Returning to Blogging

After many years of being grounded, I have returned on my own site.  I’m currently working on restoring the original pictures on the archived posts.

To give a little background on my hiatus, through 2010 I had a job that had me traveling all across North America for work where I would usually be on the first flight out of my small airport on a Monday morning, and usually ended up returning on the last flight.  Sometimes I would get lucky and actually be able to arrive home earlier.  At the time, I was always connecting through airports like Atlanta, Charlotte, and Dulles.  That is actually where the first generation of this blog got its name.  I was usually flying from a small airport, to the hub, to another random airport somewhere in the continent.

Unfortunately life decided it had other plans and I got laid off.  I still had a love of travel, but the position I had to accept did not allow for travel, as well as not paying enough for any real extensive travel when trapped in the fortress hub of Atlanta (Seriously, the main option was Delta with very little service from LCC or ULCC).

In 2016 I had an opportunity to change jobs, and it really led to a revolution in my personal travel.  Yes it is still primarily domestic, but the relocation to Denver provided a great opportunity to start traveling.  For those not familiar, Denver is a hub for United and Frontier, with Southwest operating a focus city operation.  Thus to major cities, fares are entirely reasonable.  It is actually to the point where I debate fares over $200 round trip, and seriously feel pain for fares over $300 RT for a domestic flight.  And that isn’t the Frontier unbundled pricing, that is Southwest and United pricing.

Since relocating to Denver I’ve been very fortunate to travel to places I never thought would be within affordable reach.  From the Atlanta, Hawaii was always a pipe dream, since the cost was usually $700 each way for economy.  In Denver it was $600 for a connecting itinerary in Delta Comfort+(On long flights I do need extra legroom because I am 6’5″).  I was able to fly the Norwegian Inaugural to London Gatwick, and attended the most recent incarnation of the Star Alliance MegaDO in Europe.  I was able to get in on the ANA mistake fare to Sydney, which allowed for a full day exploring Tokyo on the return.  Some of these events may get full posts, some may not.

While I have primarily focused on travel so far, I hope to branch out to look at some of the technology that can help make travel easier.  I will make a disclaimer that I use Apple products personally, however I do not have a hatred of Android or Windows.  I do have a hatred of bloatware that manufacturers of Android and Windows systems like to put on them.  My big focus is that while I am a technology geek, I like my technology to work without too many problems.

For those that have followed my blog from its old days at upgrd, I thank you for coming back.  For those that are new, let me say welcome and enjoy the ride.


First Time Flying WestJet

By Nick – Random Segments

Coming back from my recent trip to Toronto, I was able to book an itenerary that gave me the chance to try out a new airline, WestJet.  For those unfamiliar with this airline, it is the Canadian low cost carrier.  Many people in Canada will bash Air Canada and rave about WestJet, because of this when I found an itenerary that allowed me to earn miles, as well as try them out for the same price as the other options, I jumped on it.

First off, they charge a lot more for extra legroom than the traditional US carriers.  I paid for it since this is a vacation and I wanted to see what the product was like.  The cost for a flight from YYZ-LGA was $45!  Shocking when other airlines charge just $9 for the extra legroom on a segment that length.  Below you can see the legroom, keeping in mind that I am 6’5″.


Also, if you book through Delta or American, and have something that waives the bag fees, be prepared to pay the bag fee.  While WestJet offers the first bag free on their flights, they charge the baggage fees of the selling carrier, without the exclusions for elite or credit card.

The seats are standard, with Satellite TVs in the seatbacks, controlled by buttons on the armrest.  Unfortunately for this flight, the Satellite TV was not working, but the moving map was (With a ton of advertising).


However, what will set this experience apart and actually make it a pleasant trip is how the crew handled the delays we experienced even trying to get off the ground.  There was weather in New York, and so they initiated a Ground Stop.  Most airlines they announce this and then hide.  Here the crew sprang into action with a water and snack service.  As this was going on, another flight attendant came around and gave everyone who desired free headsets (normally $3).  Once we took off, they continued the excellent service by providing free alcoholic beverages to everyone.  These are simple things, but still nice touches.  Especially when you consider the service we are used to the service in the States where we get nothing for a delay until it reaches the federally mandated times.

The real surprise is that with all the delays before boarding and after boarding, my 2 hour connection was down to just 30 minutes.  I was prepared when I made it to my next flight (which seemed to be the only flight Delta offered that was not delayed) to not have my luggage meet me upon arrival.  And yet it did.  Amazing what a well run airline can do even in such a situation.

Overall, I would consider my WestJet experiment a fun change.  Though in all honesty I probably will not fly them again because LGA is not a pleasant connecting station especially with all of the non-stop flights I have based out of Atlanta.  And I still have my love for Air Canada.  Maybe next time I will figure out an itenerary to try and fly Porter.


My Experience at the Local Passport Agency

By Nick – Random Segments

Most of the time, you go to a passport acceptance office hand in your forms and wait a few weeks to get a new passport.  However last Sunday I lost my apartment to a massive fire with a trip to Toronto this weekend (In fact I am already up here as you read this), I needed to get a new passport at the local Agency.  


There is one slight change to preparing your documentation, and that is not attaching the passport photo to the application.  Instead you have it separate.  Makes sense because instead of it being mailed off to another location, it is being made right there.


The system is extremely long, but completely automated with everything done by touch tone.  No voice prompts 😉


My appointment was scheduled for 11am, with access not allowed until 15 minutes before my appointment.  Being located downtown, it is one of the few times worth taking MARTA.  It is located right next to the Peachtree Center MARTA station, so the walk is not too far.  You enter the building and take the elevator up to the 10th floor.  Here you confirm your appointment time, and go through a simple security screening.  Just a quick bag scan and metal detector and I was through.  From there you get in line to get your number, where they also check to make sure that you have all your documentation in order.  I actually saw people being sent out of line to make sure they had the documentation, so make sure everything is in order.


Once you get your number, you wait for your number to be called, and then present your documents for your passport to be processed.  Just like at a regular acceptance facility, but instead they are sending them to a room in the back to be made. Because I was doing same day I was given a pick-up time of 2:00pm.  This is done with a will-call receipt that will allow you to access the office again when it is ready.  I arrived at 1:15pm because there is not really that much to quickly do in downtown (World of Coca-Cola, Georgia Aquarium, and CNN center can take quite a bit longer) I arrived at 1:15pm and was allowed back in after re-clearing security.  Then the wait was on, where they would call people up in batches of 3 as they were ready.  At 3:15pm my passport was ready, I was called up given it, and told to make sure everything was correct.  It was so I headed down to the airport and got ready to take a much needed vacation.


It took about 30 minutes after getting my number to be called.  The process was pleasant.  The waiting to pick my new passport up was annoying, but that is to be expected when trying to do same day.  Still had plenty of time to make a changed flight (I’ll be talking about that later).


Delta Heritage Museum Pictures

By Nick – Random Segments

I visited the Detla Heritage museum a couple of months ago, but have been delaying posting the pictures because I was debating on the best way to share them.  Rather than have a post that is extremely long with a huge amount of pictures and no real good organization to them, I decided to post them on Google+ in special albums dedicated by hangar.

Hangar 2 (With the Spirit of Delta)

Hangar 1 (Including interior of DC-3)

I know this makes this not as fun, but I wanted to get this out there, especially with the renovations about to begin.


Mainsail Suites Tampa Review

By Nick – Random Segments

While most of the time I stay in chain hotels to maximize points and benefits, there are times where circumstances prevent me from staying in a chain.  An extra night on a stay in Tampa provided to be one such situation.  I was returning home from a quick vacation, and they oversold all the flights to ATL for the day, so were needing volunteers.  I had the time, so took the bump, and they provided an overnight stay.  Unfortunately, most of the regular hotels were unavailable for the contracted rate, so I was placed at the Mainsail Suites.  It is located a couple of miles from Tampa International and provides shuttle service from the airport, and the return shuttle picks you up right outside of your building.

This is a hotel that is really just an apartment complex that is used as a hotel.  In fact, you would not believe it was a hotel except for the locks on the doors.


The welcome experience was pleasant but not outstanding.  Off the main reception is a restruant and a convenience mart (which was undergoing renovations during my stay.  Down the hall is the fitness center, business center, and out back is the pool and the hot tub.



The rooms are very basic apartments.  Generally what you expect to find when shopping for reasonable places around where you live. The nice thing is that you have a real kitchen instead of the standard extended stay kitchen of stovetop and microwave.



With a little welcome gift.




The bed was passable, but nothing special in the least.


The soaps are Archive, not one you usually encounter.  Decent, but again nothing special.  My one issue with the room is that the wireless is $9.95 a day, but the wired is free.  I was traveling with just my iPad, so was having to use my cellular data instead of a room connection.

Since I had dining certificates, I dined in the hotel, and had a reasonable fish and chips.  Again, nothing special, but a nice change from many hotel dining options.


Overall, this is a decent hotel for an extended stay.  The kitchen wins me over because of the oven for more in room cooking options.  Not luxurious, but when you need a place to crash, you can certainly do worse.


Delta Heritage Museum To Undergo Major Renovations

By Nick – Random Segments

Airline museums always provide some interesting experiences for the aviation geek to see old products and unique twists for the given airline providing the museum.  American has a museum on their campus at DFW, and Delta has theirs located at their corporate headquarters at ATL.  The museum is located in two hangers, the first built in 1941 and the second in 1947.  The hangers themselves are relatively unchanged since the airline moved technical operations to the east side of the airport.  That is about to change however.  

The museum is about to undergo a substantial overhaul, as a part of their goal to make the museum more of an attraction to employees and retirees, as well as expanding their target audience to school groups, and holding major events for Delta and the metro Atlanta community.  I was at a function where some of these plans are being detailed, as well as the timeline.

Right now the hangers are brown and pretty unremarkable.  However, they are going to be restored to white and the project is actually a restoration of the hangers to the original exterior design from when they were built.  As for flooring, hanger 1 will just have the concrete smoothed out, and polished to retain the distinctive markings caused by the installation of reinforced concrete to handle the increased weight that jets had over the propeller planes.  They are also adding a welcom theater which will play movies, and the seating in the theater are going to be the old BusinessElite seats that are being removed as the planes are being configured to lie flat.  They are relocating the facade of their first headquarters to serve as the entrance to the theater.

Hanger 2 is getting a major overhaul.  The floor is being redone to remove all of the tracking on the floor, and will be carpeted so as to improve acoustics.  In addition to being a part of the museum, this is the hanger that is going to be used to host events.  A catering kitchen is being installed to service these new functions.  In addition, above the catering kitchen will be a mezanine with both stair and elevator access.  The mezanine will then be the new entry point to The Spirit of Delta, conneccted via a jet bridge which is being removed from concourse T in ATL as a part of the airline’s renovation project at the airport. This will finally allow for The Spirit of Delta to be handicapped accessible (right now it is a stair truck that provides access).

Other updates for hanger 2 will be the installation of a full Convair 880 cockpit, and they are looking at also installing an old plane simulator (the possibility was mentioned that it may be a DC-9).  A new gift shop will be built in hanger 2, and the old facility (currently the fuselage of the first L-1011) will be relocated to the mezanine and used as a customer test experience center so they can bring customers in and show off potential new products.

This is a major project, and the timeline is quite ambitious.  Some pre-work has already begun.  Space is being cleared and configured for the new museum offices.  The official groundbreaking will be May 18 as a part of an internal employee celebration day.  This will be when Hanger 2 and The Spirit of Delta will close.  Hanger 1 will still be open until October, and both will reopen in April 2014 as a part of the new Delta Heritage Museum.  They are also working to improve access to the facility by possibly using a different entrance gate at the delta campus, which would have a historical Delta plane on the outside.  

I am currently working to go through the pictures I took from my visit yesterday, and hope to get them posted, but with this detailed information, I wanted to get the renovation plans and schedule out there so if anybody wants to get to the muesum before they start major closings they have the opportunity to do so.  To schedule a visit, you will have to call the gift shop at the Delta Heritage Museum at (404)773-1219 to get security credentials to be admitted at the gate of the Delta World Headquarters.  The Spirit of Delta and their DC-3 have special hours which are on the website.


Swiss International Airlines: Providing Time Travel As Well As Flights

By Nick – Random Segments

As a part of the Star Alliance MegaDo 4, I was on a Swiss flight from Zurich to San Francisco on the Airbus A340.  While I know many of you ignore the advertising that appears on the inflight entertainment system, this flight provided some real gems.  Let us start with their newest code share partner for North America


And next we have a series of other airlines that they recently started partnerships with.




So basically, according to the IFE, Swiss is becoming a member of oneworld.  But any fears were alleviated when there was advertising for the Swiss Travel Club, and this gem of a plane, being held up as one of the flagship types of their fleet.


I will have a review of Swiss Business Class coming up, but I figured everyone needed a laugh to start off the week.


Notes from Marketing, Product, and Social Media executives at the Star Alliance MegaDo 4/United DO

By Nick – Random Segments

For the second part of the notes from Q&A’s at the megado.

Social Media

United does realize just how bad their social media operation is.  However, they tried spinning it that they are working to improve as the general company is starting to gain an understanding of how important social media can be for shaping the image of the company.  In fact, the social media team has grown greatly since the merger closed.  At the time of the merger, there were only 2 employees dedicated to social media, and that number is now up to 6, and they are actively working to bring on more.

Another deficiency acknowledged is in the current design of the team.  Right now there are no reservations agents working on the team to address issues, and the social media team exists solely within marketing, and can only perform marketing activities.  This is noticed mostly when a customer tweets during IRROPS and gets no response.  Right now they are training reservations agents to be able to join the team so that the twitter account, to help passengers with issues during their travel experience.  Also, in the discussion, many of us were encouraging that even the marketing people just acknowledge tweets and messages posted as a way of just building the brand and creating a more personable feeling among the team.


This portion of the panel was quite contentious.  We were the second group to go through this panel, and as there are a multitude of complaints that various passengers have experienced with marketing, and specifically the website, this portion was very confrontational.

We were finally able to get acknowledgement of bugs existing in in mistake meal displays, as well as different pricing offered for serviced depending on if someone logs in.  Including the difference in the day of departure upgrade price.


A common complaint was the regional jet experience, from buy on board, just to the proliferation of regional jets.  Currently, they are working to expand the buy-on board program to include all flights, even though some United Express flights will have a limited selection.  They are also working to ensure that these will join the cashless cabin policy that currently exists on mainline flights.

Also, power is being installed on all aircraft.  Due to cost, the installation on parts of the fleet not undergoing a complete product refit, power outlets will only be available in front of the exit row.  Great for elites, but not so much for the average passengers not willing to pay for the premium seating options.


Notes from Hub and Airport Operations executives at the Star Alliance MegaDo 4/United DO

By Nick – Random Segments

So I have been spending the past week on the Star Alliance MegaDo 4.  In fact, I have not made it home, but there were some important notes that came from the executive panel Q&A sessions, as well as the information session with Jeff Smisek.  There are a lot of updates from this one, so I will give it its own post.

Hub and Airport Operations

While United has placed a basic gui ontop of SHARES for agents to use, a completely new integrated system will enter testing in the hubs next month continuing through Q1 2013.  As a part of the new system, many graphical interfaces and tools are designed to allow for technological pieces to be used across platforms.  For example, the seat map that agents will have uses the same technological resources as the website and the mobile applications.  This keeps information in sync and will provide more options in the future to devlop tools that are consistent across all platforms and users.  The system will also bring features that were never present in either Apollo or SHARES.  

Boarding is another area that has been a sore spot, and work is being done to ease the boarding process.  At some gates at ORD, they are reconfiguring the boarding lanes so that Premier Access and general boarding are not parallel lines, but instead go in different directions to keep the lines separate.  They are also working to reduce the number of boarding groups, as well as adjust the number to accomodate the aircraft type (since a CRJ-200 with 7 boarding groups is just crazy).  With some of the items being tested, they have been able to successfully load a packed 757 in 12 minutes, without any increase in the number of agents at the gate.  Also, as for seating configuration for most efficient boarding, they have encountered that Window-Middle-Aisle is the most efficient.

Carry-Ons are a major sore spot for passengers, and progress is coming on that front.  One thing that has held back United in getting aggressive in enforcement is that most gates do not have bag tag printers, as well as ways for gate agents to collect the bag fees at the gate for passengers who bring an oversized carry-on.  These two factors will provide a better tool so that agents can easily check bags, instead of having to do hand written tags, and hope that the passenger can be found.  This will also allow for the gate checked bags to be linked to reservations to facilitate tracking in case of irregular operations.

For those who fly regional jets out of ORD, there is great news that some of you may have noticed.  The T2 United Club is being replaced by a new location right above the McDonalds.  It will be 5 times the size of the current club, and is going to be the prototype for all new and renovated United Clubs, as this is the first club to open since the integration.  They are currently investigating the cost of turning the existing club into an expanded customer service counter to be able to better serve passengers during IRROPS, especially since regional jet flights are impacted at a greater rate than mainline.  All T2 gates will have jetbridges by the end of 2013, including F1, where a completely new setup is being built.  At IAH, after the next round of construction is complete, Terminal B will also have a new club, that will be better configured to handle passengers over the current club there.  LAX renovations will begin in 2014 as a part of the terminal refreshment program, so expect to see major improvements there then.

And a few customer service notes, that many of you will be glad to see.  All customer facing employees are in the process of going through customer service training to be completed by the end of the first half of 2013.  Also, they are starting to actively track customer complaints about bad service at EWR.  In addition to looking at the employees who are driving complaints, they are also working to process compliments and publically praising and rewarding agents who perform above and beyond to provide positive reinforcement to try and encourage them to perform better.  

As for dealing with agents from the combined carrier, the panel acknowledged that they are still working to get the policies in place to empower agents to help the customer.  The challenge is to tell agents to use common sense, and not create a hard policy that will just completely cause the boundries to be pushed.  Thus, if the policy for baggage were to be 50lbs +5% at the agents discretion, then it is very easy for that amount to become standard for luggage, and the amount has to be adjusted upward.  

And in miscellaneous notes, after ORD opened TSA pre-check, the throughput is greatly enhanced for that lane.  While a regular security lane is only able to handle 80 passengers an hour, the pre-check lane processes 300-350 passengers in an hour.  Also, they have been performing the uniform fittings for all airport employees, as they are ready to launch the new uniforms so that there will be a combined look to employees.  Below are pictures of the uniforms for the customer service agents and ramp workers.  Global Services employees will have a slightly different uniform.




Thoughts on United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner

By Nick – Random Segments

So for the Star Alliance MegaDo 4, the plane was advertised as being a reconfigured 767-400.  However, as the FAA filing for the event was published, there was an aircraft substitution that was never announced to everyone.  As everyone knows, sometimes that can be a bad thing, sometimes it can be a good thing.  In this case, it was a very good thing.  We were upgraded to the 787, which due to mechanical issues, United currently only has one while Boeing repairs the other.  Thus, we were the first North American charter flight aboard this aircraft.  While I’m not going to post a lot of pictures of the flight (there are way too many of them out there, and it was hard to get the really good pictures inside), I will give some thoughts on the experience.  

You really feel the engines taking off on this plane.  I mean seriously, the take off roll as you start launching down the runway is impressive, and feels really good.  On most planes, it is kind of steady, but this one you really feel the acceleration.  I was impressed.  This is not surprising, since it has a reasonable amout more thrust than a 767, as well as being quite a bit lighter.  Another advantage of this, is that the climb is much faster getting you to cruising altitude and out of your seats quicker.  Below is a screen grab from flight aware that covers the first segment in full, and most of the second segment as far as speed and altitude.


The windows are something that everyone already gushes about, and after seeing and using them, I understand why.  The ability to select how bright you want the window makes it quite pleasant to look out at the scenery without as much glare.  Now these do not go completely opaque, so if you are light sensitive when you sleep, you should be prepared for a little bit of light.  Now the surprise is that even the emergency exit door windows use the exact same control system.  And all the windows (even the emergency exit door windows) are much larger as promised, and it is a size difference you do notice if you are so inclined to enjoy the scenery outside the plane.

One caveat I do feel I need to give with the configuration United has chosen is how the seats recline in economy.  Unlike all of the existing seats on United’s planes, these seats recline by pushing the bottom of the seat forward.  This means your knees will get pushed forward.  At least unlike some airlines with this configuration, they did have the decency to have a softer seat back, and give an extra inch of pitch.  But if you can not deal with 32″ of pitch and then having your seat slide forward, then you will want to be aware and get out of regular economy and into economy plus.  

The entertainment system is standard, however as United is prone to do with the 787, they are pushing the dreamliner branding like crazy. 



The branding push continues with fact cards in every seat back, as well as a special 787 introduction from Jeff Smisek before the safety video.  However, on the plus side with that, there is no news about changes they are making that he thinks we will like 😉

And it did feel more comfortable because of the increased humidity, as well as the pressurization to a lower altitude.  However the flights were short enough that we were not able to really get the full benefit, since the segments were 3 hours and 2 hours.