Monday, January 30, 2006

Time is money? No, time is miles.

I'm looking at going to a conference in Mexico City in March. As usual, Northwest's web site can't find its way anywhere from Hilo, and this time, it can't even find its way from Kona. So I decided to look from Honolulu. After all, I'm pretty sure I can get from Hilo to Honolulu and back, thanks to Hawaiian's inter-island flights.

The shortest and thus most logical way of getting to Mexico City and back, from Hilo, is:

Hilo > Honolulu > Los Angeles > Mexico City > Los Angeles > Honolulu > Hilo

That's 216 + 2553 + 1552 = 4,321 miles each way, or 8,642 round-trip. Since there's a 500 mile minimum per flight for frequent flyer miles, it'd actually be worth 9,210 frequent flyer miles, if I did it all on airlines that I earn miles on.

But... I found a decent price (on airlines I earn miles on) for:

Hilo > Honolulu > San Francisco > Atlanta > Mexico City > Detroit > Cincinnati > Honolulu > Hilo

That's 12,776 miles round-trip... and worth 13,614 frequent flyer miles. And it's pretty similar price-wise to what I was finding for shorter routings.

So, hmmm. Do I choose to spend a lot more time on airplanes, but not necessarily any more money? :)

On-time flights: perception, or reality?

In the last year and a half, I've flown on Air France, Air India, Alitalia, Aloha, American, British, China Airlines, Hawaiian, KLM, Northwest, Ted, and United. (Nice selection, eh?) Most of them tended to be more or less on-time (give or take a few minutes) most of the time. On my most recent trip, though, I had one Air France flight, one KLM flight, and four Northwest flights... and every single one departed on-time and got in early. One flight stopped to drop off passengers, then made a 30-minute hop to its final destination, and even on that 30-minute hop, it was 8 minutes early.

This impressed me greatly, but it also made me wonder what was going on. These airlines fly the same equipment (Boeing or Airbus) as everyone else. The routes I flew are unfortunately ones that no one else flies exactly, so it's impossible to compare their scheduled flight times to others. 

They do operate out of airports that are slightly less busy, which could reduce ground delays. For example, in 2004, Amsterdam-Schipol (KLM/Northwest) saw 42 million passengers - much less than the 51 million at Frankfurt-Main (Lufthansa/United) or the 67 million at London-Heathrow (British/American). Seattle (Northwest) saw 28 million, compared to 33 million at San Francisco (United), 42 million at Denver (United) or 60 million at Los Angeles (American).

But there's also the possibility that they're just being clever and padding their schedules a bit. If they know a route takes an hour, saying it takes an hour and ten minutes lets them get in ten minutes "ahead of schedule" on average, right? I'm not sure whether this actually happens at all though. I looked at one route a lot of airlines fly - Honolulu to Los Angeles - and Northwest's flight duration of 5:03 was actually the shortest listed, with others ranging up to 5:20. Weird...

So I'm really not sure what's up, or why all these flights get in early, while, say, United's get in late more often than not. Anybody know?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A few thoughts on Paris


Traffic isn't too bad. The Metro and train systems work really well. Fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice at breakfast is apparently a basic human right. The croissants are soft and flaky and buttery, like croissants are supposed to be, but almost never are anywhere else. Good food can be had. People are generally kinda nice. Lots of pretty old buildings.


Too many people still haven't figured out that they could be even more glamorous if they didn't smoke. There's only one channel (BBC World) in English, and it repeats every 30 minutes. The food is different enough to complicate things, and some of it is just kinda gross to think about (foie gras, anyone?).

So, overall, Paris seems a nice place to visit, and even a nice place to be very very busy. I'm not sure what I'd do if I had a lot of free time, though. :)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Mainland flights return to Hilo!

For the last couple years at least, Hilo has been the only major jet airport in Hawaii without direct airline flights to North America. Honolulu, of course, is served by all kinds of airlines. Most major US airlines also serve Kahului on Maui. American, Northwest and United serve Kona, across the island from Hilo, and even Lihue on Kauai gets flights from American and United. ATA also flies to Honolulu and Kahului.

Anyway, ATA just announced that they're going to start daily non-stops between Hilo and Oakland, California.

This presents a bit of a quandry. On the one hand, we've flown ATA before and they did a good enough job, and they're allied with Southwest, which is also reasonably priced, so they might be good for family trips. On the other hand, neither of them is allied with anybody else particularly useful when it comes to going overseas, so they're basically a non-starter for my world travel.

I'm hoping that other airlines (Northwest, are you listening?) will add direct flights between Hilo and the mainland as a result. (And honestly, I bet Hawaiian could easily 767s on routes like Honolulu-Kahului-Mainland, Honolulu-Kona-Mainland or Honolulu-Hilo-Mainland... it'd just undercut their inter-island flights somehwat.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Murphy works for an airline


Fifteen thousand miles. 25 days. Two generally (and some would say deservedly) bankrupt airlines.

What could possibly go wrong?

The plan called for:


And then, a week later:

ITO-HNL AQ 49 (UA 4959)

And then, a week later:


And then, a week and a half later:

HNL-ITO AQ 68 (UA 4904)


UA 7597 was delayed out of Montreal due to snow at O'Hare, so it reached Chicago too late for me to catch UA 519. United rebooked me - well, once I found a live employee in their main hub airport at 10 PM - on UA 1 to Honolulu the next day; no seats were available on Hawaiian's later flights so I was forced to buy a ticket (full-fare) on Aloha, and I don't even remember the flight number, but I got home later than expected, which wasn't good since I was going straight to work. And of course my bags (which I kinda needed) came in on the flight after me.

The trip back to Chicago Midway went reasonably well. While I was in Chicago, I got a call from United asking if the whole trip home from Philly could be rebooked on later flights, since they'd oversold the non-stop from O'Hare to Honolulu. Even though they didn't offer me any compensation for this, I agreed, since it'd mean an hour's more sleep the morning of the trip. So that turned into:

HNL-ITO AQ 48 (UA 4958)

By now, those of you who've kept count will note that of 11 flights I was originally scheduled to be on, I wound up on... 5. Not good.

I tried calling the night before our departure from Philadelphia, but United's systems were down, and the phone folks couldn't do anything. Nor could United's web site.

We arrived at Philadelphia more than an hour and a half before flight time, to find a huge, and rather non-linear, "line" for check-in. Evidently someone at United headquarters thought it'd be a good idea to have four flights leave within a relatively short time, and didn't stop to think about how many check-in agents this might require. The check-in agents were dealing with the stress this caused by... yelling at customers! Once we made it through check-in and security, we found out the flight was being delayed because our federal government couldn't come up with enough security staffers to scan the baggage quickly. Way to spend our tax dollars, folks. The flight finally took off about an hour late, and aside from some demonstrations of what a "mountain wave" means, went well enough.

In San Francisco, we had enough time to find our gate and buy some water before boarding the next plane. That was all. This flight managed to only be about a half-hour late.

In Honolulu, we went straight to the gate, got in line (first in the general boarding line, I might add) and then waited. The flight came in late... then they were "servicing" it, then "servicing" turned into "getting a different aircraft at another gate" - and we wound up at the back of that line.

We got in an hour after the airport in our town usually closes for the night. Fortunately, our bags decided to be on the same flight this time, and we grabbed the first taxi we could. The fare was about $11, but I gave the driver $20 and told her to keep the change - we were just so glad to be home at last.

Then we tried to go to our favorite restaurant but it was closed for the evening due to some kind of emergency.

*shakes fist at air*

So of 7 flights on United, 4 were late, 3 of them by at least an hour, and in one case causing a missed connection, requiring rebooking, additional expenses, lost wages, and baggage issues. Throw in rude check-in agents, crash-prone computer systems and general difficulty getting hold of anyone to actually get things straightened out, and I can see why United would be having a hard time making a profit.

As for Aloha, only one of 3 flights was late, but it was a 50-minute flight delayed by an hour. All 3 flights were unpleasant, due to old, loud planes, generally unhelpful ground staff (I walked up to one counter, boarding pass in hand, and the man behind the counter walked away without even looking up) and in-flight "service" that could be improved upon by eliminating it. Small wonder Aloha also just spent a length of time in bankruptcy.

On the bright side, I've now got somewhere close to fifteen thousand miles in United's program. On the down side, I'm not comfortable with the idea of flying either of the airlines on which I'd be most likely to use those miles!

Why I'm leaving Twitter.

I've stuck it out and continued participating on Twitter while Elon Musk has run it into the ground, made it progressively more inhospit...