Contents : Introduction | Air Canada | Airline Travel | Airspace by Airbus | Bangkok, Thailand | The Barcelona Card | Berlin, Germany’s 7-day Pass | British Airways | Copenhagen, Denmark | Etihad Airways | Florence, Italy | Hotels in General | London, The United Kingdom’s Big Bus Tours and Oyster Cards for the Underground | Montréal, Canada | Paris, France | The Travel Blazer by Victorinox | TSA Trusted Traveler | United Airlines
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine
Introduction. Its become fairly commonplace to complain about modern air travel and with good reason. The days of glamour and luxury have been replaced by the mundane task of simply transporting passengers from point A to point B. Every now and then, however, Fate smiles upon us and with complete surprise, allows us to experience some truly great travel, sometimes in the form of an unexpected upgrade and sometimes because its time to redeem all those frequent flier miles and go somewhere. Anywhere.
Air Canada. I typically fly Air Canada to / from Montréal but on a recent trip, because of circumstances beyond my control, I ended up traveling on another airline and it made me miss Air Canada even more. The airline’s Bombardier C series of planes handle the WAS-to-Montréal routes. They’re stylish, clean, efficient, and the service is top-notch. And nothing is cooler than hearing, “Please be aware of the exits, which in some cases, may be behind you,” in Quebecois.
Airline Travel. For every 30 minutes you’re on a flight, drink a glass of water and use a decent moisturizer on your face. And for the guys out there who think it isn’t manly to use a face product, consider this : you can step off the plane looking well-rested and rejuvenated. Or, you can look like the crypt keeper. Take your pick.
Airspace by Airbus. If Boeing’s Dreamliner was intended to define travel with sensuous curves, and Airbus’ A380, aka The Double Decker,” was a technological marvel with bravado to match, it begs the proverbial question : what is the next logical step in aviation ? The latter company may have answered when it introduced its new Airspace, a revolutionary redesign of passenger cabins. This is no mere paint job. Airbus has completely reimagined the flying experience from the passengers’ point of view with contemporary lavatories; customizable ambient lighting; interiors defined by clean and sleek lines; larger and more accessible overhead storage bins; wider seats; and, unobstructed under-seat foot space. Airbus has clearly realized the journey is as important as the destination.
Bangkok, Thailand. The easiest way to travel to downtown from Suvarnabhumi Airport is via the airport’s official taxi stand, located outside of baggage claim. Another mode of transport to the downtown area is the Airport Link providing passengers with two options. The first is Direct Express which takes 15 minutes from the airport to the City Air Terminal at Makkasan train station before continuing onward to the Phaya Thai station. The second is the commuter train which takes slightly more than 30 minutes but also makes eight stops throughout the city.
Barcelona, Spain. Getting around the city couldn’t be any simpler or more affordable than with the Barcelona Card, a pre-paid card allowing you unlimited use of metro and urban buses, trams, trains, Montjuïc Funicular and FGC in zone 1. The card is available for 2, 3, 4 or 5 consecutive days. There are also vending machines throughout the city’s rail stations to purchase T10 tickets for the public transportation system, i.e., Metro de Barcelona. The tickets are valid for 10 rides and can be used on the metro, FGC lines to the city’s center, buses, trams and RENFE (“Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles.”)
Berlin, Germany. Navigating the city via their tram system is a breeze and affordable. You can purchase a 7-Day Pass from ticket counters, kiosks in the underground, and ground transportation at both Brandenburg and Tegel Airports.
There is a reason why British Airways has bragging rights as “the world’s favourite airline.” If it was a mere advertising and PR gimmick, it would be inviting travelers to line the company up in their cross-hairs. But it’s not. The airline has raised the level of customer service to such new heights, it is hard to imagine others keeping up.
I enjoyed their business class service from Washington, DC to London and Dublin, an opportunity I seized by redeeming those previously mentioned frequent flier miles. It began with one of the easiest and friendliest check-ins I have ever experienced and it set the tone for the rest of the trip. Their business class cabins, i.e., Club World, feature comfortable seats capable of becoming fully flat beds. Your personal space includes a privacy screen, storage locker, substantial entertainment options, and a work desk. The menu was impressive, too, along an equally noteworthy wine list which included champagne, and red and white varietals from California and France. As dawn broke, we were treated to a breakfast of fruit, pastries and yogurt. But it was the customer service which stood out. The multilingual flight crew was attentive, friendly, and they took a great deal of pride in representing not just their airline but their home countries, too.
Copenhagen, Denmark. To travel from the airport to the downtown area, or more specifically Copenhagen Central Station, purchase your tickets at the DSB ticket office directly above the railway station in Terminal 3. Proceed down the adjacent escalator the platform. Trains run every few minutes and it takes 12 – 15 minutes to reach Central Station. From there, cabs to local hotels are abundant and affordable. Also, when you make a substantial purchase of items, other than meals, ask for a VAT form. VAT, or value added tax, is a consumption tax paid by locals. As a visitor, however, you are entitled to a refund on that tax and, depending on how much you have spent on your trip, the refund can be significant–sometimes as high as 20%. When you’re at Kastrup for your departure, head to the Global Refund Office for your refund.
Etihad Airways’s Business Class Service from Washington, DC to Dubai, UAE. Committed to providing excellent customer service while recognizing its Arabic heritage, Etihad has succeeded in creating a fantastic flying experience on one of the world’s longest routes. The space is roomy and comfortable; the food, combining Western fare with traditional Middle Eastern cuisines, is delicious; and the wine list is impressive, featuring reds and whites from Chile, California, France and New Zealand.
Florence, Italy. Milan is Italy’s undisputed capital of fashion. Make no mistake, however, when it comes to Florence. Her citizens, acutely aware of their city’s place in the world of art and culture, can hold their own. When you pack, bring clothes which are comfortable but stylish. Leave the sweatshirts, sandals and fanny packs at home. Even more importantly, pack light and be prepared to bring clothes back with you, along with leather goods. Also, to avoid lines at the museums, reserve your tickets online as far in advance as possible. There is a shared site for all the major museums and the prices are nominal.
Hotels. When arriving at a hotel for the first time, drop your bags down when entering your room and proceed directly to the bathroom. It’s the perfect gauge for evaluating the quality of the hotel and its dedication to the complete customer experience. Examine the materials used for the floor, the vanity, the tub, paying particular attention to the linens. How clean are the surfaces and is the layout conducive to relaxing after a long day ? If quality is evident and the room is immaculate, you can be assured the rest of your hotel experience will be a memorable one.
London, England. The Big Bus service covers almost the entire city, which is huge and nearly impossible to navigate exclusively by foot over a few days. The buses pick-up / drop off at nearly every single bus stop already in use by the city’s local and famous double-decker buses. Your options, therefore, for stopping and walking and then boarding another bus a few blocks away are endless. Here are just some of the major places and sites along its route :
― Kensington Gardens (the stop is directly in front of the Thistle Kensington Gardens Hotel)
― Paddington Station
― Marble Arch neighborhood and Madame Tussaud’s
― BBC, Oxford & Piccadilly Circuses
― National Gallery, Charing Cross and Westminster
― Westminster Bridge, the London Eye, Covent Garden
― London Bridge and the Tower of London
― Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Harrod’s
― Notting Hill
Ticket kiosks are located everywhere; they’re valid for 48 hours from the time they’re purchased and include a complimentary river cruise along the Thames. The buses themselves are clean and run every few minutes. At many stops, there are Big Bus coordinators who are more than happy to answer questions and offer assistance.
No trip to London would be complete without using the Underground. Service from the airport to downtown takes just under an hour, much longer than Express, but the trains run every few minutes and costs approximately less than US$ 8.00. You can also buy a single, one way fare or purchase a 7-day Travel Card or Oyster Visitor Travel Card. With the Travel Card you have unlimited travel on the bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and National Rail services in London, based on the number of zones for which you have paid. With the Oyster Visitor Travel Card, a pay-as-you-go option, you can travel on the bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in London. The cards never expire and you can add funds to it throughout the Tubes, Oyster Ticket Stops or Travel Information Centers. For a side-by-side comparison of the two cards, click here; and for a map of the Underground, click here.
Montréal, Quebec. When you arrive at Trudeau International, use the 747 Bus to reach the downtown area. The service runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from Trudeau to the Gare d’autocars de Montréal terminal / Berri-UQAM métro station and back. Along the way, the buses stop at 11 pre-determined locations, all of which are within short distances of the city’s major hotels. One-way tickets cost C$ 9.00, can be obtained at automated kiosks near Trudeau’s ground transportation hub, and are significantly less than a taxi. You may want to even opt for a 3-day pass for C$ 18.00. It can be used on the 747 bus for your trip downtown; and it gives you unlimited access to Montreal’s bus and subway system for 3 days.
Paris, France. You may choose to rent a car to travel from Charles de Gaulle Airport to downtown Paris; the trip is relatively straightforward. Your driving skills will be put to the test, however, once you reach the city limits. Paris is characterized by one-way streets, and intersections and traffic circles which upon first glance, may not be for-the-faint-of-heart as cars move very rapidly. Taking your eyes off the road to admire the breathtaking architecture will not be greeted kindly by other drivers who will quickly dominate the road once your naiveté has been spot-checked.
To travel from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Downtown Paris :
– In Terminal 2, look for the “Paris par train” signs leading you directly to Aérogare 2
– Buy tickets for the RER Line B to travel to Paris
– If you already have euro coins in hand, use one of the automated kiosks for your ticket purchase
– Or, buy your tickets in person from the ticket office, Billets Paris / ile-de-France, or “Tickets Paris / Suburbs”
– Descend to the track levels and take any RER train to Paris
– The signboards show the departure times, 4-letter train code, and track number
– Retain your RER ticket to exit the system at one of the 4 stations in Paris
– Those stations are Gare du Nord, Châtelet Les Halles, St-Michel Notre Dame, Denfert Rochereau
– Once you arrive at one of these stations, you will then transfer to the city’s Métro system
The Travel Blazer by Victorinox. For those who are struck by wanderlust on a regular basis and travel as a result, it’s a safe bet your flight will be characterized by two items. The first is your ability to recall the airline safety demonstration verbatim, and perhaps even in another language. And the second is the realization most people have adopted slovenly attire when they travel–as if they’ve just rolled out of bed with little to any consideration to the fact they’re sharing a cabin with others. There’s nothing saying you can’t be comfortable and stylish. Victorinox has the ideal solution, i.e., The Travel Blazer, a garment so comfortable and sharp it should be as indispensable as your dark jeans and razor kit. With multiple pockets for your passport and iPhone, water-repellent cotton and Nylon fabric, metal grommets for ventilation, and the finest tailoring imaginable, you won’t look like just another passenger. You’ll look like you own the airline itself.
TSA’s Trusted Traveler is a must have if you travel frequently. Sign up at http://www.tsa.gov and your approval means sep. security lines at selected airports (and many are being added to the list of participating ones;) not having to remove articles of clothing and shoes at screening locations; and not having to remove your laptops or iPads from your briefcase or carry-on. Finally.
United Airlines (UAL) non-stop service from Chicago to Tokyo in business class. Nearly 12 hours in duration and involving an arc taking you near the North Pole, this is also one the world’s longest routes. UAL’s business class service is steeped in so much customer service, you might not want to depart the plane when it finally lands in Tokyo’s Narita Airport. The wide-body plane features large and comfortable seats; very good meal service; a decent wine list; an always-open snack bar; and most important of all, flight attendants who seem to enjoy what they’re doing while making you feel like a master of the universe.