Friday, December 29, 2017

Trip Report: United Airlines - New Orleans to Hawaii (November 2017)

Trip Report: United Airlines - New Orleans to Hawaii
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

American-based airlines are not known for their long-haul service.  As compared to other international carriers, American-based carriers fall below in terms of service, product, on-board amenities, and generally customer service.  For these reasons, I generally prefer to take international carriers when possible; however, sometimes that is not possible such as when I was flying to Hawaii.  While Hawaii is considered a domestic service, the flight times to Hawaii are generally long.  We were looking for fly from New Orleans to Honolulu, and return from Maui to New Orleans.  There were a couple of options available and I really wanted to try Virgin America/Alaska, but it involved overnight layovers which was not convenient, so in the end I choose United Airlines as it was most convenient in terms of price and flights.  The path was New Orleans – Denver – Honolulu; Maui – San Francisco – New Orleans.  Given my previous experience with United (, I was not looking forward to the flight.

Booking the flight was very easy and straightforward through United’s website, and it was very easy to manage the booking and select seats through United’s app.  That is one positive aspect about United, the app is very user-friendly and is very useful and convenient in managing your booking, accessing boarding passes, selecting seats, purchasing lounge passes, etc.    

The first flight was from New Orleans to Denver, departing New Orleans at 7:45a and
arriving into Denver at 9:40a for a scheduled flight time of 2h55m.  The flight was
operated by an Airbus A321 in a 3-3 seat layout.  Boarding was done by group numbers and all the passengers were boarded and seated for an on-time departure.  The seats on the A321 were a bit narrow, but the legroom was decent.  The seat comfort itself was fine for the flight time; however, after a longer flight period you may start feeling the effects of the seat.  There were no PTV’s, instead in that area was a pocket which contained the inflight magazine, the safety card, air sickness bag, and a description of the inflight entertainment.  The inflight entertainment was accessible through United’s wifi and through their app.  The free entertainment included a variety of TV shows, some movies, and other programs.  The selection is limited and not great, but it provides some entertainment on the flight.  Just after reaching cruising altitude, the attendants began their inflight service.  Complimentary soft drinks, water, tea, coffee, and juices were available as well as snack boxes for purchase.  The complimentary drinks were served with United’s new waffle snack, which personally I do not like.  The remaining flight was uneventful and we landed on time at Denver International, taxied to the gate, and deplaned.

We had approximately 1h30 minutes in Denver before our next flight so we took the opportunity to have breakfast prior to our next flight.  Our next flight was from Denver to Honolulu, with a scheduled flight time of 7h45min.  The flight was operated by a Boeing 777-200 and was scheduled to depart Denver at 11:30am and arrive into Honolulu at 3:45pm.  We got to the gate around 10:30a and the plane was already there.  The gate agent made several announcements which encouraged passengers to purchase food in Denver as well as to download the United app to access the entertainment.  Again, boarding was done by group numbers and all passengers were boarded and seated for the on-time departure.  The plane had a 3-4-3 seat layout, which was high density, and had a small business and two mid-size economy sections.  Given the long flight time, we had purchased ‘Economy Plus’ seating to get more legroom so the legroom was decent.  The seat itself was average, but it was not comfortable for the long flight period.  Blankets were provided on the seat when you entered the plane.  The seatback on this plane was exactly the same as on the A321 – there were no PTVs but instead a seatback pocket which contained the inflight magazine, the safety card, the air sickness bag, and a promotion for United Wifi.  There was one difference – this plane had a device on the seatback that would hold your smartphone or device in place.

We took off and there was a long waiting period from the time we reached cruising
altitude until the inflight service commenced.  The inflight service was very slow and very basic – complimentary soft drinks, tea, juices, and coffee were provided along with pretzels (which were basically thrown at you).  You could also purchase snack boxes – I purchased the ‘cheese snack box’ which contained cheese and crackers, but they were the smallest cheese and low quality crackers and definitely not worth the price.  The attendants came back an hour prior to landing to do another drink service, and passed water sometimes through the cabin in flight, but that was it in terms of service.  I understand this is considered a domestic flight, but given the length of the flight I expected United to provide something a little more.  Also, there was basically no difference between an economy seat or an economy plus seat – there were no extra perks besides extra legroom.  Why would I pay the higher price (and it is a drastic difference) just for additional legroom and that’s it – in my opinion, economy plus seats should come with some additional perks that incentivize you to pay the higher price.  Overall, it was extremely disappointing and a very uncomfortable 7 hours on the plane.  Even the attendants were not nice – they had water in the galley, so instead of wasting glasses I brought my water bottle to refill.  I asked where the full bottles were so I could use that instead of wasting 6 glasses, and the attendant just looked at me, pointed to a storage up top, and walked away.  It was extremely rude service. 

Given our experience on the outbound, I was not looking forward to our return flight.  The first return flight was from Maui to San Francisco and was operated by a Boeing 737-800.  The flight was scheduled to depart Maui at 10:25p and arrive into San Francisco at 5:22am for a scheduled flight time of 4h55m.  We arrived to the airport, checked in our bag, and proceeded to the gate.  The plane was already at the gate when we arrived (it had come in earlier in the day) and boarding commenced on time.  We had again paid for economy plus seats and we selected the first seats in the economy section, right behind business class.  The plane was laid out with 2-2 seats in business and 3-3 seats in economy.  Each seat had a PTV in front of it with controls on the armrest.  Controls on the armrest are a bad idea because inadvertently either you or your seatmate hit the button and change the channel.  In order to make more money, on planes with PTV’s, United does not offer free personal entertainment.  For planes with PTVs, they do offer free live TV but only on the continental U.S.  If you are outside this area, then you have to pay to access movies and TV programs; the flight map is free to watch.  Once boarding was completed, the safety video was shown and we pushed back and took off to San Francisco.  Once we reached cruising altitude, the attendants came by with their drink service but as it was an overnight flight, most passengers were sleeping.  The remaining flight was uneventful and we landed on time in San Francisco.
We had about 2 hours in San Francisco before our next flight, so this was just enough time to go and enjoy a nice breakfast.  The next flight was San Francisco to New Orleans,
which was also operated by a Boeing 737-800.  The flight was scheduled to depart at 8:15am and arrive into New Orleans at 2:27p for flight time of 4hr5min.  The plane arrived at the gate from another destination, those passengers deplaned, and we boarded for an on-time pushback.  We had not paid for economy plus seats so were sitting in regular economy seats.  The plane was laid out similarly to the previous plane, with 2-2 seats in business and 3-3 seats in economy.  The legroom was decent, the seat comfort average, but the seat width was a bit narrow.  The difference was this plane looked newer and there were no PTVs, instead you had access to United’s free entertainment through your own personal device.  The service on board was similar, in that after takeoff the attendants came by to offer complimentary drinks and you could purchase a snackbox.  The difference for this flight was that, about an hour prior to landing, a second drink service was done.  We landed on time and deplaned.

Overall, it was a disappointing flight with United.  I understand it was a domestic flight, but given the length of the flight and the fact that competitors are beginning to offer additional amenities on longer flight times, I expected something more for our flights.  I also expected something more to be included in the economy plus section; just having additional legroom was not worth the high price United charged.  I tend to avoid American-based airlines for international travel and had primarily used them for domestic travel.  After this experience, I will try and avoid them for longer domestic travel and only use them for short domestic hops.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Trip Report: ASKY Airlines - Lome to Lagos (December 2017)

Trip Report: ASKY Airlines - Lome to Lagos
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I was travelling to Western African on Ethiopian Airlines.   Normally, to fly to West Africa you must first connect in East Africa which adds to your travel times.  Recently, Ethiopian has been investing in regional African airlines including Togo-based ASKY Airlines; this assists in making ASKY Airlines and Lomé their West African hub.  ASKY Airlines is an initiatives of West African governments to provide air service in the region.  Based in Lomé, the airline operates a combination of Boeing 737 and Dash Q-400 planes.

I connected to ASKY from Ethiopian in Lomé, as I flew from Newark to Lomé on Ethiopian and then from Lomé to Lagos on ASKY.  My flight was operated by a Boeing 737 with a scheduled flight time of 1 hour.   The Ethiopian flight was scheduled to land in Lomé at 12p and the ASKY flight was scheduled to depart at 1:15p.  This was a very tight connection, both for myself and my luggage. 

We landed in Lomé a bit behind schedule at 12:15p, and there were a lot of passengers
who were connecting to ASKY flights and had tight connections.  Even though everything was booked as one ticket, most passengers were not able to access their ASKY boarding passes until we got to Lomé.  As soon as we deplaned, we were met by ASKY representatives who had boarding passes already printed out.  They were also there to direct us to the transfer side where we would have to go through security and then proceed upstairs to our boarding gates.  Even though the airport is small and connections can be made easily, it was not a lot of time to the entire process was hectic and rushed, especially with flight delays.  Luckily, ASKY’s idea of ‘on-time departure’ is a bit flexible.

We were supposed to start boarding at 12:30p for the 1:15p departure, but boarding did not start until about 1pm.  There was no real process for boarding, the airline just announced it was boarding and people lined up to board the plane.  The plane is setup in a 3-3 seat layout in economy and a 2-2 seat layout in business.  There were approximately 12 business class seats and approximately 130-150 economy class seats.  While the plane’s exterior looked freshly painted, the inside was definitely an older plane.  The overhead bins were older, the signs above the seats looked dated and overall the cabin looked worn and dated.  I was seated in the aisle row right behind business class to the legroom was very good, although I could have sat anywhere.  Apparently many African airlines have an ‘open seating’ policy in which you just sit at any open seat, regardless of what your boarding pass says.  It was very interesting and caused some confusion and some passengers followed the ‘open seating’ policy while others followed what was stated on their boarding pass.  The seat itself was decently comfortable but it was definitely not a new seat.  The color scheme of the seats also added to the worn factor and made the plane look even older.

Even though the scheduled departure time was 1:15pm, the boarding doors did not close
until 2:00p.  We pushed back, manual safety demonstrations, in both English and French were conducted, and then we took off for our flight time of 30 minutes.  The flight was making several stops in West Africa so the flight path from was from Lomé to Lagos, to Douala, and then another city before heading back to Lomé.  Those whose final stop was Lagos disembarked in Lagos and those who were continuing on remained on board.  Given the short flight time, there was no in-flight service.  Our scheduled arrival was for 3pm, and given it was only a 30 minute flight we landed generally on time. 

Overall, it was an interesting flight experience with ASKY.  Given their partnership with Ethiopian, their ground staff were very good in greeting the aircraft with printed boarding passes, printed bag tags, and directing passengers where to go.  The on-board staff were not as friendly but provided a basic service.  The older look and feel of the plane made it a negative, but in the end it did not make that much of a difference given the short flight time.  As a side note - in the end, I made the connection but my luggage did not, as with several other passengers who made the connection with me.  There was very little follow-up or numbers to call, and we were just told that the luggage would come on the next day's flight so check back then; luckily that is what happened.  ASKY is trying to build itself as a West African hub and are promoting themselves and connections to Lomé with lower fares to get across West Africa.  I would choose to fly them again if the flight time was short and the fares were low, but they would not be my first choice in air travel.     

Stay Report: Grand Waikikian Suites by Hilton Grand Vacations (Honolulu - November 2017)

Stay Report: Grand Waikikian by Hilton Grand Vacations
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

When looking for a hotel in Honolulu, the biggest resort in the area is the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort.  It is one of the oldest and most well-known resorts in the area.  The resort is also centrally located and is walking distance to many shops, restaurants, and other activities.  The Resort is made up of a couple of different hotels including the Hilton Hawaiian, the Grand Waikikian, and others.  The Grand Waikikian is part of Hilton Grand Vacations so they are mostly suites – and that is what we were looking for.  Each suite came with a room with 2 double beds, one bathroom, a full kitchen, washer/dryer, and a dining table.  As they are part of the resort, each room comes with a resort fee which includes Fitness/yoga classes, Internet access, in-room bottled water, and other resources for $35/day.  Booking the hotel was easy and convenient through Hilton’s website.

There are many entrances to the resort depending on which hotel you are staying at –
each hotel has their own separate entrance.  The entrance to the Grand Waikikian was off to the side and it was at the far side of the resort, so you have both marina and beach views but you are not on the beach.  The hotel lobby is located on the main level and it is an open air lobby to allow for the breeze from the ocean.  The lobby contained the check-in desks, the valet, the concierge, and a couple of benches.  It is not a traditional lobby but it serves its purposes.  Check-in was easy and we received our keys, a map to the resort, as well as a packet which included amenities included in the resort fee.  This included towel passes for the beach, passes for two free bottles of a water a day, a dvd rental, as well as shopping discounts.  The elevators to access the rooms were not located near the lobby – to access them you had to walk out of the lobby, through the concierge room to another hallway and walk down that hallway to get to the elevators.  It was a bit confusing at first and not well planned out. 

There are 4 elevators and each time we did not have to wait a long time for the elevators.  The elevators came and we went to our room on the 17th floor.  When you enter the room, you enter into the open kitchen on right hand side and a door to the left which leads to the bathroom.  The open kitchen is spacious and includes a full fridge, a stove, a microwave, an oven, plates, glasses, cutlery, a toaster, a coffee maker, and a full sink.  It was a nice full kitchen.  On the other side of the counter to the kitchen were chairs were you could sit and eat.  There was also a half table that pulled onto a bench so that was another option to eat there.  Beyond the kitchen was the sitting area with a couch and chair against one wall and the TV on top of a chest against the other wall.  The chest had the TV on top and a drawers on the bottom.  The sitting area looked out onto the balcony which was a bit small but was nice to go outside and see the sights and enjoy the breeze. 

Next to the TV was a door that led into the bedroom.  Given how spacious the other
rooms were, the bedroom was a bit narrow.  The bedroom contained two double beds with a nightstand in the middle against one wall, and another chest with a TV on top and the drawers on the bottom.  The beds were comfortable and provided a good night’s sleep, there just was not a lot of room between the two beds.  Next to the beds, with minimal separation between the two, was an area that contained a tub on one wall and the closet on the other.  It was an odd layout to have a tub in the middle of the room.  The closet contained a safe, an iron, ironing board, and luggage rack; however, considering the narrowness of the room it was not a lot of space to place your luggage.  In between the tub and the closet was a door that led to the bathroom.  The bathroom contained a sink a standup shower, and a Japanese-style toilet.  The Japanese-style toilet was a nice and welcome touch.  The bathroom itself was a decent size.  The bathroom also contained a second door which led out to the main room next to the kitchen and the main door.  As you existed the bathroom, and before you got to the main door, on left hand side was a closet which contained the washer and dryer.  Overall, the room had many amenities that were very nice and the sitting area was spacious; the only negative was the lack of space in the bedroom area.

There are many amenities that can be accessed as part of the resort.  As the hotel is part
of the Hilton Hawaiian Village, you can walk around and access any part of the resort.  Each hotel had their own pool, so you could choose which pool you wanted to access.  To access the beach you had to walk to the Rainbow Tower near the main entrance to the resort as that was the only beach access. Other amenities included free classes in the morning, fireworks on Friday night, many restaurants to choose from, an entire whole shopping village which included other restaurants, desserts, souvenirs, a convenience store, and other amenities.  If you wanted, you could access everything in the resort and never have to leave.  The hotel did provide free wifi, but our wifi was only applicable in our tower. 

Other amenities we took advantage of was the discounted taxi rate and the lounge.  The resort does not provide transportation to and from the airport, rather they have
negotiated a special discounted rate with a local taxi company that provides a flat fee to passengers to and from the airport and the hotel.  We used this service on both sectors and it was very convenient and easy to use.  Another amenity we utilized was the lounge.  Check-out of the hotel is very early, at 11am, and given the high volume they generally do not allow for late check-out.  To compensate for those guests who have later flights, guests can access the lounge throughout their stay and after checkout.  The lounge is like a standard business lounge with lots of couches and tables for people to relax and rest.  There are many outlets so you can charge your electronics as well.  No food is provided and only water, tea, and some juices are provided.  There is a small kids play area as well as a small business center as well.  There are bathrooms as well as showers available, as well as hotel amenities included soap, shampoo, and lotion.  The hotel will hold your luggage so this lounge is a nice place to go and relax and recover prior to your late night flight.

Overall, it was a pleasant stay at the Grand Waikikian.  The hotel provided a lot of amenities for their guests.  The rooms themselves were nice and had lots of amenities, with the only downside being the lack of space in the bedroom.  While the costs for the Hawaiian Village are a bit higher, you do get a lot of amenities as well as a convenient access to many shops and restaurants within walking distance to the resort.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Trip Report: Ethiopian Airlines - Newark, NJ to Lome, Togo (December 2017)

Trip Report: Ethiopian Airlines - Newark to Lome, Togo
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I was connecting to Ethiopian Airlines as part of my journey from New Orleans to Lagos.  I was flying Ethiopian from Newark to Lomé.  Ethiopian had recently started this route as part of their connection to their Star Alliance partner United, which has a hub at Newark.  I have flown Ethiopian before ( and had a pleasant experience so I was looking forward to this flight. 

Ethiopian Airlines is one of the major carriers serving Africa and have really integrated the
Dreamliner aircraft into their operations, especially from the U.S.  Even though they partner with Star Alliance members, you cannot book connections through Ethiopian’s website; instead you have to go through partner or third-party websites.  After you book through these websites, it is somewhat difficult to manage your booking through the website; instead you have to call the airline to request seat assignments, special meals, and adding frequent flyer numbers.  This part of the process is very inconvenient.  As I was connecting to Ethiopian from a partner airline, this is the process I had to follow.

The flight from Newark was scheduled to depart at 9:15p and arrive into Lomé at 12p for a scheduled flight time of 9h45m.  I was able to check-in online and receive my boarding pass, but because I was transferring from another airline I had to check-in again at the boarding gate to confirm my boarding pass and receive an Ethiopian Airlines boarding pass.  Boarding was scheduled to begin at 8:15p, an hour prior to the scheduled departure time, so I arrived at the gate around 8p.  The plane was already there, but the crew were still outside so it looked like we were not going to have an on-time departure.  Boarding started around 8:45p and passengers were supposed to board by groups.  It was extremely chaotic and slow process; in fact, each time I have boarded with Ethiopian it has been chaotic and slow process.  After a lengthy wait, in which the gate attendant threatened to discontinue boarding as passengers were not compliant, we finally boarded the plane.

The operating aircraft was a Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner with a small-ish business class and two sections of economy.  The economy seats were in a 3-3-3 layout which made the plane feel less dense.  As stated earlier, boarding was extremely slow and chaotic.  At 9:15p, our scheduled departure time, passengers were still boarding the plane.  Around 9:30p, all passengers had been boarded and we were finally able to push back; while the two economy sections were completely full, there were only two passengers in business class.  A safety video was shown, and after a slow taxi and wait, we finally took-off.

Even though it was a Dreamliner plane, it felt like an older version based on the PTV
screens and the seat comfort.  The seat width was decent but the seat comfort was extremely poor; it was uncomfortable from when you sat down and got even more uncomfortable as the flight progressed.  On the seatback was a PTV screen, with controls in the armrest (again, who thought that was a good idea?!?).  Underneath the PTV screen was a USB port and the headphone jack was located in the armrest.  Below the PTV screen was the tray table and below that was the seatback pocket which contained the duty free magazine, the airline magazine, and the safety card.  As you boarded, a blanket and pillow were already provided on each seat.  The PTVs were active from the moment you boarded, which is something I think all airlines should do.  This allows you to not only decide what you want to watch, but it also keeps most passengers occupied so they are not paying attention to delays.  The selection on Ethiopian was limited – while they had a decent selection of movies, their TV selection was extremely poor.  It was a struggle to find enough programs to watch.

As soon as we passed 10,000 feet, the attendants got up to start their service.  Headphones were passed out while we were still on the ground, and once in the air amenity kits were passed out.  It is a very nice touch that Ethiopian still provides amenity kits to all passengers – economy amenity kits include a pair of socks, an eye mask, tooth brush, and tooth paste.  About an hour later, specially requested meals were served and then the carts were brought out to serve dinner and drinks.  There was a choice of chicken or pasta, and complimentary drinks were served including soft drinks, juices, and alcohol.  The serving size for the food was good, but the quality and flavor was a bit lacking.  It wasn’t the worst meal, but definitely not the best either.  Afterwards, tea and coffee were provided and then the lights were dimmed so passengers could rest.

During the flight, the seatbelt sign was off so passengers to move freely as they wanted. 
Water and drinks were available throughout the flight in the galleys, but no snacks were available.  Attendants were always available in the galley, but they rarely passed through the cabin.  About two hours prior to landing, the lighting in the cabin changed to signal morning and to wake passengers up.  The attendants came by with their breakfast service – a meal and complimentary juice, tea, or coffee.  Again, the serving size was decent but the quality and flavor were lacking.  After the meal trays were cleared, we started our decent into Lomé.  As we departed late, we landed behind schedule.  Luckily it was a quick taxi to the gate, but it took some time for the door to be opened.  Those passengers who were continuing onto Addis were to stay onboard while those who were connecting to other flights in Lomé deplaned.

Overall, it was an average experience onboard Ethiopian.  The seat comfort was definitely poor so it made it hard to rest and sit for the flight period.  Other items that needed improvement were the boarding process, the meal quality, the meal flavor, and the entertainment selection.  Positives include access to USB ports, a less dense plane, traveling on a Dreamliner which provides a better overall service, access to Star Alliance partners, easy connections with Africa, and a general ease of traveling within Africa.  Ethiopian is on track to become the biggest airline within Africa, and while their service has slipped a bit, they still provide a good service and good connections.

Trip Report: American Airlines - D.C. to Vermont; Vermont to New Orleans (November 2017)

Trip Report: American Airlines 
D.C. to Vermont; Vermont to New Orleans
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I haven't take American Airlines domestically for a while now; mainly because other airlines provide a more direct and cost-effective option.  I used to fly American/U.S.Airways a lot when I used to live in Washington, D.C. as they provided the most direct options from Reagan Airport (they have a hub there).  I was flying out of D.C. to Vermont and out of Vermont back to New Orleans, and American was provided the most direct and cost-effective options so decided to give them a try again.  While American's base fares are usually comparable with their competitors, namely Southwest, American charges extra for checked luggage while Southwest it is complimentary; and so for that reason Southwest has always won out (although American does provide complimentary seat selection while you have to stand in line for Southwest).

My first flight on American was from Washington Reagan Airport to Burlington, Vermont.  It was a direct flight operated by an Embraer RJ 170 with a flight time of 1h 40min.  Through the app I was able to check into my flight, pay for my luggage, as well as received my boarding pass.  The American app has definitely been updated as before you could not book flights through the app, so the app is now more user friendly; however, you cannot pay for your baggage while checking in.  For other airlines, as I am checking in I pay for excess baggage thus eliminating that hassle at the airport.  With American, that option is not available so if you are checking in a bag, that has to be paid for at the airport.  This is what I did when I arrived at the airport, lready checked-in, when I arrived at the airport I used the kiosk to drop off my luggage and then proceeded to the gate.

My flight was scheduled to depart at 11:50a and arrive into Burlington around 1:30p.  The operating aircraft arrived from Burlington at 11:30am, passengers deplaned and we boarded the plane.  The plane is laid out in a 2-2 seats, but the plane feels small.  I was in an aisle seat and the legroom was decent but the seat was a bit uncomfortable - there was definitely some wear and tear in the seat.  The seat is plain with a tray table and a pocket with the airline magazine, safety card, and throw-up bag.  Boarding happened quickly and we pushed back on time.  After a brief taxi we took off for Burlington.  Once we reached cruising altitude, the in-flight service began.  American offers complimentary soft drinks, juices, tea, coffee, and water along with pretzels.  Given the short flight, there was no purchase on board available.  Once the drinks were passed out and the rubbish collected, it was almost time to start our decent into Burlington.  It was a short flight and generally a decent one.  The seat comfort could've been better but overall it was a decent flight.

My return flight was also booked on American but this time I was going from Burlington to New Orleans via Philadelphia.  My flight from Burlington to Philadelphia was scheduled to depart at 3:15p and arrive at 4:52p.  As with previous flights, I was able to check-in online and select my seat assignment but I had to go to the airport to pay for my baggage.  When I checked in both online and at the counter, the flight was scheduled to leave on time.  When I got to the gate, the plane was there and was scheduled to leave on time.  About 30 minutes prior to departure, there as an announcement that the flight was delayed due to weather delays.  This is where the app needs to be fixed as in other airlines, usually the app has more updated information and the gate provides the information later.  With American, the gate had made the announcement but the app was only updated 15 minutes after the gate made the announcement.  Our flight was delayed by over an hour which greatly affected many connections as many had short transfer times in Philadelphia.

The flight to Philadelphia was operated by a small E-170 with a 1-2 seat layout.  The plane is small and feels narrow and compact.  The legroom is decent and the seat comfort is average for the short 1hr35m flight time; however, anything longer and the plane would not be comfortable.  We finally took off around 4:50p and shortly after takeoff the inflight service started.  This consisted of complimentary soft drinks, tea, juice, or coffee along with pretzels.  Once the drinks had been served, it was almost time to start our decent into Philadelphia.  It was a short flight and decent.

As we left late, and most passengers had connections in Philadelphia, there were a lot of passengers who were rushing to make their next flight.  Ground staff in Philadelphia were not prepared, nor helpful, nor knowledgeable on where to go or the quickest way to get there.  In fact, some of the ground staff were arguing with each other and giving passengers contradicting information.  I had 20 minutes to cross two terminals, and it involved a lot of running.  I finally made it to my next gate where the flight was boarding.

The next flight was operated by an E-190 with a 2-2 seat layout.  While the plane looked
newer and modern, and the seats more comfortable, there was definitely less legroom onboard this flight.  For the almost 3hour flight time, there was not a lot of inflight services.  As soon as we took off, drinks and pretzels were offered and that was it for the entire flight period.  After that, the attendants did not pass by until we were about to land.  

As I had said, it was the first time in a while that I had flown American Airlines.  Their app definitely needs to be updated as it still does not provide all the services that a customer needs.  The inflight service is basic, but that is to be expected these days of airlines in the U.S.  Most of the times they provide lower fares, and for that lower price you get basic services.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Trip Report: Hawaiian Airlines - Honolulu to Maui (November 2017)

Trip Report: Hawaiian Airlines - Honolulu to Maui
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

We were going to be flying from Honolulu to Maui and at the time we were looking, there were a couple of options: Hawaiian Airlines, Island Air, or Mokulele Airlines.  Mokulele Airlines seemed like a smaller competitor and thus did not have a wide schedule therefore I was deciding between Island Air and Hawaiian.  Both seemed to offer low fares and a decent on-board product for inter-island flights; the only difference was the price.  Island Air flights were generally less expensive, while Hawaiian's prices depended on sale and how far in advance you booked.  I had previously flown Hawaiian about 10 years so I wanted to try Island Air - about a week prior to me booking my ticket the news came out that Island Air had declared bankruptcy and was shutting down.  That left one option for inter-island flights; Hawaiian Airlines.  Hawaiian Airlines is the most established airline serving Hawaii and for their inter-island flights, they usually have sales which makes travel more affordable.  When I had first looked, the prices for the inter-island flight were very inexpensive and then when I went to book, the prices had gone up but it was still relatively inexpensive.  The airline's website was easy to use and navigate.  You could manage your booking and pre-select your seat assignments at no-cost.   I had downloaded the app and was able to check-in via app, including changing my seat assignment and paying for my bags.  While the app was a bit slow at times, it was helpful in providing a lot of functions.  
As we were already checked-in, locals say we just had to be at the airport an hour prior to departure.  A couple of years ago, Hawaiian got rid of most of their check-in staff and replaced them with self check-in and self bag-tagging machines.  I am not a fan of the machines because 1) the machines do not allow any wriggle room in terms of luggage and 2) the tags need to be placed exactly as described otherwise they will not scan (and that has been a pain in the past).  There are staff roaming around to assist, and with their assistance we managed to check-in our bags.  We already had the boarding passes on our phone, so with that we proceeded through security and to the gate.When we had arrived at the gate, the plane had not arrived from Maui.  The Honolulu to Maui air bridge is a very popular route.  Our flight was scheduled to take off at 6:48p and around 6:15p the inbound aircraft pulled into the gate.  The passengers disembarked and we boarded via groups.  It was a quick and easy boarding process as the plane was only half full.  The flight time between Honolulu and Maui is 40 minutes and the flight was operated by a Boeing 717.  This plane has a 2-3 seat layout.  Hawaiian provides complimentary seat selection, but charges for extra legroom as well as for checked luggage.  The plane's interiors looked updated and the seats also looked updated.  They were comfortable enough and provided decent legroom for the short flight.  The seats were already in a recline and could not be reclined further.  There was a small tray table in front of you, enough for a drink.  The seat pocket below had the airline's magazine and safety card.  Overall, it was a nice and decent product given the short distance (compare this to other American carriers which probably would've operated a small E-190 with no room for this flight).Once we boarded and pushed back from the gate, a manual safety demonstration took place and we were ready for take-off.  Once we pass 10,000 feet, the attendants got up to start their inflight service.  Hawaiian is one of the few remaining carriers that still provides complimentary drinks and meals on long-haul flights; given the short flight time I was not expecting much in terms of in-flight service.  The inflight service consisted of attendants passing out mini cups of juice or water from cardboard boxes.  There were three flight attendants on board, one for first class and two for economy.  After the juices were passed out, Hawaiian also passed out complimentary maps of Maui that they had printed.  It was a nice promotional gesture and a nice friendly touch.Given the short flight time, as soon as the maps were handed out and the trash collected, we were already starting our descent into Maui.  Overall, it was a nice and comfortable experience about Hawaiian.  The fares were relatively inexpensive and for the price you got a decent seat and decent service.  I have paid a lot more and gotten a lot less on many other American carriers so it's nice to see that some carriers still provide decent service.  I am still not a fan of self-tagging the bag but other than that, a nice flight on Hawaiian Airlines.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Trip Report: Etihad Airways, New York to Abu Dhabi; Abu Dhabi to Dallas (July, August 2017)

Trip Report: Etihad Airways
New York to Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi to Dallas
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

Recently, Etihad announced it was cancelling its Abu Dhabi to Dallas flights.  Earlier this year, in late summer, I had the opportunity to fly this route.  My entire Etihad entire included New York to Abu Dhabi on the outbound, and Abu Dhabi to Dallas on the return.  The outbound sector was operated by an Airbus A380 while the return was operated by an Boeing 777.  I have flown Etihad before (ADD LINK HERE) and it has not been a good experience.  If possible, I try to avoid flying Etihad but unfortunately work had booked my travel so I did not have an option.  My Etihad travel was booked on Etihad but with partner airlines - JetBlue on the outbound and American Airlines on the return.

With a flight time of 12h45m, flying on the Airbus A380 is more pleasant vs the Boeing 777.  The flight was scheduled to depart New York at 3pm and arrive Abu Dhabi the next day at 12pm.  I had arrived to the gate and there was a lot of commotion - the number of passengers greatly outnumbered the number of airline staff; in fact there seem to be only 3-5 staff working on a full A380 flight.  The boarding pass stated that boarding would start around 2pm but boarding did not start until 2:30p.  Passengers were boarded by groups, and when I went to the front of line I was told I needed to get out of line and go into a separate line to confirm my boarding pass.  Those passengers who were connecting to Etihad from another airline, and there were many of us, needed to get our boarding pass reverified.  I understand this - what I do not understand is why this announcement was not made earlier (as other airlines have done) when the passengers were waiting for boarding.  Also, if the airline knew many passengers were connecting why not have more than one staff person to verify everyone's boarding pass.  It was extremely chaotic, disorganized, and not a pleasant way to start the flight.

I finally boarded and got to my seat.  Etihad does allow complimentary selection of seats (something which Emirates now charges for) so I was able to pre-select an aisle seat.  Because of the size of the plane, generally the seats on the A380 are bigger and better as compared to other airplanes; this was no different.  The seat size was definitely bigger and it was nice given the long flight time.  Each seat contained a pillow and a blanket, both of which were needed as the seat was not comfortable.  The seats pitch was generally decent, especially given the long flight time, however the seat comfort was almost nonexistent.  I used both the pillow and the blanket to add cushion to the seat as the seat felt as if it had no cushion, especially towards the end of the flight.  The blanket came in a packet which also included the headphones and the amenity kit - the amenity kit included eyeshades, tooth brush and paste, earplugs and socks.   Additional amenities of the seat included a decent size touch-screen PTV with USB port and headphone jack and a controller, a seat pocket, and a tray table.       

Boarding completed, we taxied to the runway and took off.  Etihad has a policy that it does not turn on the entertainment system until you pass 10,000ft on the departure, and turns it off when you get lower than 10,000ft on the return.  This policy may have a reason, but what ends up happening is that passengers have nothing to entertain them so they notice all the commotion and delays.  On other airlines, such as Emirates, the entertainment system is available as soon as sit in the seat until you depart - this policy is so much more customer-friendly.

In my experience, Etihad is not known for their exceptional service such as Singapore or Emirates.  I have found Etihad's service to be lacking in the past, but this time it was decent.  The service wasn't great, but it was better than previous experiences.  A little after take-off the first meal was served - lunch - along with complimentary drinks.  The meal was light but decent - not a lot of food but a decent amount.  After the service was completed the meal trays cleared, the cabin was dimmed for passengers to rest.  Water was available in the galleys for passengers to help themselves, along with some crackers.  In other airlines, staff usually walk around with water or just to check-on the passengers; this has not been the case in the past with Etihad and it was not the case here.  The staff rarely came through the galleys while passengers were sleeping.  Midway through the flight, they did come through with a light snack and another meal closer to landing.  The meal closer to landing was basically a big snack; it was larger than the mid-snack but smaller than the departure meal.  Again, as we passed 10,000ft on our landing the entertainment system was shut off - it's an inconvenience to passengers.

We landed and our proceeded to our gate.  About a month later, I took my return flight.  This flight was from Abu Dhabi to Dallas and was operated by a Boeing 777.  It's odd that for the 12hr flight Etihad would use the A380 but for the 16hr flight they would use the 777.  I guess it has to do with load factors (update: Etihad cancelled the Abu Dhabi to Dallas flight - they said that their partnership with American was one of the reasons to bring the flight to Dallas and since American ended that partnership it seemed fitting to end their service).  The return flight was operated by a Boeing 777, with a flight time of 16h30m, and was scheduled to depart Abu Dhabi at 9am and arrive Dallas at 4:15pm.  A lot of Etihad's American flights were departing around the same time and from gates right next to each other - it created for some confusion as people for one flight were getting confused by announcements to other flights.

Boarding commenced and we were able to board the plane.  The plane is laid out in a 3-4-3 configuration making it very dense.  The legroom was decent, but the plane felt smaller as compared to the A380.  Amenities on the seat included a blanket, a pillow, an amenity kit with eye shades, socks, and a tootbrush/toothpaste.  The seat contained a PTV with a USB port and headphone jack along with a tray table, and a seatback pocket which contained the airline magazine, safety card, and duty free magazine.  While the seat amenities were nice, the seat comfort was not.  Given the length of flying time, you would think the seat would have more cushion, but unfortunately it did not so you felt the seat during the flight.  Service on the flight was similar to the outbound - a meal after takeoff, a midflight snack in between, and a light meal before landing.  Again, portions were on the smaller side but decent and flavors again were average (I've had bigger and more flavorful meals as well as smaller and not as flavorful meals).  

What was the major disappointment as the entertainment system - Etihad's 'e-box' does not contain enough material to cover two long-haul flights.  My previous experience with them was similar in that they provided an average on-board product, poor customer service, and poor entertainment options.  Nothing seems to have changed in the 5 years I have been flying with them.  Change needs to happen to ensure the airline not only competes with, but wins against its competitors.   

Monday, November 13, 2017

Trip Report: United Airlines - New Orleans to Ottawa via Newark (October 2017)

Trip Report: United Airlines, New Orleans to Ottawa
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

United has been offering lower fares recently.  I need to fly to Canada for work and when I looked online, United was offering the best options both in terms of flight times and prices.  When I have previously flown to Canada, I like to fly Air Canada to try their product; however, this time Air Canada's prices were significantly higher so I booked United.  My route was New Orleans to Ottawa via Newark (and same on the return).  New Orleans to Newark was operated by an Airbus A320 while Newark to Ottawa was operated by an Embraer 190.  

It is very easy to manage your booking through the United app.  Through the app, you can view your booking, change your seat assignments, access boarding passes, see gate numbers, gate changes, flight status, as well as access the on-board entertainment.  It really is a useful app to have if you are flying with United.  With the app I checked in online and received my boarding passes.  My flight was scheduled to depart New Orleans at 3:50p and arrive into Newark at 7:50pm.  The flight had arrived from another destination, and after a quick turnaround we started boarding.  Boarding happened by groups, and within 30 minutes the plane had been boarded.  

The operating aircraft for the almost 3hr flight was an Airbus A320 with a 3-3 seat layout.  The legroom was surprisingly very good, I am tall at 6'1 and the legroom was good enough for me.  My knees were not hitting neither the seat in front of me nor myself.  The seat itself was pretty decent and comfortable enough for the 3hr flight (although I have been on this aircraft for longer flights, and after 3.5hrs the seat starts getting uncomfortable).  There was a small pocket in front of the seat that was empty.  The inflight magazine, safety card, and other information was stored in the pocket above the seat.  This is very convenient as this layout provides more legroom for passengers.  I also saw passengers use this nook as a holder for ipads and other electronic devices.  It was a quick taxi to the runway and we took off near our scheduled time.

About 15-20 minutes after reaching our cruising altitude, the inflight service continued.  Complimentary drinks were served along with complimentary pretzels.  Snack boxes were also available to purchase.  The drinks were provided in small cups, and this was the only inflight service for the entire 3 hours.  After providing drinks, the flight attendants never came by for another service - not even for water.  I understand trying to cut down on costs, but they could have at least come back down the aisle with water.  The rest of the flight was uneventful as it was up to the passenger to pass the time.  You can access free entertainment through United's app when you are connected to United Wifi.  Unfortunately the wifi was not working on this plane so you were not able to connect to the entertainment - there was no apology, just a statement that the wifi was not working.  We landed in Newark earlier than our time, but it took a while to taxi to our gate as there was another plane there.  We finally got to our gate and deplaned.

I had about one hour before my next plane departed, but I also had to switch from the C concourse where United is based to the A concourse where United Express is based as my next flight was on a small plane. The operating plane for my flight to Ottawa was a small Embraer plane in a 1-2 layout.  There was one seat on one side and two seats on the other side and neither of them had a lot of room.  The plane was also small in height - I am about 6'1 and my head was hitting the roof of the plane.  Luckily the flight time was only 1h20 minute so a lot of time was not spent in the plane.  Given the short flight time, as soon as we reached cruising altitude the inflight service commenced.  Complimentary drinks and snacks were provided.  It was a very short and uneventful flight - and that's good because it is not a comfortable plane to be on for a long period.  

Overall, it was a decent flight with United.  While United is a mainline carrier, their service resembles that of a low-cost carrier.  Before their ticket prices were very high and you did not get a lot for the ticket price, but now they seem to have lowered their prices in comparable to the service you receive.  You do not pay a lot of money and in return you do not get a lot of service - basic prices for basic services.