Airlines

International TravelThings I Love

A SEAMLESS START

IMG_20210418_121547 (2)

When the time to depart finally arrived, I was quite nervous.  After so many blips, changes and uncertainties (see previous post), we were finally airborne.  Changing our arrival in Africa from Nairobi to Dar Es Salaam meant an extra flight, but leaving from Burbank Airport (to Seattle) is so swift and hassle free that it was worth it.   Best news is no touching our bags until the “final destination” — which is such a creepy saying.  Need to think of an alternative.  Suggestions?

Stunning Mt. Ranier from the plane

The hubby and I like to think it was an auspicious start to the trip to have the Bruin track team on the flight.  I asked if we should start an “8 clap” and that got everyone’s attention.  We chatted about the epic Final Four and in particular our allegiance to the blue & gold.  My goodness, they were so young!

For the next leg, 14 hours from Seattle to Doha (via the north pole) is daunting, but this was a pleasure.  With a half-full cabin, the staff were even more attentive.  And how can one not love an airplane bathroom where you can actually turn around (and change clothes comfortably).  Highly recommend Qatar Airways, especially if you are part of the One World Alliance (American and British Air, etc.)

My roomy and comfy cabin aboard Qatar.

 

Breakfast is served

The eight-hour Doha layover was limited to the airport per covid restrictions.  But Hamad International rivals Singapore’s Changi in facilities, albeit on a smaller scale.   The endless stream of green-jacket-wearing assistants provided carts and guidance throughout the transfer process.  Maybe it is due to my Platinum status on American or they mistook us for foreign royals, but honestly we just went with the flow.  Except when they kept offering us wheelchairs for some reason.  I later found out American thought I had requested this, which I did not.  At least it wasn’t due to assumed gimpyness of us.

Qatar Lounge
Meal #??? en route at the airport lounge

We finally arrived in Dar es Salaam, but for just two hours.   A short flight to Kilaminjaro Airport in Arusha followed with zero view of the iconic mountain due to clouds.  The flight departed as soon as everyone was on board, a good 15 minutes early.  No “we are cleared for takeoff” or “we are fifth in line for departure.”  Rev up those propellers and take off, with the Arusha arrival 25 minutes early.

Aboard Precision Air

Rivertrees Country Inn provided a perfect overnight to get our sea legs.  We loved a long chat with fellow guest Melvin from the UK.  When I asked about his itinerary, he said “I left for three weeks and that was five months ago.”  Can you imagine?  He had one small bag while buying and discarding clothes as needed per weather requirements.  Interesting way to travel, to say the least.  He traveled to Arusha from Dar es Salaam via train.  What took us just over an hour took him 22 hours with no stops in between.  We’ll stick with the planes, thank you very much.

Next stop:  safari in Central Serengeti.

Usa River
Rivertrees Country Inn

 

International TravelThings You Should Know

AND THE AWARD GOES TO …

FIRST PRIZE

For “Best understanding and navigating the complicated world of travel restrictions,” the award goes to :: Anyone who prevails, especially internationally.  I will gladly accept my blue ribbon (after untold hours spent).

Many of us might just cry “Uncle.”  Our family trip to Italy has been rescheduled twice since 2020 and is now calendared for November.  For me and the hubby, this year’s trip was always going to be Africa (Kenya and Tanzania), but what a ride it’s been.  And we haven’t even left yet.

Industrial-strength desire and patience is a must in the planning stages.  It might be tempting for some to think its just too much work to pull off a trip.  And is anyone truly patient?  I know I’m not.  Just when one is certain the itinerary is settled, a new wrinkle appears.  I could fill up a recycling bin with printed copies of reservations made and cancelled.

A LATE CHANGE

The biggest surprise, literally just contemplated and confirmed a few days ago, is Tanzania is out and Uganda is in.  That means in addition to the traditional “Big 5” — lions/leopards/elephants/rhinos/buffalo — we are including gorillas and chimps, oh my!  Until recently, I thought Rwanda was the only place to go for gorilla trekking.  In reality, there are some 400 of these amazing creatures in Uganda’s Bwindi Forest where we’re headed.

The staff at Africa Travel Resource have been extraordinary throughout the process.  Numerous itineraries were offered.  They weighed in with pros and cons.  They have continuously sent clients on safari in spite of the challenges from the pandemic and know the terrain extremely well.

THE JOURNEY THERE

The first hurdle?  Getting to the African continent with travel rules that change daily.  There are few routes (via American Airlines partners) where one is able to “transfer” through a destination.  That means arriving somewhere but not entering the country (i.e., outside immigration).  Instead, the onward travel to the next destination simply continues within the confines of the airport. This avoids any of the country’s quarantine requirements.  Even an overnight at an airport hotel might require quarantine; thus avoid!

A case in point of how airport transfers can become a nightmare:  We once had a plane change in Sri Lanka.  Since we weren’t technically entering the country, I didn’t apply for Visas.  Lo and behold, the Sri Lankans considered going to the baggage carousel to gather our bags for the next flight (on a different airline) to be “entering the country.”  Long lines, language barriers, and a ticking clock to the next departure equaled major stress.  Singapore Airlines more than earned their best airline status by helping us through the calamity.

By the way, if the Sri Lanka episode happens to you, be firm about not missing your next flight.  We were told that there was no way we would make it.  But because of polite persistence and some absolute insistence, we indeed made the flight.  (More about that subject is covered in a previous post linked HERE).

Thus I feel positively victorious to be flying from Los Angeles to Nairobi on just two flights in a mere 22 hours.  We have one plane change in Doha, Qatar, for two hours.  I used 75,000 AA miles per person for the flights on Qatar Airlines. Even with the first leg at 15-1/2 hours, I’m looking forward to experiencing their Q-Suites.

We’re scheduled for the required COVID test just prior to leaving Los Angeles.  Kenya requires proof of a negative test (not more than 96 hours old) for entry to the country.  From there, no quarantine is required so off we go.

The trip map

I will write more later about the rest of the journey.  I’m just happy to be able to finally focus on all that needs to be done before we leave in a few short weeks.  That is a great joy indeed.

Things You Should KnowU.S. Travel

NEVER WASTE AN OPPORTUNITY: A VISIT TO THE CAROLINA’S

IMG_20200618_143122

When a great fare was “scored” via American Airlines for an arguably optimistic June trip to Anguilla only to have the island remained closed, a quick decision was made to go anyway.  Obviously not to the island, but rather keeping the round trip flights to and from Charlotte.  I have found the upside to these travel disruptions is a seemingly greater flexibility and willingness on the part of the airlines (at least AA) to make changes.  The original fare included “free” system-wide upgrade awards (meaning flying up front without using miles); that somewhat played a role in the decision.

My curiosity about flying during COVID has been satisfied.  Here’s my report:   The TSA folks have managed to create a “no touch” procedure.  Rather than handing over your ID, they ask you hold it next to your face for comparison, and they remain behind plexiglass.  There are distancing signs as well as cleaning crews everywhere.  Masks, are of course, required in the terminal.  Few food stores were open, but it was a very early flight.

On board the flight, masks are required at all times except if a passenger is eating or drinking.  Even though this was a cross-country flight of more than four hours, there was no beverage service although we were able to request drinks after take-off.   Snack bags were provided at boarding:  a small water bottle, a bag of corn nuts and a wipe.  Upon landing, deplaning is like leaving a funeral — stay in your seat until the row in front of you has exited.  The directions were somewhat adhered to.  All in all, the whole experience was uneventful.

Worth the wait!

The year 2020 for us has been about visiting new states as opposed to new countries.  With this trip, my count is 46 out of 50 (still missing: Maine, Michigan, Mississippi and Alabama), of which I am very proud.  Neither the hubby nor I had been to the Carolina’s.  Again, it didn’t take long to map out the 11-night itinerary.  There’s so much to see, the trip could easily be longer.  It is a relief to have “short” drives to the various stops, as opposed to 400-500 miles on average covered daily in the recent road trip.

NASCAR HQ

As for Charlotte, it is immediately apparent why this has become one of America’s best cities in which to reside.  The hubby and I seriously considered leaving CA maybe 10 years ago.  We took a survey that asks what your priorities are for a city and then tells you what location best suits your criteria.  Charlotte was at the top of the list for both of us.  When our kids settled in LA for their careers after college, we decided to stay put.

Downtown Charlotte

The city is a sprawling metropolis but at the same time is easy to navigate with some beautiful residential areas. Gracious homes on generous lots is very different from what we So Cal dwellers are accustomed to — not to mention how much less the cost is for much more house.  Of course there were some delicious food finds; one is depicted in the photos below from Flour Shop.  Bank of America headquarters anchors downtown Charlotte along with their beloved Panthers’ stadium, Hornets’ arena and a beautiful new stadium for the AAA baseball affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.  My personal favorite — Lowe’s — is likewise based in Charlotte, together with more than a dozen Fortune 1000 companies.  Big city opportunities, southern charm and four distinct seasons.  All that’s needed is an MLB franchise.

Next stop:  Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill — aka The Triangle.

Jerry Richardson brought the Panthers to Charlotte.

 

Help!  Where can I see a game?
Snippets from the Road

ITALY, PARTY OF FOUR — UPDATED

cruise_rivieras_italy_france_spain_2020

(This March 3 post is updated at the end … )

With the big post-tax season trip just six weeks away, I’ve been repeatedly asked these questions:  “Are you cancelling your trip?”  “Are you concerned?”  “What are your thoughts about …”

My answer has not changed.  No, we are not changing unless we are forced to.   In other words, if all flights to Italy are cancelled, then I guess we’ll change our itinerary — flying into Rome and departing from Milan, with additional stays in Florence and Venice.  American Airlines currently has a deadline for flight changes without penalty until March 16.  All of the hotels and cars may be cancelled without fees.  So not much at stake while we see what happens.

We’re a generally healthy family who in all probability would tolerate a flu without much fanfare. While I’m not looking for adverse conditions, the fact is we could stay home and get sick.  So what the heck .. onward.

My Snippet from the Road:  Carry on unless you’re forced not to.  Wash your hands.  And if change must happen — the South of France is just an hour flight from Rome.  A win/win.

UPDATE:  In case you’re interested in where we stand now (March 13), we are looking to postpone just a few weeks from our original 4/17 departure.  Typically we’re home around May 10 looking forward to attending Dodger games.  Since that is also postponed, our timing is flexible throughout May.   It would be a pleasure to be among the first to help resurrect Italy’s economy in some small way.

The plan is to see how things look at the end of March/beginning of April before changing flights and hotels.  Until then, we’ll talk to each other, catch up on reading and perhaps binge watch cooking shows on Netflix …

International TravelThings You Should Know

WHY PANAMA?

Pan9

When one needs to reuse airfare, the most important aspect is calendaring the expiration date!  It’s likely fair to say that many a cancelled fare has been forgotten and never used.  I know I have done that.  Put the expiration date in your calendar, or keep the original reservation sheet in your travel folder, or wherever is your best place to keep track of it.

Most of the Panama City skyline did not exist 10 years ago ..

In this case, 2019 Boston travel plans changed resulting in unused fare on American.  We had until April 2020 or the credit would go bye-bye.  Early January is the best (and only) time the hubby is free to travel during tax season — plus it happens to coincide with my birthday.  So, where to go???

Nowhere with snow or I’d be traveling solo.  It’s high season in the Caribbean with crazy rates.  The South Pacific is on the to-do list, but will need to wait.  I started looking at Central American countries.  Panama unanimously gets positive feedback from other travelers who have been.  We wanted to see the canal without going on a cruise.  A moderate downside is American routes through Miami (at least from LA), with a plane change then another 2.5 hours to Panama.   If you have a choice, either Copa or United fly nonstop from LA.  Still, Panama got the nod.

Long Miami layover allowed for lunch at Joe’s Stone Crabs with the hubby’s family — Uncle Mike & Shelley of Boynton.

I was thrilled to see how affordable the hotel rates are!  Your dollar goes far with accommodations, meals and most everything else.  The experience is easy — Panama is on both the USD and the same electrical current — and most folks are English speaking.

1. Accommodations

After initially booking the Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort, I followed a frequent visitor’s suggestion to stay right in the city so I changed us to the JW Marriott.  That turned out to be a mistake as there were significant renovations impacting the pool experience among other issues there.

Poolside at the Santa Maria with the golf course in the background.

Here’s where one of my favorite topics — Brand Loyalty — played a huge role.  Both properties are under the Marriott umbrella.  Upon explaining our situation, the JWM general manager without hesitation facilitated our move to our original choice, providing a car and driver for the transfer.  The same rate was honored.  We were welcomed at the Santa Maria literally with open arms.  But it gets better.  Gorgeous flowers arrived two days later on my birthday from the JWM manager with lovely wishes.  That’s what I call customer service 101.  Brilliant.

Feeling the birthday love, all courtesy of the hotels.

2. Visiting the Canal

A trip to Panama is not complete without some tour of the Canal, whether via cruise ship or our choice of going to the Miraflores Visitor Center.  An excellent documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman at the adjacent Imax theater provided the history of the canal from which I learned a great deal.  And then we waited on a viewing deck for an enormous ship to pass through (one of forty in a 24-hour cycle).  Patience is key as it is very slow going, about one hour to transcend a particular lock.  In the end, it’s fascinating to see the canal in “action.”

Jockeying for position to capture a photo of the vessel heading down the Miraflores Lock.
From our guide’s phone — apps that show all Canal traffic and descriptions of the vessels.
Near side full and far side empty. Remarkable engineering.
With Robert Valencia, our excellent guide.
Two trains on each side attached by cables pull this enormous vessel through the lock. A captain up top guides a ship from the beginning to end.

3.  Fit for Foodies

A birthday dinner at Maito (#17 on the San Pelligrino Top 50 in Latin America) was a great experience.  It’s hard to pinpoint a specific “Panamanian” cuisine.  We had everything during our visit from fresh fish to terrific and authentic pizza to a French bistro preparing steak tartare tableside.   With the very large and observant Jewish population, Kosher restaurants are abundant and we’re told excellent.

Above from Maito (clockwise from upper left):  Kale with fresh hearts of palm; tacos; Cline Pinot from Sonoma; Banana Napolean; Coconut Ice Cream in Chocolate Shell; flat iron steak — all excellent!

Authentic French bistro in the old town.

4.  My Takeaway

Scenic.  Safe.  Affordable.   Three key phrases to entice travelers for a visit plus expats and retirees looking to possibly relocate to this terrific destination.

Cheers! We had a great time …
Snippets from the RoadThings You Should Know

WHY LOYALTY MATTERS …

Screenshot_20200114-113244_2

Repeated robocalls.  Anyone not sick of them? The hubby answers far many more of them at home than I do, and even engages some of them to my ever astonishment.  So when the phone rang and showed American Airlines as the caller he answered — and this one was for real, with the caller asking to speak to me.

“Hi, Mrs. Bialosky, this is so-and-so from the American Airlines Platinum desk calling to congratulate you on recently achieving Lifetime Platinum status!  May I give you our dedicated phone line?  Let me know when you’re ready to write down the number.”

 

Loyalty pays.  Recognition, free bags, early boarding, upgrades, more mileage rewarded, lounge access among other perks.  But just being thanked and acknowledged for loyalty says it all.  And it only took me a little over 32 years to achieve!