Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The New LAX

Los Angeles needs a new airport. There's very little new about that statement, to be sure, but the fact remains that Los Angeles International is fast running out of room to do what it needs to do in serving the 2nd largest metropolitan area in the United States. So we can concentrate on the uniqueness of "LAX," let's get the other airports in the area out of the way right up front.

Ontario, Burbank, Orange County and Long Beach are "satellites" that serve their immediate area with domestic and some international service to Mexico and Canada. None of them are big enough for much of anything else so the locals are accustomed to driving up to 70 miles to get to LAX where nonstops to Hawaii, Asia, Australia or Europe are readily available. These four have little hope of becoming another Gatwick or Orly for Los Angeles in the way those airports compliment Heathrow at London and Charles de Gaulle at Paris, respectively.

The terminal complex at LAX has been redesigned at least three times from the original concept, including the Tom Bradley International Terminal, the Delta Flight Center and various gate reconfigurations to accommodate the 777 and A380. Another redesign of over one billion dollars is underway to carry the airport for the next 50 years or so. What next? Let's say there will be and the 747s, 777s and A380s of the present day will all be long gone, outliving their usefulness by contemporary standards. Will airports even look or operate the same by then? Before this turns in to a commercial piece on Star Trek, let's go with the technology in hand and figure out what to do with LAX or figure out where to put its replacement.

Palmdale has been bandied about on numerous occasions. It is in the high desert with plenty of land around it that nobody seems much interested in. It is also a good 50 miles north of L.A. past the San Fernando Valley and right next to Edwards AFB, the reason so many seem enamored of the area. Edwards is an active military base that serves as protector of Los Angeles in case of attack, a shuttle landing site and an airplane graveyard. In short, though historically significant to American aviation (Chuck Yeager's breakthrough happened here) on paper it seems, it doesn't have much to do but has a ton of land and plenty of potential to turn in to the kind of commercial facility Los Angeles needs.

The government won't give it up without a fight, the locals don't want to drive there and no airline will support any move to pay for the kind of facility they constantly say they need but is not their responsibility to build. I don't live in the area so all of this is easy and academic to me. I'll put up with Los Angeles until a better solution comes along - some thought it might be El Toro but that hasn't happened either. I say do what the Chinese did in Hong Kong: Spare no expense, go with Edwards, build a freeway and high speed rail network to support it and let the future, unborn tax-payers finish paying for something that was always a part of their lives and therefore no big deal.

Gotta go.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dignity: At Last and Almost

The American political system is a long and arduous road for those seeking major social change, costing much in the way of time, sometimes political careers and even lives. New York State made history on June 24, 2011, becoming the sixth and largest state to allow same-sex marriage in this country. For many it was a moment of jubilation in "closing the circle" between the Stonewall Riots of 1969 to finally being granted nearly equal civil rights more than 40 years later. Here in Dallas, Texas the event did not even warrant a sideline in "The Dallas Morning News" website.

I took a quick look around some of the other national papers the morning after the news broke which, of course, was emblazoned all over CNN.Com just as it was in the New York Times. The Denver Post had a link under the "National & World Video" section titled "Stonewall celebrates gay marriage." It was the banner headline in the Washington Post with several related articles, videos and op/ed links at the top of the page. It was at least front page news in the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle and was again the lead story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Not surprisingly no mention could be found on the front pages of papers in Birmingham or Nashville but I was surprised not to find a front page story on the Philadelphia Inquirer website Philly.Com. The Statesman carried the story as the 5th headline for the good people of Austin, Texas while the Houston Chronicle ranked it the third story below an update on voter approval to have a Confederate flag specialty license plate. The Houston article was also quick to point out directly in the hyperlink that such unions are "not recognized in Texas." The article itself was a mish mash of feed from the Associated Press and Reuters discussing some of the last minute maneuvers, reprisals against the Republicans who supported the bill and the difficulty of getting a divorce in states like Texas where such marriages are not legal or recognized. For Dallasites there was an article on the Dallas Holocaust Museum featuring an exhibit on the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany.

Judy Garland, our beloved Dorothy, died tragically on June 22, 1969 with her funeral held five days later in New York City. It has long been debated whether or not her death was in any way a causal factor of the riots that took place the very next day on June 28th in Greenwich Village, New York City. It can certainly be said that, as is the case in most riots, the victims of systemic police persecution that day had had enough. The events seem coincidental when lined up on paper but surely most people know the feeling of being picked on and then, worst of all, being kicked when already down. Even that famous line from "What's Love Got to Do With It" comes to mind when Tina, fed up, had taken all she was going to from Ike: "I ain't in the mood today!"

The timing of the bill couldn't be better for its supporters. The New York Gay Pride March is this weekend. Stonewall, Judy, even the one year anniversary for my partner and I. And while some cities as expressed through their news media bury their heads in the sand and hope it will all go away or at least not come to them, life surely goes on and evolves through ever more enlightened eyes and increasingly inspiring ways.

Gotta go.

Friday, June 24, 2011

One More Time, American Airlines

What is wrong with American Airlines? The service is on par with the other legacy carriers, the schedules are convenient and the prices also largely in line with other offerings. The problem is they don't seem capable of making any money, having lost over $450 million last year while every other airline in the sandbox brought home at least a little somethin' somethin'. What gives?

When asked this question the CEO Gerard Arpey said that he was waiting on favorable contracts in both labor and fuel to end at other companies such as Southwest. Uh, yea. And how does that fix the problems at home? American never filed bankruptcy in the decade since the attacks of September 11, clearly a point of pride for all at this proud corporation but now equally clearly a bad mistake according to conventional wisdom. Labor costs at American remain higher than most other airlines despite the rumblings from the rank and file that they've given all they can give in concessions and other give backs.

The shocking revelation here is the simple fact that American Airlines is actually sitting still, waiting. This airline, arguably more than any other in the country, made its bones and broke more than a few thru innovation and daring, bold action, often dragging the rest of the industry along, however reluctantly. The DC-3 owes a lot to American, as does much of the information technology in use today to say nothing of frequent flyer programs the world over. American never, ever, sat still, so to here that they are "waiting" for other airlines' cost to rise up and meet their own is nothing short of appalling. The last time around, it seems, American had introduced B-Scale to save itself rather than wait to see what the other guys were doing.

Route development at American appears to have been largely stagnant ever since the Miami operation was purchased from Eastern Airlines. There have been a lot of hub closures such as San Juan, San Jose, Raleigh/Durham and Nashville but the only recent triumph is a huge, billion dollar terminal at JFK which remains largely under-utilized. So far the only thing coming out of New York is anti-trust with British Airways and Iberia along with mileage sharing with Jet Blue. Little in the way of new, showcase routes (Helsinki, anyone?) have emerged that also happen to make money.

What, truly, has happened that can be called ahead of its time or at least ground-breaking? Sleeper seats? Yawn. Wi-Fi? Whatever. Is it possible that there is nothing left for any airline to innovate and roll-out to the rest of the industry? Emirates has showers on board while Virgin Atlantic has introduced double beds but few others are stampeding to sign up for similar features. The 747 was the revolutionary airplane in 1969 which virtually every major carrier felt they had to have to keep up. The A380 is really just another, larger, widebody. The "new" 787/A350 types are made of plastic. Fine, but they still won't fly any faster or offer more in the way of onboard comfort for any cabin that isn't already out there. What is the next big thing on the horizon and will it be American Airlines that brings it?

American must find a way to deal with its operating costs and then come out swinging with something, anything, that nobody saw coming but absolutely everyone has to have but take years to catch up to. They need another DC-3. They need another SABRE. They need another AAdvantage. One more time.

Gotta go.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

B.A.'s Avenida de 9 Julio

We will not discuss how skinny I am in some of these photos. Let's just say that this trip was a long time ago and leave it at that. But I remember it well.

"Ezeiza," or "EZE" in airport code, is the international airport about 15 miles outside of Buenos Aires or "B.A" as it is known around the world. Opened in 1949 it sadly did not appear to have had much attention paid to it in the years since other than make it usable for widebodies hauling in from overseas. I wasn't impressed, to say the least, considering B.A. is such a cosmopolitan city where others in this tier have "statement" airports to impress and/or intimidate visitors with. The impression from this airport was one of having some catching up to do but I and my friends weren't in Argentina to rate the transportation. We were here to experience the city and it's more intrinsic offerings.

We took a shuttle service in to the city which dropped us off at our low-rent hotel for the next couple of days which nonetheless went by the lofty name of the Waldorf Hotel on Paraguay Street. It was not too far from major attractions but offered the kind of rates budget travelers prefer so they can spend money on fun, food and drink instead. The bed was comfortable enough, the linens clean and the water hot; we were good to go. And go we did, despite being fresh off a ten-hour overnight flight from Miami.

This was a whistle-stop tour of the Argentinean capital, requiring the covering of much ground and still having energy to adjust to the Latin rhythm of the place. We'd heard about some things, knew about some others and wanted to see anything else in between before having end our stay and head back north in less than 48 hours. First among the ones we knew about was the massive, awesome and unbelievably choked Avenida de 9 Julio, the promenade through the heart of the city billed as the widest boulevard in the world. It is pretty fat, I must say, seemingly almost wider than it is long.

The road evokes comparisons to the older Champs Elysees which is not nearly as wide but surprisingly twice as long: Avenida de 9 Julio only runs for one single kilometer while "the Champs" extends for a grand total of two. At some points, however, the Argentinean avenue has up to 11 lanes of traffic in each direction including parallel roads within the same area. Architecturally the main focus of "9th of July Avenue" is the Obelisk at the center of the route, again evoking Cleopatra's Needle at the very end of the Champs along with the famous opera house, Teatro Colon. After that it's apartment blocks, small office buildings and store front shops here and there but nothing that really captures the eye after the green spaces stretched all along the road.

Why was I so keyed up about this road? Not simply because of the size of the place but because of its history which is slightly, existentially connected to my own. On July 9, 1816, Argentina won its independence from Spain. My birthday is on the same day, although I came along a few years later.

And even now I'm not quite as wide!

Gotta go.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Away Argentina

South America, "Deep" South America, is a long-ass way away. There's just no other way to say it. When you say "South of the Border" around most Americans that usually does not extend any further in their minds than the Caribbean or Mexico. Many Americans, again, think of a ten-hour flight or longer as traveling east to Europe or west to Asia but aside from those marathon flights to Australia few know that major destinations in Brazil, Argentina and Chile take nearly as long to get to. Add in to the fact that none of these countries are more than two or three time zones ahead of much of the United States and the distance just doesn't compute.

I'm a huge geography buff, having been enamored of maps and different parts of the world from a very young age. I knew from earliest childhood that Argentina, for example, was a ten hour flight just from Miami but being that young, of course, I had yet to experience the journey for myself. I would be in my late 20s before finally making the voyage to the international city that is the capital of the country, Buenos Aires.

The flight from Dallas was two and a half hours in itself, including some healthy turbulence over the middle of the Gulf of Mexico before landing around nine o'clock in the evening for our connection to Argentina. I and the group of friends who came along with decided on Argentina not only because none of us had ever been there before but also because there were no visa requirements to add to the expense of our short first venture to the "Other America." The nightlife in "B.A." can hold its own against any of the delights to be found up north in Brazil so we didn't feel short-changed at all for the experience. Blasting "Shout" by Tears for Fears in my headphones as we backed away from the gate at Miami, this trip was starting out full of excitement and anticipation as any good vacation should.

We stayed awake for the perennial thrill of the takeoff and the chance to catch any glimpse of Cube as we made our way due south. A late dinner was served and then pretty much lights out for the duration of the trip until daybreak the next morning. When I awoke there was a carpet of green below me as the expansive forests of central Brazil spread out below me. This was only seven hours in to the flight and as everyone knows, daylight comes early at 39,000 feet, especially in the Southern Hemisphere Summer of mid-February. Ugh, that moon's bright!

I thought of the early aviation pioneers who might actually recognize the forest canopy below me. Undeveloped when air travel was in its infancy, the backwoods of Brazil have changed little but for the logging that is rapidly taking it away. And then any bare strip of land would save many a pilot until nonstop travel became possible as I was enjoying that very moment. Pan Am, who did much to open South America to adventurous Americans is gone now. So is Varig, once the proud flag carrier of Brazil. Even the second generation trailblazers in Eastern and Braniff have been dismissed from the skies but the links they forged remain strong today. Argentina may not have the cache of Spain, say, but the language is the same and the allure should be. It was for me.

Gotta go.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Where Is The South?

During this weekend celebrating "Juneteenth" in Texas I was reminded of recent changes in the American mindset regarding what is currently considered the American South versus how large the South really is. I was recently amazed at how contemporary opinion can absolutely rewrite history. It happens regularly and many in the conversation either don't know any better or choose not to contradict the speaker, especially if the setting happens to be the speaker's home. Being polite is one thing, allowing revisionist blowharding to be accepted as truth is quite another.

On the way to a business conference in Florida while driving the rental away from the airport my colleagues and I were talking about various parts of the country and what it must be like to live there. We talked about the South, the "Deep South" and the Southwest, going over their similarities as well as some key differences from one region to the next. Somehow the subject came up regarding Maryland and Delaware and their place in the American South.

"They're not in the South" one of my more loudmouth co-workers unequivocally proclaimed. I politely pointed out that they were considered Border States during the Civil War and were prevented from actively participating in the conflict; their inclusion would have completely surrounded Washington, D.C. with Confederate States, an untenable and unacceptable position for the seat of the federal government. That's all well and good my highly opinionated peer said dismissively but that still didn't place either state in the "real" South. Even the truth that the Mason-Dixon Line ran along the Pennsylvania-Maryland border wasn't enough in their minds to be considered a part of the South. The Mason-Dixon Line has been reduced to an historical technicality.

At a recent Memorial Day party a similar conversation took place only this time regarding my home state, the great State of Texas. We were discussing traveling for family reunions and I mentioned that my mother's family was in the "Deep South" of rural Virginia. While not as far south geographically as Alabama, Mississippi and southern Georgia the mindset of the "Deep South" permeated this part of Virginia and the Carolinas as much as anywhere else. In that mix of opinions came Texas' place in the South.

"Texas is not in the South" came the last-word opinion of the party's host. After allowing myself time to collect my thoughts and continue my argument I stated that Texas was indeed in the South and that the traditional feel and mindset of the American South could be found alive and well in the eastern part of the state. The Talladega Forest region that extends in to Texas from Arkansas and Louisiana as deep in to the state as the Tyler-Lufkin-Nacogdoches line was as southern as any part of Tennessee could ever be. El Paso not so much, perhaps, but all along US Highway 59 as far as Houston the traditional "South" can be found. Anybody remember James Byrd, Jr. of Jasper?

I guess in their crude way I am supposed to go along with the argument that times change and that feelings and basic instincts evolve, etc. Those were different times and, indeed, Northern Virginia around Washington, D.C. is a whole other country compared to any part of the state from Richmond and Charlottesville south. At the same time, Texas is simply too large to be part of any one region geo-politically. El Paso is famously closer to Los Angeles than it is to Houston while Amarillo is barely connected to the coastal culture of Corpus Christi. I still held the final trump card in the debate as far as I was concerned.

Juneteenth is the celebration of the coming of Emancipation to the State of Texas in 1865, two and a half years after Lincoln's initial declaration. Now celebrated in 37 states across the Union, it was first celebrated in Texas which, like Delaware and Maryland, was a slave-owning state, plantations included. To any Black American breathing, that puts all three states squarely in the South. Happy Juneteenth.

Gotta go.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Long Haul Lament

The first 747 was designed to carry almost 400 people from the East Coast of the United States to Europe, basically a double-decker bus on a relatively short haul service. Later versions and even later widebodies stretched those demands to cover the West Coast of America deep in to Central Europe and on "very" long haul flights to Asia. Today there are "Ultra" long haul flights such as New York to Hong Kong and Singapore or Los Angeles to Dubai. Surprisingly few of them today are served by the venerable old bird who started it all in the first place.

Why? Kinda simple, really. The 747 can't make it. Technology and fuel capacity can only do so much and most feel the 747 has been taken literally as far as it can go, the new "Dash-8" series notwithstanding (and that is a model still yet to fly in commercial service so no one really knows). Most of these ultra routes are flown with smaller planes that still have very large fuel capacities, making 16 hours between California and the Middle East a stretch but a doable one.

Qantas, long distance travel master supreme, has recently introduced nonstop service from Sydney to Dallas/Ft. Worth, my hometown. The aircraft they use is a 747-ER for "Extended Range" which means it is stuffed with fuel in every possible location, sacrificing some cargo space but not passenger room. The easy part is that Sydney to Dallas is flown with the wind at its back so the plane gets a nice push most of the way to help bridge the distance. Heading back down south is another story with absolutely no margin for error. Dallas/Ft. Worth is typically a three hour flight to the West Coast from which it is typically a 14-hour flight to get to Australia, three extra hours tacked on to an already long service.

Airline planners typically hope for "blue sky" conditions that will allow a flight to operate as scheduled...most of the time. Trouble is when you advertise nonstop service customers expect and accept no excuses for pulling over to get gas. For a variety of reasons Qantas does not want to stop between Dallas and Australia. Any island along the way such as Hawaii or Fiji will most likely charge exorbitant rates for fuel not to mention fees for landing and using their facilities in to the bargain.

Within a week of inaugurating service a story went out that called Qantas on the carpet for leaving three stuffed baggage containers behind as a weight saving ploy to allow a nonstop flight. It took another 24 hours for the affected customers to be reunited with their belongings. One has to wonder if only the Brisbane customers were affected; I'd hate to think of the mess it would cause if any of those bags were going to other destinations. Will it happen again? Sure, at some point. Has it happened before?

Some time ago in a bid to compete with Qantas to Australia United Airlines offered nonstop service from Los Angeles to Melbourne, also with a 747. It didn't last long because the distance was simply too far for the model United operated. Stops were routinely made in Hawaii for fuel until they finally threw in the towel, red faced from the exertion and humiliation. Melbourne is now only available on United after a scheduled stop in Sydney.

United tried again in a different market, offering nonstops from New York to Hong Kong but learned the same lesson. "Nonstop" service making a "technical" stop in Anchorage damaged their reputation and doomed the service after maybe six months.

Are airlines biting off more than their engines can chew with these extreme routes? Does anybody really want to endure 17-20 hours on an airplane (especially in coach) for the sake of avoiding a connection? One friend of mine sent one of his employees to Sydney from Dallas on assignment recently. That guy deliberately chose a connection via Los Angeles just to avoid the new service altogether. He got to stretch his legs on the ground for a couple of hours and enjoy the new A380 on the way down in to the bargain. Not bad, I say.

Gotta go.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Football Uber Alles

Football overshadows absolutely everything in sports crazed America. A friend traveling on business to Dallas from Washington, D.C. remarked at all of the stars carved in to the highway overpass support columns around the city, thinking Dallasites were way over-enamored of the Dallas Cowboys. I had to explain to him that, firstly, Texas is the Lone Star State. The star on the helmet derives at least in part from this historical association. Then I looked around the other teams in the area and found a single star on the Dallas Desperados arena football team and, another single star on the chest of the bull in the FC Dallas logo and, square in between the shoulder blades, still another single star on the jerseys of the Dallas Mavericks. I began to wonder if the Lone Star State association was really at play here or if Jerry Jones had finagled his NFL team's presence in to the very fabric of the other area teams, a constant reminder of which team and sport still ruled on high over North Texas.

Pundits have been counting the Mavericks out since the first round of the playoffs, thinking Portland would pull the same kind of upset the Golden State Warriors did the year before. Or was that in 2007? (I really don't follow basketball.) When the Mavs advanced to meet the Lakers the funeral dirges for Dirk and company rang out from Manhattan to Mazatlan. Uppity Oklahoma thought they could outlast the aging Mavericks with youth but forgot the first lesson in southwestern cattle's usually the old bull that beats the young buck; with brains.

Here comes the heat. It is sometimes hard to tell which phenomenon the signs around Dallas are referring to, the Summer heat or the Miami Heat when they say "Beat the Heat!" but the sentiment is the same. Both need to go away but the question in the back of my mind is who the rest of the country is rooting for. I read the Mike Wise column in the Washington Post who did a polite but effective job of questioning the mind and conviction of LeBron James. Mr. Wise was not exactly rooting for Dallas so much as he was simply perplexed at the fade-away game Mr. James has consistently turned in during the 4th quarter.

Wise was at Game 5 in Dallas last Thursday, a beat writer for the Washington Post, home rag of some of the most ardent football fans in the nation, the ever-loyal, perennially disappointed Redskins Faithful. No fan base in the country despises the Cowboys and essentially everything else about Dallas like fans of the Redskins. But this is basketball and one of their most respected writers is in town covering the remarkable hiding the Mavericks have taken to every opponent thus far, Miami included. Could they, gasp, actually be rooting for a Dallas team?

It might be as simple a question as whether or not they hate the Heat more. LeBron abandoned Cleveland, which garnered negative press around the country. The Wizards and Heat are in the same division with Washington finishing last (hmmm..familiar) but I'm not sure if the two teams have much in the way of a rivalry; the Orlando Magic is in that group. Even if they did, could a Redskin fan in the Fall find it in his heart to root for Dallas during the Summer?

Gotta go (Mavs).

Friday, June 10, 2011

Air Rail

American airports have a long way to go to catch up to their European counterparts. Every major airport on both sides of the Atlantic has at least one decent business hotel either directly on the property or very close by so that is not the issue. All of them are accessible by major highway as well so again that is not the complaint. It is hard, extremely hard to compare the food court concept at most U.S. airports with the local food offerings at airports in Germany, France and Spain although European airports are just as guilty when it comes to fast food. No, my complaint is the lack of decent public transportation at most of the major airports in the United States and the constant bickering that goes with trying to improve access.
Looking at just public transportation, right now Dallas/Ft. Worth International has a public bus system that runs from the South Entrance in to downtown Dallas after about 90 minutes worth of riding and transfers. This compares to 25 minutes in to town with smooth traffic. Light rail service is being built, similar to the Washington Metro being extended out to Dulles but who knows when that will be completed. For the 3rd busiest airport in the country it is simply shameful that some kind of rail service was never included or at least built in to DFW's master plan.
Atlanta's Hartsfield/Jackson, O'Hare at Chicago, San Francisco and Reagan National at Washington all have subways that run directly in to the terminal building or at least within a short covered walk. Let's compare that to Heathrow where the Underground serves no less than three stops but the Paddington Express offers a hi-speed nonstop option in to the heart of the city as well.
What Heathrow doesn't have is a direct rail link within the national rail system, something Frankfurt and Paris both offer, including the high-speed "ICE" and "TGV," respectively. It is simply amazing to land in Paris and hop a "bullet train" to Brussels, arriving in less than 90 minutes instead of having to back track south in to the city, finding the correct station (out of six) and then making your way back to the Belgian capital. Certainly Amtrak is no match for the French SNCF rail network but it is simply the inter-modal transportation options available elsewhere that I have to wonder how it would enhance traveling here in the United States.
The Swiss set the gold standard for linking various public systems together along with the Dutch. Trains, buses and planes are linked to allow at least one connecting option on any given day from any point in the country to the rest of the world at large without having to use private cars short of driving to the nearest station. Distances are shorter from even the farthest corners of the country but the simple fact is the system is in place and works very well.
National rail service in the United States is all but dead but there are some things that can still be done for most cities. Light rail connections in to town even if it is the only rail service in the entire area would be a start. The regional hi-speed rail systems the current administration is planning would be great to link the major airports a la Charles De Gaulle, too. We need something, and it has to start somewhere.
Gotta go.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Trannies

Hah! And what exactly were you thinking this article would be about? since it portends to be a travel blog then hopefully some of you will know that "trannie" in this context is jargon for "Transcon" or transcontinental service of the nonstop kind from coast to coast. It could also refer to Transatlantic or Transpacific flights but rarely if ever would it refer to something like Transasian or Translatin. A flight from Buenos Aires or Rio to Santiago, Chile would be considered a transcon flight but the distance is not quite four hours of flying time and I'm not sure they even have the term in that part of the world. That said, let's take a look at the three we're most familiar with.

A transcon almost invariably refers to a domestic flight within the United States that leaves from one coast state, flies across the continent and arrives at another coastal state. The primary routes for this would be New York to California with other serious contenders being Boston and Washington, D.C. to California. Others qualify, such as Seattle to Miami or Atlanta to Portland but those markets tend to be smaller and, in the case of Atlanta, the city is not right on the water like Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco. Still, Georgia has a coastline so if the good people of the Peach State want to call their Atlanta to the West Coast flights transcons then who am I to begrudge them. Et tu, Charlotte.

The other two are not as US-centric although certainly the United States plays a large role in both markets. When one thinks of a transatlantic service it almost always means from somewhere in the United States to some place in Europe. That is not fair, however, to the other countries that also enjoy nonstop service across the ocean such as Brazil and even Peru, the latter of which supports a nonstop service to Madrid on Iberia. It makes sense the minute you think about it but there are still others as well, such as Buenos Aires to Frankfurt and even Sao Paulo to Cape Town, South Africa, probably one of the loneliest flights on the planet as it is the only regularly scheduled service across the South Atlantic at only three times per week.

Transpac is comparatively easy to decipher: the US and Canada to Asia and Australia/New Zealand. Or is it. What about the flights BETWEEN Asia and the Anzac Region? While vacationing in Auckland, not the largest market in the world, I found nonstop services on offer to Australia (duh), Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and Hong Kong, any one of which could get the average Kiwi the rest of the way to Europe. Wow. Compared to that spread Los Angeles seemed almost a token market despite being the largest of the lot after Australia.

There is a lot of commercial flying out there, a lot of it seemingly concentrated on North America but certainly a respectable amount of it connecting people and places with literally no connections to the United States (or Canada) whatsoever. Know what? If they don't make the headlines you can assume every last one of those flights operated just as safely, too.

Gotta go.

Monday, June 6, 2011

You Touring YouTube

YouTube can be an even better way to see the larger world around us and in so many ways. Even better than some travel programming it is possible to see snippets of ordinary life in far away corners, spectacular scenery in places unheard of or experiences never even considered outside of our everyday lives. Just type in the YouTube search window and that is the extent of your wait to visit some exotic corner of the planet or specific moment in time - there is no waiting for scheduled programming.

The list is endless of the places one can go thanks to the camcorder efforts of the average tourist. YouTube to them is much easier to utilize than maintaining their own website while still wanting to share images of their vacations, honeymoons or family get-togethers with the rest of the world at large. The wisdom in posting some of these private moments is equally endless in debate but there they are for the curious and voyeuristic alike.

The thing that intrigues me about these images is being reminded that the rest of the world is alive and going about its business the same as I might be doing at that same moment in time. The more mundane things like rush hour traffic in Paris don't hold my attention for too long beyond simply seeing it and comparing it to the commute experience in, say, Washington, D.C. Simple things like people in other countries playing with their dogs just as I would mine at the end of a long day. Of course people have pets in other parts of the world but it doesn't register that they would or that the interactions appear to be exactly the same but for the language involved. A particularly funny moment involved unaware American tourists getting an up close view of a male camel bellowing romantically to any nearby female.

All of us have a list of places we've always wanted to go but for one reason or another are not quite sure we will ever get there. One of those for me is Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River in southern Africa on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. I stumbled across a video of a prone tourist floating in a tidal pool at the very edge of the 300-foot falls, his body at the surface with his head over the edge as if he could wash over the cataract at any second, proof of the power of the falls thundering seemingly at the end of his outstretched arms. I mean, seriously? The political environment in Zimbabwe and general health concerns in the area notwithstanding, I gotta do that!

Being an airplane nut I experienced as much of the inflight experience with the A380 as possible before actually flying on the plane for the first time in 2009. Watching 747s land in St. Maarten is not on my list of accomplishments yet but heaven knows there is plenty of footage taken by others who have experienced the good and bad of being that close to the engines on the beach head just at the end of the runway.

If I never get to any of these places they are only a click away on the internet without the marketing shills pushing upscale hotels and high end restaurants at me in to the bargain. The only thing I haven't done is post any of my own. Remember that debate about the wisdom of such a move?

Gotta go.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Wrong Way McDonald's

One of the strangest things I had ever done was to go through a McDonald's drive-thru backwards. Many of you have already tried to visualize going through in reverse either so the guy riding shotgun would be able to place his order directly but that's not what I meant. This relates to my first experience at the world-famous restaurant chain at one of their franchises in England. "Backwards" means that the drive-thru wraps around the building in the other direction, as in clockwise!

Many things are different about the overseas experience with fast food, all of which make it at interesting enough to almost be an adventure but certainly not the normal routine expected at home. In Germany a Filet-o-Fish is called a "Fisch Mac," for example. We all know by now that a country that operates on the metric system would therefore not have a "Quarter Pounder" on the menu so it might have a name like the French "Burger Royale" instead. Likewise they by now understand that the German word for big, "Gross," would NOT translate to steady sales from English speaking patrons who happen to stop by. Another reason for names like "Koenig'sburger" (King's Burger).

In England the product names tend to translate fairly easily so no worries about what exactly is being selected from the menu. The interiors of the restaurants from one country to another are also fairly innocuous and easily recognized, perhaps with a few local flairs thrown in just so the natives will feel more connected as well. While on business in London one time, though, we were in a hurry as most business travelers tend to be and decided we had just enough time to hit the drive through before going back to the office.

McDonald's was nearby, everybody knew the brand, the product and what to expect so in we go to the parking area, except I happened to be the one that was driving. Instinctively I started turn right to join the "queue" for the drive-thru. "No, mate, turn left!" my local companions warned before I completed my maneuver. In England with right-side drive (from the passenger seat to most others) the menu board and attendant speaker is on the right hand side of the car. To face it properly and not be considered a total "prat," the line for the window starts at the left side of the building.

Drive thru's in general tended to be more of a novelty at the time as opposed to something absolutely required in the design of the establishment. This is Europe, after all, where population density is much greater than America and land is certainly not to be frivolously paved over. Even at a lot of highway rest stops the logic leans towards entering the restaurant as opposed to pulling over in a drive-thru. One has to get gas in the first place, which means getting out of the car, plus the fact that a gallon of regular there is easily twice the cost in the United States. Not something to burn through so readily while idling in a drive-thru waiting on a burger and fries.

So here I am trying to navigate the narrow lane for the drive-thru near Heathrow Airport from the left side of the building while piloting a car from the right hand side of the front seat. Even though my favorite sandwich at Mickey-Ds is the Filet-o-Fish I knew better than to order something like that while in England, home and reigning king of fish and chips.

I went with a Quarter Pounder!

Gotta go.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Windows Beware

Take in a show at a live theater and the establishment knows the viewing angle of every seat in the house. They are very careful to point out those seats with a partial or obstructed view so the customers know what they're in for at the point of purchase. Book a "window" seat on an airplane and that is not always what the passenger is going to enjoy, is it?

I booked Qantas to New Zealand a couple years ago and requested the exit row window at the third passenger door over the wing, thinking I had a steal of a seat on my hands. They did not charge an extra fee for the leg room even though the view was 110 feet of metal, I had the sidewall to cuddle up against for the 12-hour flight down south. Nice? Not. The evacuation slide housing jutted in to the space where my legs were supposed to go and all I had was sidewall. The "window" was squarely in the row behind me, forcing my neck to pivot like some drunken owl to see outside if the people in the row behind me decided to leave the shade up in the first place. Lesson learned.

I never like to sit behind the wing of an airplane so when I choose a window seat there's usually an unobstructed view that comes with it. Not so the poor fools who either take what's left or don't know any better, especially when flying on the MD-80 or something similar. On American Airlines there are two rows of seats between the aft galley and the lavatory on the left hand side. Those two rows have windows, the first right next to the engine intake and the second square in the middle of the engine housing itself. How peaceful.

Even in the front, however, things are not guaranteed, as shown by those rows near the entry doors. Some widebodies such as the 767 and 747 run air ducts within the skin of the plane through the sidewalls which forces some rows again to stare at blank panels for the duration of a flight. Heaven help you if you're claustrophobic. To look at the plane from the outside it is easy to see where these window breaks are located. Thanks to the fact that nearly every airline has their own row numbering system, however, it is hard to tell or remember if Row 15 is the one to avoid or Row 21.

You would think that the premium cabins would pay close attention to such details to ensure their best customers always have a window if that is their seat of choice. Think again. The latest cabin designs for some business and first class configurations have angled the seats to what appears to be nearly 45 degrees from vertical. Not facing the window, though, no, but away from the sidewalls with the feet pointed in to the aisle. Really?

Sitting up front is definitely all about the space while the design was probably intended to meet emergency evacuation standards but still. What's the point of the window if my back is to the wall and I have to do the drunken owl neck thing again just to take a look outside? When I wake up from a snooze I like to see if the Milky Way is out there or maybe an island or range of mountains, perhaps.

Then again, I can always ask for a middle or an aisle seat and avoid the problem altogether.

Gotta go.