Saturday, October 3, 2009

on increasingly inaccurate blog descriptions

Well, despite my previous protestations, I have now officially travelled in business class on a business trip, making a slight
mockery of this blog's justification. Presumably due to the much-publicised fact that business travellers are abandoning business class en masse in these times of belt-tightening, Qantas is obviously stuck with the problem of some fairly inflexible seating layouts. They are obviously saving money by reducing capacity on some routes (the daily Sydney-Tokyo is now A330 instead of 747), which means fuller planes - except in business class (and presumably first). So us upper tier frequent flyers are obviously reaping the benefits.

My recent upgrade to business class was Sydney to Hong Kong, and this time I hit the jackpot - "turn to right sir and proceed up the stairs." For those who have never been upstairs on a 747, it's all business class - only 6 rows of four seats. Once one is seated, it's like the 350-odd people downstairs simply don't exist. Of course, given that it was a day flight, the appeal of lying flat wasn't so apparent, and you realise that the main benefit is really just that level of removal from your fellow passengers. This was unfortunately challenged by the woman I was sitting next to who spoke no English and was determined that I should make selections and adjustments to her entertainment program whenever necessary. Strangely she seemed quite content to watch Wake In Fright (1971 Australian outback film) without any subtitles.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

on travel weight gain

I am in an abusive relationship with the breakfast buffet. Every time we get back together it ends in tears. Unfortunately I just can't seem to stay away. I should clarify that I'm not talking about previously encountered questionable buffets. What I am talking about is the buffet of quality and variety such as I repeatedly encounter at the Hilton Kuala Lumpur. I try to justify eating the pan au chocolat by reminding myself that thin and glamorous French people eat them all the time, but I have to concede that they probably haven't already eaten a full plate of omelette, sausages, rendang and roti. I set myself the challenge every time I stay of attending the buffet but resisting its unnecessary advances, and I thought this time I was actually starting to gain the upper hand. Turns out that my strength of will only applies to breakfast, and not for happy hour at the executive club lounge. Damn those cute little pies.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

on inaccurate blog descriptions

So my statement that this is a blog for someone who never travels business is now slightly less true. Although I won't change it just yet, because technically I still haven't travelled business class for business. I was however a recipient of an upgrade to business class on a personal trip. While lying flat(ish) is certainly desirable, I think it's actually the business class blanket that impressed me the most. If they provided those to economy (instead of the static-charged ones you normally get) then there'd be hundreds of happier people. But really I wanted to share the dangers of the business class upgrade. It's not that it spoils you for the next flight (although obviously it does) but more that one has to face the fact that one is probably not the only upgrade recipient. Thus, the general public that you think you left behind may indeed have snuck their way in front of the Curtain Of Privilege along with yourself. In this last particular instance, I shared the (spacious) row with a young gentleman who was, let's face it, a dirty hippy. I tolerated his (undoubtedly smelly) dreadlocks and his sandals, but what took the cake upon landing in Sydney was his need to get up WHILE WE WERE STILL SLOWING ON THE RUNWAY (where was the disciplinary flight attendant?), open the overhead bin to retrieve his ukulele, and then START PLAYING SAID UKULELE as though it were some sort of welcoming/cleansing ritual. All I could manage was a feeble "you can't be serious" to no-one in particular. I've said it before and I'll say it again. F**k'n hippies.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

iron cord art 2

This is from Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu.

I'm impressed by a certain carefree casual elegance in this arrangement. But mostly I think I just like the smokey pink plastic.

Friday, June 12, 2009

on how to fly

Not so much flying lessons, but passenger etiquette:
  1. Check-in. Tempting as it may be, don't feign ignorance or possession of a pram as a reason to use the priority check-in queue. Us frequent flyers have sweated for this privilege. And that "you're not really going to send me to the back of that queue over there, are you?" look is going to fall on suitably deaf ears. Or blind eyes, as the case may be. You knew you were trying to pull one.
  2. Boarding. Take out whatever you will need on the plane before you board. If you must spend five minutes deciding which books/magazines/ipods/drugs/entertainment you need to pull out of your bag, please step into your seat row and out of the aisle. Remember, you only need to make it until they turn off the fasten seat belt sign. Also, people put valuables and breakables in their carry-on - leave the violent baggage handling to the professionals on the tarmac.
  3. Seat pocket. You know how you can feel it when the person behind puts things in and out of the seat pocket? Well, you're doing the same to the person in front of you. Magazines and small items only, the seats are uncomfortable enough without an apple in the small of your back.
  4. Departure. Seat back in the upright position and tray table locked during takeoff. No need to test them beforehand. If you have a child, please inform them that playing with the seat back, tray table, and seat pocket is a no-presents-from-Santa-this-year offence. Bring restraints if the child is prone to kicking the seat in front of them.
  5. In the air. A simple check behind you before reclining is appropriate. Press the button while leaning forward, and then slowly push back into the seat. To get out of your seat, use the armrests and your seat back for leverage, not the one in front. I have been catapulted out of many a hard won nap by the forward grab and release method.
  6. Space. Aisle and window seats have one non-challengeable armrest each, plus other benefits, so a sandwiched person should have at least one armrest allocated to them. Your size does not give you automatic armrest rights. Feet should be positioned within the armrest boundaries, as should shoes, handbags and superfluous blankets and pillows. Where one seat is significantly disadvantaged by the entertainment system box, the passenger should be allowed some courtesy space beyond the armrest boundary.
  7. Deplaning. If you are from a row behind me, don't even try to leave before me.
By paying heed to these small rules, you can ensure that my, oops I mean your, next flying experience is at least tolerable.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

on what i want from an elevator

Usually one's hotel room number consists of 3-4 digits. The last two are insignificant, it's the first one or two that determines how valued or lucky you are. I'm not quite sure why. The higher floor you are on, the more time it takes to get there and away. Which is where the elevator comes in. At the moment I'm on the 25th floor at the Hilton Tokyo and the elevator knows just what to do. The doors close with assured precision rather than an awkward or bouncy clumping sound, and the lift accelerates subtly to a significant speed and decelerates just as unassumingly. The overall impression is that I'm there faster than expected, and with no unnecessary fanfare. And the view is quite nice.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

on not letting the story get in the way

As a wary and ever-vigilant traveller in this time of swine fever, I was of course attracted to the headline in a local Malaysian paper today: "226 suspected cases of H1N1 nationwide." It wasn't until the 2nd paragraph that the journalist reported the fact that 224 of these cases were found to be not infected. That left two positive cases (known previously), who had already been declared free of the virus. Meaning that there are zero cases in Malaysia at the moment. Which to me opens up a whole new field of possibilities for employing the word "suspected" without being constrained by any evidence to the contrary. Newsflash: "leery traveller" blogger suspected of being witty, wealthy.

the upgrade roller-coaster

The dizzying highs, the terrifying lows. As far as flying goes, I've been upgraded to business class once (many years ago) and once to premium economy (the existence of which has made the business class upgrade an even more elusive possibility). Of course the upgrade makes the subsequent flight measurably more miserable, and the temptation to spend points on an upgrade ever more appealing. Just today Qantas sent me an email offering that I could upgrade my upcoming Sydney to New York flight, despite the fact that "your seat booking class is usually not eligible for upgrade." I'm honestly surprised they're prepared to tolerate my sort in premium economy. Presumably they'd sanitise me somehow first.

In terms of hotels, the best upgrade I've had was to the Royal Suite at the Radisson in Santiago, Chile. Of course, it was hard to make full use of the separate dining room, as I checked in at 2am, and had to check out 7 hours later. When I had two nights there a few days later I was back to a regular room with an eternally blocked toilet and a relationship with the hotel plumber forged in adversity. 

Tonight I checked in to Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu (infamous on a previous trip for a colleague finding a cooked cockroach in their breakfast) for one night and have been upgraded to a suite (shown here). Although I only have a few hours in the room, I've so far managed to eat dinner at the dining table, rest on the sofa in front of the lounge room TV, post to this blog from the work desk, hang a pair of pants in the walk-in-wardrobe, snaffle a complimentary copy of Newsweek for tomorrow's flight, and will spend some time reclining languorously on the chaise longue before taking to the bed. It's all about making hay while the sun shines, and resisting the nagging feeling that this should be the natural order.

Monday, May 18, 2009

simple things

Why does one never remember to unwrap the bathroom soap before one's hands are too wet or gooey with hair product to easily do so?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Diarius, the roman god of scheduling

When I travel for work, I usually need to fit in as many meetings in as few days as possible. When I first started to do this, I used to get stressed about the variables that need to be juggled in order to do this: flight schedules, meeting availabilities, arranging by location, transport times, etc. Then of course there's the delay in confirmations - do you give a range of options, do you wait for each meeting to be confirmed, what's the politics of withdrawing an offered slot?

But I suspect that all that angst is wasted, as I've become increasingly suspicious that there's a whole 'nuther field of science here waiting to be discovered. Because experience seems to show that the later you leave the arrangements, the more likely they are to oddly fall into place. Once it's down to the last week, some sort of magical force steps in, and the schedule just seems to magically coalesce. People quickly agree to proposed times and others randomly request meetings right at the time you have a gap in the schedule.

In fact, I'm thinking about taking this to the next level on my next trip: I'll just book a flight in and out of wherever I need to go, and then if meetings are meant to happen, they'll just happen. I may go as far as booking a hotel, to be safe, but other than that I'll just head to a cafe on the first morning and see who turns up.

Of course the other conclusion is that the boy scout motto "be prepared" is not worth the woggle on which it was carved.

Monday, March 23, 2009

a380 review

I'll admit to a little giddiness when boarding QF32 back to Sydney from Singapore this time, closet plane-spotter that I am. Actually more like lounge room plane-spotter, since the view from the closet is restricted. Anyway the prospect of my first A380 flight was exciting. It was also came with a little hesitation - somehow a 747 still looks more like it actually wants to get off the ground, whereas the A380 comes off a bit more like a road train with wings. And being an experienced Apple fan, I've learned to be wary of 1st generation product releases. On this flight there was indeed a "malfunctioning [something] back up power system [something] will be ok after takeoff." And it was ok, although when we landed they had to keep the engines running at the gate until they plugged the plane into the wall. Just needed an extension cord I guess.

Let's start with the negatives: nothing major to speak of. The plane wasn't especially full, so it didn't seem too unruly getting on or off. Could be a different matter with a full flight. There was also quite an unsettling grinding sound when the flaps were fully retracted after takeoff, and again when they began to be extended for landing. Nothing that I'm sure some WD-40 wouldn't fix. On take off, it accelerated very rapidly and impressively, although certainly seemed to linger on the tarmac for longer than usual - just long enough that you can't help but wonder how much might be left. On landing, it did seem to groan just a little on impact - like it wasn't entirely convinced that it wanted that sort of interaction, but slowed quickly and obediently.

On then to the positives. I like the seats. It seemed like there was more space - both leg room and width. It's probably partly that the cabin feels modern and spacious. And the plane is certainly quiet. Really quiet compared to a regular jet. My noise-cancelling headphones really didn't make that much of an impact (they do on a 747). I think it feels less exhausting because of that.

But for me it's all about the video screen. It's widescreen and it's huge - in comparison to a standard one. And it's much higher quality. Normally I will only choose movies that I think can survive the translation to the small crappy screen (ie, nothing that gets nominated for a cinematography oscar) - but on this screen the viewing is actually involving rather than trying. I tried watching Quantum of Solace on the way over, but just couldn't tolerate the visuals on the small screen, but was able to watch it all the way through on this one. Personal video screens (with video on demand) are the best thing to happen to flight since smoking was banned, so I reckon improving that is the best thing you can do for an economy passenger.

Leery Traveller says two thumbs up.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

iron cord art

It may be worth adding an eleventh criteria to my list below for determining the quality of a hotel, and that would be whether housekeeping engages in iron cord art. The example pictured here is from the Hilton in KL where my iron cord was arranged thusly every day, and every morning I did a small ribbon dance to get it undone. While I appreciate the neatness and elegance of the cord wrapping, it did evoke for me the vaguely troubling image of a stocky German woman tut-tutting every day she came in to find it unwound again.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

a word about potato gratin

Here at the breakfast trough* at the Howard Plaza Kaohsiung, I was amused yesterday morning to see that the potato gratin had been filled out by mixing some fried potato wedges throughout it, looking suspiciously like they had been retrieved from the previous night's bar menu. Fair enough, I thought, if it was going to ensure that there was enough gratin to satisfy everyone. Presumably just a stop-gap measure until someone went to the market for more potatoes that could be added in a more traditional manner. However, clearly the potato shortage is ongoing as this morning I found the gratin had been filled out by the careful addition of hash brown nuggets.

* trough = buffet

whoever gave this hotel a four-star rating is ****ed.

... by which of course I mean that they were completely accurate. To be honest, I don't know half the time what the actual star rating is supposed to be for any given hotel, who has determined it, and what sort of money changed hands to get there. 

So I think it's time for a better system, and I am just the one to design it. It's a ten point scoring system, and it works on a binary basis, by which I mean that there are ten criteria that the hotel either has or does not have. Each of the following criteria is worth one point:
  1. Hangers in closet are free-hanging and ready to steal, not like those annoying ones that leave you with a nub on top while the hangy part stays fixed.
  2. Conditioner is in a separate bottle to the shampoo.
  3. Room service/housekeeping/concierge uses your name when you call them from the room.
  4. Something yummy is left in your room daily - the welcome fruit does not count.
  5. The temperature selector on the air conditioning thermostat has some connection to the temperature it will actually deliver.
  6. There is an easy-to-find TV channel listing.
  7. Internet access is free (bonus point if wireless).
  8. Room is any one of: tasteful, cool, sleek, ridiculously large, has excellent view.
  9. The widescreen TV doesn't stretch every crappy analogue standard-aspect channel it receives, rendering most movies unwatchable.
  10. A firm pillow is available, or can be provided with a minimum of fuss.
Thus I can rate this current trip as follows:
G Hotel, Penang: 5
Hilton Kuala Lumpur: 8
Puteri Pacific, Johor Bahru: 3
Howard Plaza, Kaohsiung: 3.5 (because three pieces of welcome fruit is better than one)

The pass mark is necessarily low, because I want to leave room for a hotel to really satisfy me, and for me to be able to express that. Hence, even though the G Hotel gets 5, I'd happily stay there again. The Howard Plaza Kaohsiung is serviceable, but the Puteri Pacific just makes me sad in so many unexplainable ways.