the plane came back to the gate!  Maybe they came back because there were 3 of us at the gate, or maybe it was my status on AA.  In either case, that is unprecedented in my experience.

Here is a summary of the updates.
Time of Update
Depart SFO
Arrive DFW
Depart DFW
Original Schedule
1:20 pm PST
6:45 pm CST
8:25 pm CST
100 minutes
11:45 am PST/1:45 pm CST
2:00 pm PST
7:25 pm CST
8:25 pm CST
60 minutes
12:27 pm PST/2:27 pm CST
2:40 pm PST
8:05 pm CST
8:25 pm CST
20 minutes
12:34 pm PST/2:34 pm CST
3:00 pm PST
8:25 pm CST
8:25 pm CST
0 minutes
4:00 pm PST /7:00 pm CST
3:00 pm PST
8:25 pm CST
8:35 pm CST
10 minutes

8:20 pm CST
8:41 pm CST
21 minutes

Note to self: Even when things look grim, don't give up.