The Top 10 Reasons I Loved Working At Gadling

Stephen Greenwood, AOL

We used to joke over the years about how lists in the media were increasingly trivializing the way in which content is consumed. Top 10 nude beaches. Top 10 Disney rides. Top 10 top 10s. I’ll admit, they can be ungratifying to write, but the platform in which we live now thrives on short form content, and the list has a significant role in that ecosystem. Ask Conde Nast how their slideshows with 2827 different slides are going.

It makes sense to leave Gadling with a top 10 list. I owe much of our success to our slideshows and lists, and though publishing our narrative work was always a point of pride, there was also a balance. Besides, you guys don’t need a long essay on blogging and my state of the travel media. We will always travel, we will always write, or at least I will. That’s most important.This is my last post at Gadling and a farewell, so to speak. It’s been a great six years, and I’ll miss some of this stuff the most.

Connectivity: I often compare Gadling to a house that’s on fire that will completely burn down unless I keep dumping water on it. Strangely, a part of me – a large part of me – will miss waking up at 3 a.m. confused and worried, making sure that Kraig Becker’s posts are scheduled for 8 a.m. the next day. I’ll miss stratifying features throughout every morning and wrestling with the frontpage of AOL.com for article placement. Being that connected with the news world is incredibly stimulating, and it’s something that I may never see again in my life.

Travel Conferences and Meetings: Vanity is a trait that runs too deep in writers, but if you look at conferences from the community rather than the career development perspective, they change a lot. Some of the best moments of my last six years have been sitting in bars after a Restless Legs reading (thanks Farley!) or at brunches in Vancouver. It’s a great time to catch up with old friends, Media 6.0 panel be damned.

Don George: In addition to being a legendary travel writer and Gadling’s features editor, Don has been an exceptional mentor to me and he’s turned into an incredible friend. Though I’m sure we’ll work together in the future, I’ll look back on this chapter of our working relationship with fondness.

The AOL community: Working at a media giant has been an eye opening experience for me (free Redbull?!) and I’ve been exposed to a great deal of really outstanding people on my journey through the system. Thanks to Willy Volk (now at The Huffington Post) and Justin Glow (now at Vox) for bringing me into the fold, to Kaylee King and Neil Katz (now at Weather), Patrick Batu (now at Time Warner), Beth Caulfield (now at Hilton) and Jared Smith for making me part of AOL, to Adam Rose and Adam Goldberg for dragging me through The Huffington Post and to Arianna Huffington, Fara Warner and Michael Yessis for letting the show go on.

I would be remiss to not mention some of the best support staff in the world at AOL as well. Cheers to Greg Roman (the developer), Dori Solomon (the lawyer) and Ken Shadford (the video producer) for helping us along the way. Gadling would have never been successful without you guys.

Access: Though I never used my press credentials for free rooms at the Ritz Carlton or upgrades on Singapore Air, working with Gadling gave me great access to the inside of the travel industry. I met the head pilot at V Australia, got to see the insides of numerous airports and had phone calls returned when I needed a quote for a story. That sort of access is precious.

The Nice PR People: I’m still convinced that several of my friends in public relations are paid to be nice to me, but I don’t care anymore. You know who you are. Thanks.

The Ridiculous Email Avalanche: About eight months after starting as editor at Gadling I got put onto the hit list for PR contacts. Now I get hundreds of emails a day pitching everything from iPhone cases (why?) to hotel packages in Vanuatu (nope) to misdirected emails for random team members.

My favorite email came after Chris Elliott wrote a joke post on April Fools this year claiming that he was the new editor of the site followed by an obviously fake post. The nice folks from Cision almost had a heart attack.

Funny thing: I actually enjoy getting a deluge of email every day. There’s something about an inbox that’s constantly churning that makes me feel needed. Vanity, I guess.

The Ping-Pong Table at 770 Broadway: Yes, I came in on several Saturdays and played a few games over beers. Sorry TA.

The peanut gallery of travel writers: Twitter has done wonders for keeping the travel writing community connected, and I’ve made many friendships there and across other media. Standout journeys include tracking down CBC Radio’s Jonathan Goldstein to eventually put together the wonderful series “In Bali with Baggage,” working with puzzlemaster Will Shortz on the “Four Down Two Across” Vines, numerous secret brunches with Jason Clampet and hundreds of nights out with the Nomading Film Fest founders or the Farley brigade.

My team, the Gadling bloggers: At this point on the job I think I hired every single person on our blogging team at Gadling, and I’m pleased to say that they’re the most respectable and intelligent group in the community. They were gracious when working with sponsors, not demanding when applying their credentials and smart about working with AOL. And they put up with me, a constantly stressed out and always-traveling editor. Keep up the good work guys. I love you all.

That’s it. Six long years ends with the June payroll and me locking myself out of the CMS. It’s been a great trip everyone. See you out on the road.

– Grant Martin

Follow Crossword Puzzle Editor Will Shortz Through Alaska This Week

You might know Will Shortz from his work at The New York Times editing the daily crossword puzzle or maybe from his work on NPR as the puzzlemaster on Weekend Edition. Where you probably don’t know him is from the table tennis community.

In his second, or maybe third life, Mr. Shortz is, in fact, an avid table tennis player, and even owns his own club in upstate New York. He and his friend and colleague Robert Roberts manage the Westchester Table Tennis Center, spending their time organizing and hosting tournaments and developing the local community.

They take their hobby on the road as well, from puzzle tournaments to club visits around the planet, and this year Will plans to play (and film) 365 straight days of table tennis. As part of that effort, he’s agreed to take Gadling on the road for a week of his journey as he and Robert travel across Alaska. They’ll be leaving this afternoon, the fifth of June for their weeklong trip, and during the effort they’ll provide daily Vines documenting their journey across the nation’s largest state.

Check back daily for a slice of Will and Robert’s trip across Alaska, or you can follow along at the link here.

American’s New Boarding Process Could Probably Maybe Not Speed Up Boarding

Fly For Fun, Flickr

Airlines are constantly experimenting with new, more efficient ways to board airplanes. A faster turnaround time on the ground means more on-time flights, which translates to better revenue for the carrier. So anything that they can do to speed up the process is in their best interest. Oh – and if it makes the process easier for the passengers then that’s a decent side benefit as well.

Back in March, our friend Johnny Jet was the first to report on a new strategy that American Airlines was testing to hasten the whole boarding process. Coming soon, passengers without overhead bags will be allowed to board the plane prior to other (but after preferred) passengers. With no bags, they can quickly disburse onto the plane and into their seats without clogging the aisle. The next batch of passengers with bags will hopefully then be less hindered when loading.

The policy is being widely implemented and reported right now. How much will it speed up the process? American claims that this will save about two minutes a flight, though that average is spread across thousands of flights in which millions of permutations of boarding issues (full overhead bins, surly passengers, surly crew) can occur. Given the wide statistical nature of the process, passengers probably register much of a difference in timing.

What they will notice is a slight modification to the boarding zones, though this change still wont relieve the gate lice congestion. If American could come up with a solution for that problem, we’d be impressed.

Metropol Parasol: The Largest Wooden Structure In The World

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The largest wooden structure in the world is surprisingly hidden in a quiet neighborhood of Seville, Spain. Called the Metropol Parasol, the 490 by 230-foot monstrosity floats casually above La Encarnación square like a space ship landing in the middle of a city. Underneath, Spaniards siesta and carry about everyday life oblivious to the intrusion, while visitors can ride an elevator up to the top of the structure and explore the flowing architecture. Make sure to explore market underneath the Parasol as well – though it’s got a modern layout reflective of the parent structure, there’s plenty of Iberico jamon and Rioja to remind of you of the old world.

[Photo Credits: Grant Martin and Liz Telschow]

How To Deal With The Ridiculous New Airline Change Fees

The big news in the travel industry this week was that United and US Airways raised the cost of changing tickets from $150 to $200. This means that if you need to change your ticket for any reason prior to departure, whether you got stuck in traffic on the way to the airport or your pet goldfish died, you’re going to have to pay a little bit more.

Gouging? Probably. Expected? Definitely. As airline prices continue their slow appreciation over the years decouple from the actual inflation rate, they’re turning to more and more ancillary fees in order to gain revenue. We saw it in baggage fees and in-fight meals and entertainment. Ticketing fees were bound to increase.

Rather than get angry about the fees, let’s focus on moving forward. Change fees only apply when you need to change your ticket, so the first thing that passengers can try to do is book the right ticket. A little-known rule when purchasing tickets is that the airlines have to give passengers 24 hours to cancel or change a reservation. At American Airlines you can put a ticket on hold until midnight the next day. United will let you cancel a reservation at no charge within 24 hours. And online travel agents like Orbitz and Expedia will cancel most reservations within 24 hours if you call their customer support and carefully draw out your complaint.How does holding or canceling a reservation empower a passenger? It lets you find the right ticket, book it, think about your schedule over night and finalize your itinerary. Not a week goes by when I don’t have one or two tickets on hold at AA.com – it’s both a failsafe and a backup if the price changes the next day.

Once booked, it behooves a traveler to know your schedule. We’re in an era of ultra-long security lines, mergers and sequester delays, so plan ahead and get to the airport early. On the flip side of that equation, if the airline is delayed because of bad weather or a mechanical issue, the leverage transfers to the passenger. Take a look at the departures board and try to get on an alternate flight on the same airline. Usually the passenger change fee is waived if the airline is experiencing irregular operations (IRROPS).

In the worst case when you actually do miss your flight, your options are fairly limited, but a little known rule that is still in effect on some airlines might save you some time. Called the flat tire rule, this loophole might let you change your itinerary to a later departing flight at little or no cost – but you have to know how to frame your complaint. Consumer writer Chris Elliott has a series of great articles on the topic, which varies by airline. You can read the thorough reporting here.

As with most changes to ancillary fee pricing, it’s important to note that these changes only apply to everyday travelers on deeply discounted tickets. One could logically get around these fees by purchasing semi flexible or fully refundable fares, or by reaching the top tiers of an airline’s elite program. But 95% of passengers won’t have the time or financial means to make this investment, especially when fully flexible fares are often 2-3 times the cost of an economy ticket.

Unfortunately, your best bet to avoid change fees lies in carefully planning your itinerary and executing on the day of departure. In the worst case, you’ll get to the airport a couple of hours early and will need to visit the pretzel counter at Auntie Annies.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user dykstranet]