Hi, I’m Chuck Brackett and this is my first ever blog post. I spent over 21 years in the Navy and I’ve spent the last 8 as a Navy spouse so I’ve seen a good bit of the world.  Much of it from the deck of a warship, but I’ve also been flying for a lot of years and I stumbled across/started following travel blogs several years ago.

 

I have found a lot of value in reading what folks such as Glenn (thanks for the guest blogger opportunity!), Rene, Lucky, Ed, and many others on Boarding Area too numerous to mention (but check HERE for a complete list of BA bloggers) have shared.  I think Glenn’s post from August 2013 was when my wife and I learned about AMEX waiving annual fees for military folks and that really got me paying attention.  What a great introduction – now if only Chase was so generous.  But I digress.

 

Sooo, after reading these folks for a few years I finally decided to stick my toe in the water and give it a try. I mean, how hard can it be, right?  Right???  We’ll see.

 

My first trip that I want to write about has gotten off to a really rocky start. Back a couple of months ago I saw a cheap, ~$760, flight from New York to Bali via Shanghai (JFK-DPS via PVG) on China Eastern (MU).  As you’ll see in a bit, I unfortunately caused myself a problem by buying that ticket directly with MU, then I took a Delta positioning flight from IAD.  If there’s a next time I’ll probably buy from Delta even if it costs a bit more.

 

I’d already made Delta Platinum for 2018 by May courtesy of some heavy work travel between the US and Africa, and I figured I might as well shoot for Diamond since I needed “only” another 40K MQM and I want those Global Upgrades. This trip today plus another one to Singapore coming up in Nov will put me over the top.  I wouldn’t need this trip for MQM – though I’d still be making the trip for other business purposes – except that I allowed my Flying Blue account number to get tagged on one of my flights to Africa and didn’t notice it until it was too late, so here I am sitting in the food court at JFK Terminal 1 on a Sunday afternoon.

 

And that’s the first problem. I’ve been in the food court since about 9AM and it looks like I’ll be here till 9PM or so waiting to check in for my 145AM flight tomorrow morning.  Turns out that you can’t get to JFK Terminal 1 from the other terminals inside security.  You have to exit, walk down the road, and then clear TSA again.  Except, you can’t clear TSA without a boarding pass, and you can’t get a boarding pass from China Eastern until 3 hours before your flight is due to board, as I learned when they opened their check in counter to begin servicing a flight departing at 1645.  And Delta can’t give me one because it’s not their ticket.

 

All that information is probably available online if you search for it, but I didn’t and I stupidly left the Delta Sky Club in Terminal 2 staffed by the nice lady at the front desk without asking, after spending less than 30 mins in there to have a cup of coffee and get a paper. Grrrr, rookie mistakes, but in my defense I’ve never split tickets between airlines before.  You can bet this fiasco won’t happen again.

 

So far I’d say I’m batting about .200 on this trip, and only because I got to IAD in plenty of time (thanks for the early morning shuttle, honey!) and didn’t have to rush through the airport, and my Delta Connection flight was smooth and uneventful.

 

Update, I went back to the MU check in counter after the crush of the flight they serviced when they first opened the counter and a very nice and friendly MU supervisor at the check in desk over ruled the ‘no boarding passes more than 3 hours before your flight’ rule, partially due to my Elite Plus status, so I only spent 6 hours in the food court. Nice!  But I won’t rely on it happening again.

 

I’ve read reports of MU flight crew smoking in flight HERE, HERE, and a response to a previous blog HERE promising to look into the issue.  I’m hoping they’ve successfully snuffed out this problem more than a year later. We’ll see how the China Southern flight works out in the back of the plane, and I’ll send that trip report out as soon as I hit Shanghai.

 

You’ll remember I need both of these flights to make Diamond because of my carelessness with Flying Blue, I’ll be happy and eternally grateful to hear if anyone has a trick for getting FB to push miles to Delta several months after a flight has completed. I like AF and look forward to flying them again but Skymiles is my program, at least for now.

 

Thanks for reading!

Posted by glenn | No Comments

This was supposed to be a review about Swiss Air Business Class, but things turned out very different than planned.  The wife and I were going to Budapest on vacation for four days by using United miles to fly DCA-EWR-ZRH (with a six hour layover)-BUD.  Everything was all set until Tropical Storm Irma came rolling up the Eastern Seaboard.  Having it rain all day in D.C. is pretty unusual for August, but it didn’t rain that hard.

Arriving at DCA several hours early, things were already in a mess with United.  We were just supposed to take an RJ up to EWR and then get on our real flight, but that looked increasingly unlikely.  The United Club agents were watching things very carefully for when flights actually took off from other airports so they could be sure they would arrive at DCA and then presumably take off for other destinations.  The agent actually moved us up to an earlier flight since she knew it would arrive.  However, just before boarding time they announced it was cancelled “due to ATC”.  Well, the Government doesn’t cancel flights so that told me that United had decided that that plane needed to fly somewhere else and later flights to EWR could take the passengers there instead.  There were several other flights that  night, but that would cut it extremely close as we would theoretically be landing at 2115 for a connection departing at 2210.

The agent realized this and found an alternate flight leaving out of Dulles (IAD) on Lufthansa and going through MUC to BUD.  I hated to lose the six hour layover in ZRH, but did value making sure we got there and with our luggage, both of which would have been jeopardized on the original route.  She arranged for the flight and to have our bags retrieved.  I had asked her about seats and she said I would have to go on Lufthansa’s website to pick them out.  Lucky I did because I found out she had booked us in Economy!  I went back to her and she had to get on the line with Mileage Plus to get it straightened out.  Took her 30 minutes on the phone – you would think they have a more direct line than customers like me, but nope.  We have plenty of time to catch this new flight, but then she tells us that UA won’t pay for our cab to get to IAD because it was due to ATC!  I’m going to dispute that one, but this was not the time to do it with the clock ticking.

We got to IAD $80 later and had no problem except that I noticed they booked us in seats 1D and 1G.  Looking at SeatGuru.com for an A330-300 I saw that these were bulkhead seats which I am not a fan of.  After we arrived at the Lufthansa Lounge (after a side trip tot he outstanding Turkish Lounge),  I asked about changing the seats.  The agent there was great and explained that there had been an aircraft swap and our seats were actually First Class seats, but with Business Class service.  Cool!

We even had the First Class sign!  Compare this with Lufthansa Business Class seats.

If we had been back in regular business, it would have been fine, but only “fine”.  Really happy to have the chance at Lufthansa’s lie-flat First.

Champagne and nuts were led off with the menu.  While my wife went with the prosciutto-wrapped filet, I noticed they had crab cakes.  Can’t say that I have ever had crab cakes on a plane before, so I went with that.  Turned out to be a good choice.

My wife enjoyed her filet and I found my crab cakes were actually quite good.  Not the best I had ever had by a long shot, but pretty good for airplane food!

After getting not enough restful sleep on the lie-flat bed, I awoke to the breakfast.  It was good, but I am still not used to the German “cold cuts for breakfast” philosophy.

My wife is getting used to First Class a little too easily.  I can see the argument coming next time I book her in “only Business Class”.

Landing in MUC and then on to BUD was uneventful.  More to follow on Budapest in the next few days.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

Although it has been open since June 30th, I only just got a chance to visit the new Alaska Lounge in Terminal C of the Seattle Airport.  It was certainly worth the wait – I was very impressed by the modernity and thoughts on customer comfort and convenience.  Getting into an Alaska Lounge is a little unique, you can qualify one of five ways:

  • Have an Alaska Lounge membership
  • Have an American Airlines Lounge membership
  • Have a Priority Pass membership (warning: if the lounge is overcrowded, they will stop accepting this)
  • Fly First Class, either paid or as a mileage award, but not if you were upgrade to First due to status.
  • Buy a Day Pass for $45 (again, they will not allow this if the lounge is crowded)

Getting there is a little tricky if you don’t know where to look.  At the end of Terminal C are about a dozen gates making it a very crowded area.  You have to look over in the Western corner to spot the Alaska Lounge sign.

You can go through the door shown and take the stairs, but the elevator is a better bet.  We arrived from ANC at 0437 so had to wait until 0500 for them to open the doors.

The lounge fits in a narrow area above the gates, but it is well designed.

They have a variety of seating with power ports built-in for both 110v and USB.  The higher walled seats are similar to those found in AMEX Lounges and you can enjoy extra privacy from the noise or lean against the side to sleep.

For food, they have the usual good Alaska fare along one side of the lounge, including the famous pancake machine!  I like that someone finally figured out that they need a larger coffee cup.  Yeah, I’m talking about you United!

The bathroom was very modern and a break from the usual utilitarian Alaska style.

The area they selected was ideal for plane spotting and we sat and enjoyed the dawn with a good breakfast.  If you are there later, they have a full wall bar which I strangely forgot to take a picture of.  The 0500 arrival time must have had something to do with that.

I was very impressed at the utility and style such as power ports in each seat, three different style seats, a modern bathroom, and the general bright décor.  Hopefully, this is a model for the future permanent N Terminal Alaska Lounge coming next year.  Be good if they adopted this model and went back to renovate the D Terminal Lounge as well as the Anchorage Lounge just like this.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

So I get this promotion email from American.  Get EQM from hotel stays? – Cool!

Now I am all for a good promotion, but only 100 miles of EQM per stay?!  Really AA?  You are not even giving RDM so this costs you nothing.  You even cap it at 1,250 EQM.  What is the chance that I need 1250 EQM to get to the next status level?  Really weak.  If you are going to put something out there, why not make it worth going for?

Anyway, if you do happen to be a few hundred EQM short of your goal, take advantage of this promo.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

Courtesy of reader Audrey, Delta has increased the allowed weight per bag to a whopping 100 pounds per bag.

Effective for travel on or after June 21, 2017, Delta is updating its baggage policy for active U.S. military members traveling on military orders on or after June 21, 2017, regardless of their ticketing date.

Key Changes Summary
Any active U.S. military member traveling on orders, on Delta-marketed/Delta-operated flights, on or after June 21, 2017, is entitled to five free bags up to 100 lbs. each. This applies to travel worldwide in any cabin of service (subject to any applicable embargoes or regional weight restrictions).

Previously, U.S. military traveling on orders were entitled to four free bags up to 70 lbs. each in Delta Comfort+®, Main Cabin or Basic Economy and five free bags up to 70 lbs. each in First Class, Delta Premium Select and Delta One® (subject to any applicable embargoes or regional weight restrictions). The policy for active U.S. military traveling on personal travel remains unchanged.

Personally, I think you are asking for an aching back by loading a single bag to 100 lbs.  I have deployed to Iraq twice and know how much we have to pack, but they typically give you four duffle bags or a box and a couple of bags.  Never had to load one to 100 lbs.  I am guessing that this move is a result of the highly publicized incident where a National Guard Soldier packed everything he had into one bag that came out to over 70 pounds and he was charged.  He can claim this on his Travel Voucher so wouldn’t be out and money, but he made a big social media deal out of it.  We’ll see if the other airlines follow suit with this, although I wouldn’t expect it to come up a lot.  Frankly, Delta increased dimension allowance from 62″ to 80″ overall means a lot more to me, as I have run into that problem when deploying with my box.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Life is very strange and sometimes you just happen on the oddest things.  I walked up to my EWR-MUC United flight on Sunday and looked out the window to see this:

What are the odds that I would look out just as the pilot decides to remove that bug splatter from the last landing?  I found it pretty hilarious, but I do have a weird sense of humor.  This so much reminded me of the movie Airplane where the pilots are seated in the cockpit and the mechanic comes and raises the hood to check the oil.  Anyway, glad I could capture this moment for eternity.  How often do pilots have to do this anyway?

One more shot from this same flight.  Crossing over into Europe, I look out and am surprised to see another jet this close to us.

I estimated that to be less than a mile away and about 1000 feet lower.  I know FAA regs for trailing separation is one mile horizontally and 1000 feet vertically, but I don’t know what the rule is for two jets side by side.  They must have been going 10-20 miles faster since they eventually passed us after about a half hour.  Another unusual sight to share.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

The controversy over President Trump’s decision to reveal the intel on laptop bombs that ISIS was planning on using to down an aircraft reveals that the threat of this is real, not some plot to boost up U.S. airlines at the expense of foreign ones.  This was a Machiavellian thought listed by more than a few bloggers.  Now that the European and U.S. authorities have gotten together and decided not to implement a large electronics ban for flights between Europe and the U.S., do you feel safe enough to fly?

 

Knowing where to draw a line on safety is one of the toughest things for government officials to do.  Believe it or not, there are still libertarians out there who object to the seatbelts-in-cars law as an unnecessary intrusion of the Government into their lives.  If they want to endanger their own lives why should the Government prevent them?  Laws are not passed without debate and society needs to accept change before a law can truly be enforced.  100 years ago local governments passed laws against spitting on sidewalks.  Why?  Because tuberculosis was a terrible, incurable disease that was spread by airborne spittle.  Society thought that those laws made sense and law enforcement acted on that law because they too felt the greater good of preventing infection.  Most of those laws are still on the books, but can you imagine most people’s reactions today if they told their friends they received a ticket for spitting in public? We don’t see TB as a threat, so don’t believe a law like that should be enforced.

So where does this lead us back to airline safety?  Where do we draw the line?  What would be your reaction if the President decided tomorrow to cancel the TSA and let anyone walk on a plane the way we did before 9/11?  Would you still fly?  Probably not, since society widely perceives there is still a significant threat that needs to be guarded against.  Remember that after the Shoe Bomber, we had to start taking off our shoes and put them through the x-ray machine?  Now, only boots where something large-ish could be concealed get that treatment.  There are a significant number of people out there that think there should be no liquids ban as they haven’t seen evidence of that being used.

No one objected to taking their shoes off, because they knew the Shoe Bomber actually tried it.  Some people object to the liquids ban because it is theoretical (bi-nary explosives are formed when two otherwise harmless chemicals are combined to form an explosive mixture), but can you imagine the outrage if the Government did nothing to safeguard against this threat and then it was successfully used by terrorists?

Photo courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

We have already seen one laptop-concealed explosive try to take down a plane flying out of Mogadishu, Somalia (see photo).  That failed mostly because of the ineptitude of the suicide bomber, but certainly could have succeeded with spectacular loss of life.  I think if that exact same incident had occurred in Akron, Ohio, people would be taking it a lot more seriously about banning laptops than they are now.  Public support for a ban needs to be solidified before it is enacted.  People will not simply trust their government to do the right thing.

So, do you still feel OK to fly to Europe knowing that there is a possibility of a laptop bomb being on board?  Personally, I have no problem accepting that risk.  However, I remain vigilant as I can (and I am trained to do), and will act if I see peculiar actions.  Frankly, the odds of me being killed by another driver on the highway are greater than the chance that I will die in a terrorist incident.  I better make sure I wear my seat belt.

 

Posted by glenn | One Comment

It shouldn’t be news to anyone that United is totally revamping a number of their clubs.  Some of them will be turned into elite Polaris Lounges, available only for those flying Polaris Business/ First, but all the United Clubs are sorely in need of renovation.  At some airports, like Newark, this has been painful as their really is no alternative, but to close the club during construction.  Fortunately, at SFO the beyond security area is large enough that United can create a temporary clubs to entertain the many of us who purchased a membership (through the CC), while construction of the main club is underway.

I used to fly out of SFO all the time, but since moving back east four years ago, not so much anymore.  I looked forward to seeing what they were doing with the major construction there.  Here are a couple of pictures of the Terminal 1 demo going on.SFO United Club 002

 

SFO United Club 003

The temporary club is now located at the corner of the United Pier and pretty easy to find, unlike the old club.

SFO United Club 004 SFO United Club 005

To lower your expectations, this club is not large.  It is way smaller than the old main United Club, however, it was not crowded when I was there for my late night flight (~1700 – 2100 hrs.).  IT has a nice main room with the bar all along one wall.

SFO United Club 006 SFO United Club 007

I did appreciate that there were plenty of power outlets and USB ports near every seat.  No hunting around the club for power like most United Clubs!  The anteroom adjoining the main room was half the size and contain more, probably quieter, seating and the food bar.

SFO United Club 008 SFO United Club 009

The food offerings weren’t spectacular, but definitely improved even over the improvements made a couple of years ago.  Waaay better than the food available for years in these clubs.  Two different soups and cheese-filled cold cuts.  Made me feel like I was eating breakfast in Germany.  “Fixings” for the soup and stone-ground mustard was a huge plus!

SFO United Club 010 SFO United Club 011

Not a bad dinner, better than an MRE which has been my choice many times in my life.

SFO United Club 012 SFO United Club 013

Look forward to visiting the full United Club when it is completed.

 

Posted by glenn | One Comment

Maybe I am naïve, but I expect that most people reading this blog or the others on BoardingArea.com are more savvy than the normal traveler.  That can be either r through your knowledge level to date and understanding that the “game” of frequent flyer miles is constantly changing and you need to stay ahead of it or you have seen or heard of the great benefits if you know the rules of the “game” and are seeking more in order to stay ahead of the average traveler.

Due to the unfortunately handled incident with Dr. Dao, things are going to get harder for you as the airlines adjust the rules of the game.  United has announced and most other airlines, even Southwest, are following suit to your determent.   Most airlines have announced that they will reduce overbooking of their flights, but use economics (i.e. a very high upper limit) to entice people to voluntarily give up their seat.

Someone who does not understand the frequent flyer game might be overjoyed to hear that they will raise the limits of Involuntary Denied Boarding to close to $10,000.  Let me be the first one to throw cold water on that fantasy.  As we have heard, the airlines are all going to cut back on overbooking, even though the Dr. Dao incident had nothing to do with overbooking.  That occurred because of crew priority which is a whole ‘nother thing and United promised to cut back on that.  However, the media grabbed hold of the term overbooking and now that is being cut back.  Overbooking was a great thing if you were savvy to the rules of this game and provided a great “bumpertunnity” to borrow a phrase from my fried Rene.  That is, it gave people who were savvy to this world of frequent flyer rules a great way to grab hundreds of dollars in value for very little sacrifice.  Overbooking opportunities were rare, only 0.62 out of 10,000 passengers were involuntarily bumped last year and now it will presumably be less than that.

Smart people knew to immediately sign up for an opportunity to bump due to overbooking, but then start negotiating for the compensation, which was not limited to a dollar value off of a future flight.  You get privately with the Gate Agent and you could ask for a hotel, food vouchers, First Class on the follow-on flight, etc. in addition to hundreds of dollars off a future flight.  Really astute players of the game could take a bump due to overbooking, wait for that flight, and then volunteer AGAIN for another opportunity to bump and collect even more.  I even knew guys who would purposely book on days like the day before Thanksgiving in order to collect all these Voluntary Denied Boarding (VDB) bumps and pay for a lot of their travel throughout the rest of the year.  434,425 people took VDBs last year, some more than once I am sure.

I am afraid that a lot of those stories, like many in the frequent flyer world, will now be a thing of the past.  If the airlines cut back on overbooking, that means less VDB opportunities.  It means really, really less IDBs will take place.  For those of you that were salivating at the $10,000 numbers that the media touted, those only apply to IDB , meaning they didn’t get enough VDB takers, and those will be almost unheard of if overbooking is reduced.

For you to get a $10,000 offer, everyone else on the plane would have to deny all previous offers.  Now that is not impossible, but it is a little bit like thinking that you can win an auction for $1.  Sure, if no one else bids, it is yours for a dollar, but what are the chances of that happening?  In the Dr. Dao case, United procedures made them stop at offering more than $800.  In other words, their internal policies of saving a few dollars got in the way of them offering a price that the market (the passengers) would bear.  If they kept raining their price to $1000, $1200, etc. eventually someone would have decided it was worth their time to give up their seat.  Great, so for you to collect the $10,000 limit now set by the airline, everyone else on the plane must refuse offers of $5,000, $6,000, etc.  What do you really think the chance of that happening is?  This is essentially an auction and you have to pull the trigger before others do.

To conclude, don’t get your hopes up of a big payout with this new policy.  You have to decide your personal pain point where you would accept an offer, but don’t hold out forever as you are in competition with everyone else on that plane.   Take the $400 or $800 offer and then negotiate for an upgrade on you next flight, better routing, etc.  Waiting until the super-lucrative offer is given means that someone else is very likely to take it instead of you.  The laws of economics are alive and well.

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Finally getting around to a cool story from one of our readers, Bob.  He found a great way to re-purpose one of the new Polaris amenities cases.  Let me share his note to us.

I recently flew United’s new Polaris Business Class product and took home my amenity kit. While most airlines collaborate with an established partner to “brand” their kits (i.e., Tumi with Delta, Cole Haan with AA., etc.) it appears United decided to go it alone. And while most cases can be repurposed after the flight to hold charging cables or toiletries, United’s zip-open clam-shell case is rigid with inside pockets that are misshapen for almost anything besides what is already in there… Unless you are a service member. I found that the case is perfect for safekeeping medals. It folds open so my large medals (3 rows) are on the right and mini-medals on the left if the case used upside down. I stick a piece of felt between each side when I close and zip. The medals are held in firmly and securely. The photos attached explains this better.

UA Polaris Medals Holder (1) UA Polaris Medals Holder (2) UA Polaris Medals Holder (3)

Thanks, Bob!  What a cool idea for the military traveler.  Anyone else out there have a good tip for military travelers?

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

So are you one of those people that always read about great offers, but the caveat is that they are targeted and you didn’t get the Golden Ticket email?  Me too.  Until today.

AA Status

AA Status 2

I just got an offer from AA for a no sweat-off-my-brow upgrade to Platinum status AND 20 500 mile upgrade certificates.  No fly x number of miles by a certain date or spend x dollars, just “here you go”.  There are a lot of other offers out there that are the more typical earn status for a reduced number of miles/ dollars.  See Miles-to-Memories or The Unaccompanied Flyer.  Note that in these offers, I would need to spend $2000 and fly 12,500 EQM to earn Platinum.

Although I do fly AA, I always try to credit my flights to Alaska since the status there is so much better.  I did earn about 7,000 EQM last year only because I got stuck on an Iberian Air flight coming back from Morocco and AA or BA was all I could credit it to.  Got plenty of hard to use BA miles, but can always use AA miles for flying my daughter around.

So I immediately signed up just in case they made an error on this gift from heaven.  Sure enough, Platinum already and those upgrade certificates are supposed to post within 20 days.  Kind of bizarre how they decided it was good for 3 1/2 months.  I guess the incentive is supposed to be to switch your flying to AA and get hooked on it so you want to keep flying the rest of the year and keep your status?

AA Status 3They’ll have to offer me more than this to make me switch from Alaska.  But I’ll fly and enjoy those upgrades and status while I can.

Better to be lucky than good I always say!

Anyone else out there get this fantastic offer?

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

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