American Airlines Review – 4 Domestic Flights

American Airlines review
English: DFW American Airlines Departure (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never done an American Airlines review – I don’t live in one of its hub cities, so I rarely fly it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I needed to grab a last-minute flight to Washington, D.C. United and American Airlines were dollars away from each other. From there, my choice came down to fleet versus flight times. And the American Airlines schedule worked in my favor, so it was my choice for these flights (PHX-DFW, DFW-BWI – BWI-ORD, ORD-PHX).

Here are a few thoughts that should give you an American Airlines review that covers more than a few bases, from social media to check in.

The American Airlines Fleet

As I mentioned earlier, fleet is often a deciding factor. And American Airlines does not have one of my favorite fleets; its MD-80 planes are long in the tooth at best – American Airlines may call it the Super 80, but there’s little super about it. I poked some fun at the Mad Dog-80 with this Twitter message.

Justin Schmid ‏@wandering_j23h

.@AmericanAir should dress its flight crews in steampunk clothes to match its raggedy MD-80s. #travel #airlines #avgeek

American Airlines responded with this tweet:

American Airlines ‏@AmericanAir23h

@wandering_j Justin, our fleet is evolving! Check here for more info: http://bit.ly/AAEvolution

American Airlines review
I still haven’t flown a shiny American Airlines 777 for an intercontinental flight. Fodder for a future review?

Fair play to American Airlines for the response, and a friendly exchange of follow-up tweets. I’d like to think that anyone involved in social media got a giggle out of the notion of steampunked flight attendants. Bottom line, though, my recent domestic flight on a United Airlines Dreamliner was a big difference from the American Airlines Mad Dog. Planes change the game for some people, and a few hours of difference in schedule could’ve made American Airlines lose this booking. On the plus side: It’s easy to avoid middle seats on an MD-80 because of its 2-3 seat configuration. It’s also a quiet ride if you’re up front, but a roaring beast in the back.

Where American Airlines Gets Technology Right

When I boarded my flight, I peered into the all-analog cockpit of the MD-80 and noticed that the first officer had an iPad docked on the instrument panel (the captain may have, too, but I didn’t have the angle). I guessed it was a supplement to paper charts. I was close: The iPad is a complete replacement for paper charts and manuals. An article in American Way, the American Airlines inflight magazine, gives some interesting stats:

  • 400,000 gallons of fuel savings from reduced weight
  • 24 million fewer pages printed
  • Electronic updates save hours versus hand-written updates of paper manuals

Before flying, I also downloaded the American Airlines Android app. I hadn’t gotten an email confirmation for my flight, and I wanted to cover all my bases. The app worked beautifully, which scores some points in my American Airlines review. It presented no problems for the TSA agents, nor for the gate agents. It reminded me of last year’s flights in Scandinavia, when upwards of 90 percent of passengers on my flights boarded with smart phones. Also, American Airlines updated the (admittedly paltry) miles in my account quite quickly.

In the Air

I didn’t interact much with the flight attendants. There was no meal service on any of my flights, and I filled my 24-ounce water bottle before boarding each leg. It was mostly just a nap-and-read affair for me. The flight attendant on the flight from BWI to O’Hare managed to get some chuckles for his wordplay during the safety speech (I’ve noticed a pattern lately – some really good FAs on regional jets).

American Airlines Review Bottom Line

The fleet renewal can’t come soon enough for me. American Airlines scores points with a website that I find easy to use, even when cashing in frequent flier miles. A few years ago, I snagged a first class upgrade for AAdvantage miles – and the transaction was smooth as a curling rock’s bottom. Better planes can give American Airlines a leg up against the shiny United Airlines fleet that I’ve enjoyed so much for domestic trips.

I have mixed feelings about the potential merger with US Airways, my current hometown airline. I like the US Airways Star Alliance airlines far better than the oneworld counterparts.

Wrapping it up, I haven’t flown a long-haul flight on American. I have a hard time handing my cash over to a US-based airline for an intercontinental flight when I have a wealth of evidence that foreign carriers trounce them in Economy-equivalent class: Qantas and Asiana Airlines brutally pasted United Airlines in my recent intercontinental flights. Even the relatively so-so SAS comprehensively outperformed United Airlines. So, I can’t say much about what American Airlines offers those riding in the back. Who knows, though? Maybe that’ll be the topic of a future American Airlines review.

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Travelling down the West Coast of the US

West Coast US
A look at some of the sights you might see on the West Coast.

You’ve finally decided to do it: see all of the great cities and beautiful landscapes along the West Coast of the US. You’ll travel by auto from rainy Seattle, Washington, the birthplace of grunge, to hot and sunny San Diego in southern California. You could take Interstate 5 all the way down; that’s the fastest route. However, the best way to see the west coast is to take Highway 101 and Highway 1 along the coast. Leave time for sightseeing, plan plenty of side trips, and avoid scheduling your holiday during the winter if you plan to camp or hike in Washington and Oregon.

The adventure starts as soon as you touch down at the Seattle–Tacoma International Airport.

Washington
Washington has the city of Seattle, forests and mountains. Start by spending time in the city. You’ll find delicious locally brewed beer and good food in the pubs. Be sure to catch a gig; Seattle is known for its live music scene, and for good reason. The Space Needle is fun, if touristy, and the Pike Place Market in the city centre may be the longest-operating farmer’s market in the US.

West Coast Portland Weird
Find out why “Keep Portland Weird” is a popular West Coast catchphrase.

The Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains are to the east, and they are absolutely stunning. The best way to experience Washington’s coast is to take Highway 101, which begins in Olympia, south of Seattle, toward the north. It may seem like backtracking, but it is well worth the small amount of extra time it takes. Highway 101 loops around the Olympic peninsula and through a series of stunning forest parks and small towns. Take it all the way to Oregon.

Oregon
Like Washington, Oregon is mountainous and forested. And a highlight of any visit to the West Coast. It has a single large city, Portland, which is well worth the trip away from the coast. Portland is a centre for laid-back urbanists, and it has a sophisticated and relaxed culture. Be sure to visit the city centre, the old town and the Pearl District. After exploring Portland, go back to enjoying the Pacific Coast along Highway 101. If you love camping and hiking, then don’t miss Oregon’s enormous national forests. The 101 will take you straight through the Redwoods National Park, where you can see some of the most majestic trees in the world.

West Coast US
It’s good to be a seal in La Jolla, Calif..

California
Northern California has the state’s wine growing regions and the city of San Francisco. The Napa and Sonoma Valleys are just to the north of San Francisco, and the tours and tastings are unmissable for wine lovers. San Francisco is famous for its huge and lively Chinatown, for its food and for its fun, liberal, Bohemian culture. Yosemite National Park is to the west of San Francisco and is worth a visit, if you have time.

Transfer to Highway 1 south of San Francisco so that you won’t miss Big Sur and the rest of the magnificent California coastline on the way down to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, explore Santa Monica and the Hollywood Hills by car. Go on a studio tour, shop the designer boutiques in Beverly Hills or explore the city’s many ethnic neighbourhoods.

Finally, drive the rest of the way down the West Coast to San Diego, on the Mexican border. Visit the famous San Diego Zoo. Enjoy the fantastic Mexican-style food, and don’t forget to spend some time on the beach.

It’s advisable to arrange services such as Avis car rental in the US prior to travelling. Having a car will give you the freedom to choose to stay in a city, in a scenic and out-of-the-way town or in the wilderness. You’ll be able to plan your routes according to the weather, and you’ll have an opportunity to get off the beaten track.

This is a sponsored post containing a link to an advertiser.

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Cost of Mountain Biking: What’s it Worth?

cost of mountain biking
Bikes, jerseys, miscellaneous gear … and the experience – irreplaceable.

There’s an endless number of ways to stay fit – and to stave off boredom. But to me, mountain biking is a blend of exercise and fun that is hard to beat, and I have nearly two decades of priceless memories and experiences to convince me.

But if I tried to put a price tag on each ride, what would I find? I crunched a few numbers to figure out the cost of mountain biking. I combined the cost of my gear (and its lifespan), the amount I ride, gas, food and park entries (when applicable). On the conservative side, that’s less than $7 per ride. Yes, seven bucks, or bones, or clams, or whatever you call them.

What does each ride get me? It varies. Some rides might be ho-hum. The very next one gets me a close encounter with a bald eagle or a gila monster. Yet another ride pushes me straight to my limits. Then I’ll do a 12-hour race as a solo rider, and face the choice of whether to go out for another lap as the day winds down.

Get involved in mountain biking, and you’ll drown in enthusiasm, oddly dressed people, camaraderie. You’ll see the bizarre, the sublime and the downright awesome. You’ll be baptized in energy drink, and eat the Clif Bar communion wafer. It’s not all a love-fest, I admit – there are plenty of jerks on mountain bikes. But they can’t spoil the experience for me.

Want to figure it out for yourself? Tally how much all the gear from your last ride set you back. Total the bike, the socks, the shorts, the energy gels, the gas to get there. Figure out how long you expect the big items to last, how many times you ride each year, and divide by the total. That’ll give you some idea of what your cost of mountain biking.

Feel free to post your per-ride cost of mountain biking. And answer this question: Why is your ride worth the price to you?

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My Recipe for Travel Advice

travel advice
I eat the possum pie – or anything else weird that someone puts in front of me. That’s my travel advice.

A few days ago, I saw a “10 Travel Rules to Live By” list on Huffington Post. Or to be fair to the author’s original headline, “10 Principles to Make Your Travel Memorable.”

I don’t recommend reading it. It’s full of the usual generic gooey travel advice – you know, embrace, awe, interact, hippie blah blah. There is nothing original in this list. Reading it gave me just one “a-ha” moment: that travelers tell other people how to travel way too much. That’s a steaming load of fly-covered assumption, and we all need to knock it off.

But we all like travel advice, right? OK. I can do that. I’m going to tell you a few things about how I travel. Accept or ignore as it applies to you. And have fun however you roll, even if it’s completely counter to what I write. Let’s go:

travel advice
When I travel, I move fast. But it’s OK to be a slow roller, too.

I roll at my own speed

If the Huffington Post bit is anything to go by, I travel all sorts of wrong (Sloooow it down, it says). I rarely spend three days in any one place. I like the physical challenge, planning the logistics, hopping flights and whizzing around on a high-speed rail line – obviously not in the United States. You may vary. And that’s OK. Stick your toes in the sand, walk everywhere you go, get to know all the locals by name. If it’s what you like, it’s the right way to travel.

I seek no deep meaning – just a good time

I once met a couple that gave me attitude about going to Australia. They’d just been to Thailand, and told me they don’t travel anywhere that English is the official language. I asked how much Thai they learned. They looked uncomfortable -- and admitted they only spoke English during their trip. To me, they try to turn travel into a intellectual statement that they try to wield like a blunt instrument. They want travel to make them feel superior and intelligent. And look, it’d be a lie if I said my travel experiences don’t make me feel a step ahead of non-travelers. But that’s not the point: I want to have fun, and let the socio-political-artistic-intellectual observations come unbidden, not according to what I expect.

I never talk about a “bucket list”

God, I hate this phrase so much. Aside from its crap movie origins, I hate it because: It turns travel into a checklist; and it focuses on running against the clock. Instead of a “bucket list,” I keep a mental “up next” list. It becomes a Hunger Games roster of destinations competing each other to be my next adventure. Losers get recycled into the next list. I like that approach a lot better.

I eat everything in sight

Some of my best stories come from eating strange stuff – rotten shark meat, boiled silkworm larvae, camel schnitzel, possum pie … the list goes on. Locals always love it when I dive face-first into their food (nobody likes persnickety tourists who won’t try anything odd). The actual taste isn’t the point – it’s all about the experience. Though sometimes, I taste some pretty delicious bits from my “eat all that is edible” policy.

Blogging Thoughts – Some Re-evaluation

I didn’t post anything on wanderingjustin.com this week – no travel tips, no lists of cool places to go, not so much as a snarky list about the odd courtship rituals of my mountain bike brethren.

That’s because I’m having a blogging crisis. I’m angst-ridden over the disconnect between the real me and the wanderingjustin.com me. For the most part, my writing here doesn’t sound – at least to me – like the guy my friends know.

There are some reasons why I’ve allowed this to happen:

  • I discovered search engine optimization. And I’ve let it run amok. I respect the benefits of SEO and I’ll still employ some of its practices. But I have to write for people. I think this happens to a lot of people in the continuum of their blogging experience.
  • I’ve tried to be too -- correct. When my blog started gathering steam, sites like USAToday.com and The Chicago Tribune would sometimes scoop up my content. That sort of thing is great for traffic and advertising. I wanted it to happen more often, so I started to censor myself. I became very unlike the guy who is the subject of this quote: "It’s not a party until Justin tells a story about his balls."
  • I’ve been lazy. It’s easy to be informative. It’s not so easy to entertain. It takes effort to summon the same energy of a spur-of-the-moment quip into a blog post. I rarely see the same phrasing and rhythm here that I’ll unleash verbally on someone who’s known me a long time. I have to put more energy into blogging. At least, on a post-by-post basis.

There. The upshot is that for awhile I’ll likely post less until I practice being the real me a bit more. I’m aiming for one super-good post every week. In recent months, I was at two – down considerably from the random days when anything could happen.

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Beginner Hunter Tales: Dove Hunting is Suffering

beginner hunter
This dove will disappear the second you stop driving and start hunting. (photo from Wikipedia)

Here’s one thing I learned during my first day as a beginner hunter: Hunting is suffering (Sorry, Buddha -- even if you really said life is suffering, you would add extra suffering points to the hunter).

Let’s talk about all the ways you can suffer as a beginner hunter.

First, a certain beginner hunter can go to bed way too late.

He can even do this after spending too much time at the local brewery the night before opening day. That makes for too little sleep, and no shortage of weird dreams. In my case, these dreams were about Iceland – where I’d much rather be on Sept. 1 than in the desert southeast of Phoenix for some dove hunting.

beginner hunter
I’m not a Buckless Yooper – just a Doveless Zonie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Second, the beginner hunter – at least the sort who wants to do the right thing – will suffer at the sight of other hunters.

Hey, we’ve all got to realize there are other people in the world. And that’s cool. When it stops being cool is when people are dove hunting right along a road. Or when they show up even later than you did, and plop right next to you. Even though this is my first time hunting, I know bad form when I see it. And that’s terrible form.

Next, the beginner hunter will certainly suffer at the sight of all the doves flying and frolicking during the drive to the preferred hunting site.

You’ll see other hunters (especially those lining the road) pointing and shooting. And you’ll hope there are just as many at your spot. Trust me, there won’t be. Because doves probably love giving you an airshow that you can watch only from your car. Once you stop driving and start dove hunting, they will disappear like Klingons with factory-upgraded cloaking devices.

Finally, the beginner hunter will suffer when the more experience hunters in your group say "Let’s call it a day and come out an hour earlier tomorrow."

That means no tasty microbrews tonight. Sob.

Just to be clear, this dove hunting thing is not all bad. We all went home birdless, with one guy not even getting a shot off. But a hike with shotguns is still better than sitting around wasting your day. Good company, and everybody went home safe. And there’s nowhere to go but up. I’ll head out for Day 2 and see what happens.

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