Follies And Fixes In Long-Haul Travel

TheeErin via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It was not yet 6 a.m., but I had a bad feeling about how the day was going to go. The stone faced desk clerk had no interest in checking me in here in Vienna, not to mention through to my final destination, Seattle.

“No. Different booking.”

“But it’s with the same airlines…”

“Different booking. No.”

“So I’ll have to…”

“You’ll need to collect your bag in Amsterdam, and then check in again when you get there. Take your bag to the departures desk.”

“I don’t understand. These flights are on the same airlines. Can you check me in, at least, so I can drop my bag…”

“No. Different booking.”

I gave up. Priority club, my ass.I accepted the boarding pass for my flight from Vienna to Amsterdam and headed through security. I told myself to chill, my stop was six hours and I had a lounge pass tucked into my wallet. I’d recheck in Amsterdam and then spend the morning napping in the KLM lounge.

At the check-in desk in Amsterdam, I asked the clerk what the problem was, why I couldn’t check in, why I couldn’t get my bag through.

“It’s terrible,” she said, “but they’re responsible for your luggage. If they lose it, they have to pay to have it shipped. They don’t want to do that.”

“But it’s with the same airline, both of my flights are KLM/Delta.”

“I know,” she admitted. “It makes no sense.” She shook her head.

I felt somewhat placated. It wasn’t a huge annoyance, but I wanted someone to agree that it was ridiculous. Off I went to clear security again and to breathe the rarified air of the frequent flier lounge.

“No. This pass is no good here.”

“But it says on the website that …”

“Yes, but not for day passes. We don’t take the day pass here. Delta doesn’t pay for the use of the lounge, so we don’t take their passes.”

I thought I’d understood the rules; I’d read them before buying my pass. I couldn’t bring a guest, but I only wanted to bring… myself. Obviously I had not studied the small print with enough detail. And I’d made the mistake of asking the KLM Twitter account, not the Delta Twitter account, about access. What I don’t understand about airline partnerships could fill a book.

“You can buy a pass for 45 Euros.”

I’d spent 50 dollars to buy the lounge pass. It’s not so much money, but I was getting crankier and crankier. I was trying not to get angry. I was tired. I’d been up since 4:30 that morning. I knew I’d be tired; I rarely sleep well before a long flight.

“But you’re partners,” I said. “You give me partner status everywhere else.”

“Let me see what I can do,” said the desk clerk, who then called a supervisor, a cool woman in uniform who offered to sell me a pass for 45 Euros. I looked at the KLM agent, angry at her and at myself for not making sure I’d understood the small print.

I told myself to chill. Again. Schiphol is a nice airport. There are worse places to spend a few hours drinking coffee and people watching and dozing in lounge chairs. There’s good food, and Wi-Fi that’s not great, but is fast enough for complaining on Twitter about how you’re angry at your airlines.

“Get more coffee,” I thought. “You’re just tired. This isn’t a big deal.”

I got coffee and juice and a sandwich on good brown bread with very fresh mozzarella. I opened my laptop and complained. I drank my juice. I drank my coffee. I hammered away on my keyboard, the picture of a crabby, tired traveler on a stopover.

This business with my lounge pass was the last act in a comedy of errors in my travels to Europe and back. Thanks to a cargo problem on my outbound flight two weeks earlier, my connection in Schiphol to Frankfurt was airtight. I was the last passenger to board the plane – my luggage would not make it. I was not particularly worried. I’d seen a series of flights to Frankfurt following mine. Worst case? My bag would show up while I was sleeping. I could chill.

I went to report the missing luggage at the Delta counter in Frankfurt.

“You need KLM,” said the man at the desk.

“But I checked in on Delta… and there’s nobody there.”

“There HAS to be somebody there,” he said, clearly exasperated, and then, walked me back to the KLM desk. There was nobody there. I walked out into arrivals and asked at the information desk, and then, was directed back into the baggage hall.

The clerk had materialized, removed the “Closed” sign, and was taking missing baggage reports from two impatient Israelis who’d boarded just before I did. It was my turn.

“Here’s your claim number and the website where you can find out when your bags will arrive.”

I stowed the printout with my documents and headed to the hotel. It took me 15 minutes to get there. My luggage was reported on the ground and ready for delivery not long after I’d had lunch. At about 12 hours, I asked for help in calling the number given to me by the clerk at the baggage desk.

“Oh, lord, don’t call that number! They’ll charge you by the minute!”

“Wait, I have to pay them to tell me where my stuff is? That’s crazy.”

I checked with customer service online. “Your luggage is on the ground and ready for delivery,” they said.

“Well, I KNOW that,” I replied. “I’ve know that for 24 hours now.” My bag did finally appear, nearly 36 hours after I’d arrived.

“We’re sorry for the delay,” said the note from KLM. “We hope you understand.”

I’d had it with ground services by the time I returned to Schiphol two weeks later. Any one of these events in isolation I’d have written off as bad luck, a bad day, or general travel mishaps. But the aggregation was making me irritable. The Delta KLM partnership began to feel like a an embittered marriage, kept together for the sake of the kids. I imagined them bickering after the little airplanes had gone to bed. “You said you would…”

I gazed past the plastic chairs and iPad-using Germans and families of bleary Americans in sweatshirts, breakfasting in various states of disconnection with their surroundings. Just on the edge there was the pale purple glow of the Yotel, a pod hotel that offers hourly cabins with showers. I looked at my crumpled, useless lounge pass, at my overpriced juice, at my angry typing on the weak Wi-Fi and then, I checked in for three and a half hours of attitude adjustment.

It cost me 46 Euros for the stay. For that, I got a tiny, clean, super efficient cabin with a comfortable single bunk, a shower and toilet, a TV (which I did not turn on), a powerful Wi-Fi connection, unlimited non-alcoholic drinks (which I did not take sufficient advantage of) and some much needed private space in which to reset my state of mind.

It was money well spent. When I checked out of my cabin after a short nap and some silent lethargy, I felt human again.

Airline partner terms are unclear, delays happen, the mystery of why you can check in here and not there – these things are all part of the process. The follies of transit are a critical part of travel and often, they are unavoidable. As a seasoned traveler, it’s rare that I let this stuff get under my skin.

But sometimes, when patience wears thin, you can throw a few bucks at a problem and not make it go away, but at least make it better. Upgrade your seat to Economy Plus, spring for a taxi and get an airport hotel the night before the early flight. Don’t buy the Day Pass, that way lies madness, but get yourself something nice. Travel is totally glam, but sometimes, it’s wearing and takes a toll. Give yourself a break. Book the pod for a few hours and make yourself human again.

Plus, you can use that refreshed energy for complaint letters to the airlines on the long flight home.

Inside Air France’s New Lounge And S4 Satellite At Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport

air france parisWe just returned from a week of international travel, and let’s just say that the international lounge is one of our favorite perks of traveling business class. Sadly, our connection in Charles de Gaulle was far too short (read: we ran from plane to plane) to catch their new S4 satellite in terminal 2E or Air France’s brand new lounge, which opened late last week.

If you’re flying with Air France or any of the SkyTeam partners through Paris, the $580 million euro new satellite offers 10,000 square meters of boarding area for international passengers and 3,000 square meters of lounge, the largest in the Air France Network.

Aéroports de Paris has paid particular attention to the needs of its passengers, offering traditional French shops and restaurants as well as 25,000 square meters dedicated to the boarding lounges – the equivalent of 128 tennis courts.

A museum will also shortly be opening at the satellite, presenting original works from famous museums in Paris.

Air France’s new $16 million euro, 620-seat business class lounge is a welcome respite for international travelers, offering numerous places to unwind and plug in as well as Wi-Fi access, digital tablets and computers. You can snag hot and cold foods (they have a risotto bar!) as well as beverages (great French wine!) and a variety of presentations focusing on French cuisine at your convenience.

Our favorite part about the facility? The on-site Clarins spa. What can we say? We’re beauty product junkies. Their business class and premium economy vanity kits already come with moisturizer but really, who wants to primp at 36,000 feet? Three dedicated treatment rooms offer body and face touch ups, and ten dedicated showers let travelers refresh as needed.

Of course, you could always just relax on one of the lounge chairs, but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

Has anyone test driven the lounge yet? Is it as nice as photos suggest, or do you have another favorite? Weigh in with your comments, below.

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Hip-hop mogul Jay-Z to open 40/40 club sports bars at select airports

40/40 club

Jay-Z (yes – THAT Jay-Z) issued a press release this morning, outlining his plans to open several 40/40 clubs at “select airports”. The first of his eight 40/40 clubs opened in New York City in 2003 and since then, locations have opened around the country, as well as abroad.

The airport club concept will offer passengers a stylish sports bar and lounge. Very little was revealed about the exact theme or design of the airport clubs, but you can probably expect a decent bar service, along with a variety of TV screens showing sports games.

The clubs are a collaboration between Jay-Z and airport hospitality firm Delaware North. A spokesman for Delaware North had the following to say:

“We are thrilled to partner with the 40/40 Club, to bring a stylish sports bar and lounge to airports across the country. From the personalized, one-of-a-kind jerseys on the wall, to every sports game you can think of on the television screens, the club will bring a new experience that we are sure travelers will welcome.”

To me, this means they have probably never been to an airport and seen one of the many Fox Sports Bars around the nation where a very similar experience has been offered for years.

Still, I’m sure there is enough interest in a 40/40 club at airports, the market for airside booze is massive – revenue from thirsty passengers is a great incentive to sell as much liquor as possible. After all, who doesn’t love a $6 beer with some $12 nachos before their flight?

[Photo: Getty Images]

Worst travel mistakes of the 2000’s : Locked in the lounge

As we look back at the past ten years, and prepare ourselves for the next ten, lets take a moment to remember the dumbest mistake we ever made when traveling. For the coming week, we’ll entertain you with embarrassing stories of our dumbest travel mistakes, all for the sole purpose of your entertainment.

For me, the dumbest thing I did in the past ten years was fall asleep in the airport arrivals lounge.

It all happened when I arrived at Heathrow after a quick trip to New York. As I had a 4 hour layover, I decided to go landside for a full (free) English breakfast in the lounge followed by a quick shower. I then took “a short nap” in the serenity room.

This room was probably one of the quietest and most comfortable in the airport, because I was awoken by a security guard 17 hours later. This also happened to be a full 9 hours after the lounge had closed for the day. I either set off the alarm, or he was on his rounds checking for stupid people who fall asleep in the lounge.

A British Airways representative met me and apologized profusely for failing to notice I was still in the lounge. The airline then took care of rebooking me for a flight to Amsterdam the next morning, and provided a room at the airport Sheraton.

This is by no means the only stupid thing I’ve done during my many years of traveling, but it is the one that has stuck with the most – and the one that always brings back fond memories of the almost 325 trips I took passing through Heathrow Airport.

Tomorrow we’ll bring you another story of a dumb travel mistake, and later this week you’ll have the chance to tell us your own favorite – with a chance at winning a fantastic prize!

3M wants to feed you and give you a nice shoulder rub

Travelers passing through Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport on November 25th and 26th will be able to get some soothing pampering, courtesy of 3M (yeah, the Post-It people).

As part of a promotion for their laptop privacy screens, 3M has created a site dedicated to revealing airport secrets.

Airporthavens.com has some fantastic tips, including where to find some free desktop workstations at Miami International, or a hidden lounge at LAX. Visitors can even submit their own hidden airport tips.

The 3M Airport Haven lounge will be open from 8am to 5pm, and you’ll be able to locate it on the 3rd floor of the Atrium at the Atlanta Airport Executive Conference Center. The lounge will feature free Wi-Fi, snacks, beverages and of course, free massages.

I can’t think of a better way to start the crazy travel season than a nice soothing massage and a cold beverage. Can you?