Photo of the Day – Sicilian man

This elegant gentleman was captured in Sicily by Flickr user TravelSeminar. The weathered creases that line his face, the pulled back curtains and shy grin all suggest a moment of welcome and openness. It’s the perfect visual accompaniment to a brand new year – take it as an invitation to get your own travel plans off to a great start. Here’s wishing you all the best in 2012!

Have any great travel shots of your own? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Photo of the Day (2-4-09)

The woman in the photo was sorting rice in Luang Nam Tha, Laos back in February 2008. I would venture to say that the same woman is still sorting rice in this careful, quiet way of doing work that sustains people. This is the type of work that is never quite done, but remains important year after year.

Whenever I have watched women like the one in this photo by Laura Itzokowitz, I am struck by the calming effect that removing bits of grass, twig and stones from rice can have on the world.

If you have a photo to be considered for a Photo of the Day pick, send it our way at Gadling’s Flickr photo pool.

Galley Gossip: A question about losing booked seats on the airplane

Dear Heather,

I have a question. We have a flight booked to Orlando with an airline that has seat assignments. Twice they have changed our seats so that we are not sitting together. The first time we were able to have it corrected. But this time, I guess the flight is completely booked and so far they have not been able to find us two seats together. My concern is that my mother is a senior and afraid to fly. Is there anything I can do? And why do the airlines do this? We booked months in advance and used this airline to make sure we would be sitting together. We flew to Orlando last year and did not have this problem. Does this happen often? Just wondering and looking for advice.

Thank you.


Dear Sue,

I’m sorry to hear of your troubles with the airline. What happened to you is not right and unfair. Now I could tell you why I believe this keeps happening, but the truth is I don’t know for sure, so I emailed your question to my friend who is an agent for the same airline I work for at the Los Angeles International Airport.

Before I share what my friend, the agent, had to say, I just want you to know that I understand what you’re going through, having to worry about whether or not you’ll be able to sit next to your elderly mother, as I have a two year-old I travel with regularly. When traveling on my flight benefits, the odds of getting two seats together are slim to none. There’s nothing worse than having to beg and bribe people to switch seats. Talk about stress.

Sure, you can ask the flight attendant to help you, but due to the fact that the flights are staffed with minimum crew, and the crew is busy checking emergency equipment, setting up the galleys, greeting passengers at the door, and dealing with all that carry-on luggage that will not fit into the overhead bin, the flight attendants will not be able to assist until the boarding process is over. Boarding, by far, is the busiest time for a flight attendant, which is why you probably won’t see one until seconds before the aircraft door is shut, which just adds to your stress. You don’t need more stress. You’ve been through enough already.

Now here’s what my friend, the agent, had to say about your lost seats, and what you can do about it in the future…

Yes, it happens more often than not, unfortunately. Some of the time it is an equipment change, meaning the original aircraft scheduled is switched out for one of many reasons (a completely different panel of Q & A’s). When this happens all of the reserved seats are dropped and need to be re-assigned. If there is a schedule change (sometimes people are unaware of it because it may only be by a few minutes), this will cause seat assignments to drop, too. This is probably one of the most frustrating situations for not only passengers, but for agents as well,because most of the time the solution cannot be reached until you are standing at the gate prior to boarding the flight.

My suggestion: call the airlines and inform them that your mother needs wheelchair assistance (Even if she doesn’t, because she is elderly). At the time of the call, ask again if there are seats together because of the fact she will need assistance. If they are unable to switch them over the phone, don’t just take the closest seats together (especially if one is a middle seat). Instead opt to take a window and an aisle. Once you get to the airport and remind them you need a wheelchair, ask again if they can change seats. Most likely they will advise you to ‘check at the gate’. Please be patient. Although I realize this is frustrating, it’s not over yet.

Once you get to the gate, go to the gate agent. The gate agent has the ability to unblock seats and if willing to help, could page some people to switch a window next to your mom for the window you are holding, for example. If all else fails, once you get onboard the aircraft (and by the way, if your mom takes the wheelchair ride, you’ll be boarded first), ask the people seated near you or near your mom to swap seats.

As an agent, I see this day in and day out, and I sympathize with your aggravation. My grandparents had a similar situation last year when traveling for the holidays. I gave them the same advice after they were getting upset when they weren’t getting anywhere over the phone. I urged them to be patient and polite (agents do not respond well to screamers) and ask at the points I suggested. Sure enough, hours later, they arrived safely and at the last minute – they were about to give up – were able to swap seats and sit together on the flight after all.

I hope that helps, Sue. Thanks for writing and good luck!


Photos courtesy of Joshuacw (top of page) and Viviandnguyen (above)

Yet another terribly depressing airline tale

I just came across an almost-unbelievable story of how downright mean US airlines have gotten. Customer service stateside simply can’t compare to the elegance of Singapore Air or even the straightforwardness of EasyJet and Ryanair. The front-page Washington Post story tells the sad tale of a 78-year-old woman who was forced to take a 3-leg flight on three separate airlines to catch a cruise she spent 10 years saving for.

Of course, one of the connecting flights was delayed. Her subsequent flight was full, as was the next one, and the next one. At this point, a passenger who had gotten a seat offered it up for her, but Northwest Airlines refused. The kicker: they also refused to let her use a corporate phone to call home.

More fiascos ensued. The cruiseline, Princess Cruises, was also to blame for keeping her $2,500 and when one of the airlines, United, finally refunded her money, it went to Princess! Even the government thinks this is all too much. “Princess is adding insult to injury,” a FTC spokesman was quoted saying.

What has the travel industry come to when everyone’s squeezing a 78-year-old woman for all she’s worth?

A Canadian in Beijing: My First Farewell

My friend Sarah left yesterday and Beijing seems different now. Sarah was one of the people that I met on the Internet before coming. Well, actually, we met over email as she was one of several people who had been forwarded my proposal and my plans to come to Beijing. She wrote offering pointers and friendship for when I arrived. I took her up on both. It was Sarah who really provided my opening view into how Beijing works and where to check out the local scene. In fact, Sarah became one of my first friends here in China and I am really sad to see her go.

I have been told that I ought to get used to it. Ex-pats come and go here, some staying as little as a few weeks or a few months (like me) and others who stay a year or more on longer contracts or for longer school terms. There is a constant stream of greetings and farewells and the parties to go with it.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I also became the recipient of lots of Sarah’s “stuff” like her cookware, her bike, carpets for my dorm room and some excellent guide books to Beijing. I told her to make me her receptacle for any leftovers that she might not want to take back to Australia with her and I eagerly accepted whatever she had to offer. (Thank you Sarah!)

A few weeks ago, when she had to move out of her apartment early, I helped her down with her “stuff-to-keep” and we proceeded to get lots of weird looks for sitting on the dirty Beijing sidewalk with a bunch of random boxes and bags. Sarah lived here for six months already and so I can only imagine the huge transition it would be to dismantle one’s life and proceed to the next adventure. My guts twist around just thinking about leaving after three months here! We sat there together for about fifteen minutes waiting for a friend and then a taxi, just talking and taking it all in – the people, her neighbourhood and the whole experience of moving on.

A very loud elderly Chinese woman approached us and began to berate us about sitting in front of the stuff. She kept saying “you’re going to lose it” and it took me awhile to realize that she meant that we would lose the possessions because our eyes were not on them. Her anger was palpable and she reached over and wrenched my head around to look at the items, pushing my shoulders to face the bags as though I were a child that was ignoring her instructions. I was shocked by her forwardness – something I haven’t encountered in China very often – and several people walking by also stopped to witness the commotion. She got so frustrated with our confused facial expressions that she began to move the bags herself to position them in front of us rather than behind us, muttering to herself that we didn’t understand her and that we shouldn’t be so careless with these belongings.

I suppose her intentions were in the right place, but her approach was brutal and when she finally walked away, we were both visibly shaken by what felt more like an attack than assistance.

But then we laughed about it – finally – and the release was good. How else do you process such an experience, which is compounding something that is already hard?

And then, two weeks later, Sarah’s goodbye party last night was filled with people of from many different countries: Italy, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Austria, Indonesia, Malaysia, The United States and China. Even Jeni flew up from Shanghai and the place was filled with people who love Sarah and will miss her.

We all gathered at a bar called “Q-bar” that is located on the eastern side of the downtown and is a gorgeous, upmarket venue located above a hotel with couches and dim lights and menus in both English and Chinese. It even has a beautiful patio that we couldn’t sit on due to the light summery rain. Still, I would return there for sure, especially when I’m in the mood to feel closer to Toronto and/or wanting to see the lights of Beijing’s business district. It was great to feel lifted from the dirt of the sidewalks to the clean lines and crisp style of this modern bar.

When I left the party for home, I realized that a mini-era was coming to a close. My next phase here in Beijing will be without my friend Sarah who I have come to rely on for laughter, gossip and overall Beijing tour guide services (!) – not mention the most beautiful gift of all: her friendship.

I miss her already.

(Sarah: cut me some slack on posting this picture of you without permission, will ya?!)