It’s officially been twelve hours since my flight home from LAX went wheels up, thus concluding my journey through the first OneWorld MegaDO. It is an abrupt transition going from the “MegaDo lifestyle” of jetting from one city to the next each day, hotel rooms to myself, unlimited free drinks and food at every corner, the company of adults who love to talk about points, miles, and aviation, and VIP treatment at every turn, to the world of a sick (again) kid and husband who is exhausted from being a “single daddy” for the last several days. You could say it is a transition back to the “real world”. Thankfully, I love my real world, runny noses and all, so while the transition is abrupt, it is a welcome change. However, what makes it worth it to leave my normal life for a few days to live the “MegaDo lifestyle”, is that in addition to getting a chance to hang out with some great friends on the trip, I always leave these events a better and more knowledgeable traveler.
So, instead of simply posting about the slew of amazing events we got to take part in on the OWMD (check out the official MegaDO blog for that!), I am going to post about a few ways in which it made me a more informed traveler.
My neighbor (and best friend) growing up was a girl named Kristen who was my age. Her dad was a pilot for Pan Am. Prior to having children, her mother was a flight attendant for Pam Am as well. Wonder how they met…..? I remember her dad coming and going in his uniform to fly large airplanes to exotic destinations all over the world. In fact, seeing him in his pilot’s uniform was one of the first concrete memories I have of the aviation industry. I remember thinking that flying airplanes had to be the coolest job in the world. My grandfathers were also both pilots, though not commercially, so I do have some young memories of their tales and photos of airplanes as well.
However, I’ll admit that for most of my life I have been more interested in the places that airplanes can take me, rather than the airplanes themselves. Somewhere between the years of childhood and adulthood I forgot about the magic of flight itself. It’s actually quite understandable how easy it is to forget about actually flying. You can easily walk through the airport and onto the plane without ever really even seeing the plane. Flights are often so smooth and uneventful, that it is easy to take the whole process for granted.
However, MegaDos truly bring the airplanes (and the people who fly them) back into focus. On the Star MegaDO I attended in September 2011, we toured the Bombardier factory outside of Montreal. This time we toured the Boeing factory outside of Seattle. We got to watch Boeing 737s being built. It was amazing to see.
If that doesn’t bring airplanes back into focus, I don’t know what will. We also were given the freedom to explore basically anywhere inside a Qantas A380 and a Cathay Pacific 777. Not only did we get to try out all of the cabins (look for an upcoming post about my thoughts for the best seats for children on those planes), but we got to sit in the cockpit and lay down in the crew rest areas. Looking out of the window in the cockpit of the 777 was a very memorable experience.
I’ve been increasingly interested in planes over the past year or so, but now I find myself thirsty for even more knowledge. While not everyone needs to be an airplane geek to travel, I think that having some knowledge about planes, and a genuine appreciation for flight, makes a person a better traveler.
We also got an opportunity to visit the operations center at American Airlines in Dallas. I posted about how we got “hands on” experience with the evacuation slide, but we also got to participate in both a water evacuation and an evacuation of an aircraft cabin filled with smoke. Certainly we all had fun with these experiences, but the reality is that we are all now better prepared in the event of a real emergency. We have crawled into a life raft (which, for the record, is not easy), and have practiced installing the canopy to the raft in the event that it is cold or raining. Again, it was not the easiest process.
While all of the training events had an element of “fun” to them, evacuating a cabin filled with smoke was actually a bit frightening for me. Hearing flight attendants yelling in unison to keep your heads down was something I never want to experience in the real world. It is scary, even in a mock situation. However, at least we are all now better prepared than we were before. Again, I think that makes me a better traveler.
Getting a chance to see the operations center at American and hear first-hand how they make decisions about cancellations was also very enlightening. We learned that their number one priority when making a flight cancellation (other than safety, of course) is looking at whether or not everyone on the flight can get to where they are going by the end of that day. If the cancellation decision comes down to two flights, and Flight A has fewer passangers on it, but some won’t be able to be re-routed to their destination that day, and Flight B has more passengers, but all can still get to their destination via a different routing, then Flight B is the more likely choice for cancellation even though it impacts more people. We also heard that they do take into account who is on the flight (so that means you want to be on flights with really important people on it!). The MegaDo flight from London to Dallas was cancelled the day before our visit with the operations crew, so this discussion especially hit home for those who had been routed various ways to get to Dallas from London. Again, being more informed makes me a better traveler.
Finally, these trips give me a chance to see and learn about things I would never otherwise experience. For example, today the MegaDO attendees got to utilize the American Airlines Flagship Check-in. I had a special curb-side entrance, friendly personal help with check-in, and an escort to the front of the TSA security line.
This is a normally reserved for First Class customers on a three-class transcontinental or international flight, ConciergeKey members, or Five Star Service customers and is currently only available at LAX, but is expanding to other locations in the near future. While it is certainly possible I will fly in First Class on a three-class cabin at some point, it certainly isn’t my normal flying pattern, so without the MegaDo I would probably barely even know this service existed. Now I not only know it exists, but I have first-hand knowledge of what the service is like. Even if that knowledge isn’t all that relevant to my day-to-day life, it is certainly knowledge that can help some travelers.
The same is true for American’s Five Star Service. The MegaDO participants who went to London got to experience this service on that leg of their journey. This is a service that can be purchased for $125 per person, or two passengers for $200 (immediate family members under 18 can accompany the paying passenger for no additional charge). The service comes with: car service coordination, curbside meet and greet, check-in assistance, expedite through through the security link, lounge access, flight monitoring and priority re-accomodation during delays, escort to the gate, pre-boarding assistance, baggage claim assistance, and assistance with customs for international arrivals.
While I am not sure if I will ever need to use this service or not, I can absolutely see many scenarios in which it would be very worth the price paid. For example, if a parent were traveling alone overseas, with a connection, with small children, this personalized and proactive assistance might be very helpful in maintaining sanity. I could also see it being helpful if older family members were traveling alone. While this service is not continuous care or medical assistance, it would help ensure that their travel was as seamless as possible. Knowing that things like this exist makes me a better traveler.
I could go on and on about this trip, but I will leave it at that. If you are interested in aviation, the magic of flight, or just want to have a great time with a bunch of miles and points junkies, consider coming on one of these trips. I promise you will have memories to keep with you for a lifetime.
Now, if you want a bag of enough MegaDO swag to “last you a lifetime”, then you have come to the right place. Everyone that comments on this post stating why they want to come on a MegaDO will be entered to win my bag of swag. This isn’t an extra bag of stuff I picked up, this is my (unworn) shirt and bag of goodies. I was lucky enough to have photos and memories, but I want to at least share some of the goodies we were given with one of you who couldn’t make the trip. In it is an official MegaDO shirt in size Large, an AAdmiral’s Club pass that is valid through 04/30/12, a box of chocolates from the Hyatt Century City in LA, Cathay Pacific screen cleaner/keyboard duster, Qantas luggage tag, airplane shaped paper clips, many key rings, pens, notepads, etc… I’m honestly not even sure what all is in there – and let me tell you it was heavy to carry home!
Entries are accepted until 11:59 PM Central on Friday 2/3/12. A winner will be selected at random from all eligible entries. Thanks to all who helped make the MegaDO a tremendous success. Finally, here is a shot of the view from my window while we were flying out over the Pacific today before turning to head back to Texas. Hopefully one day soon I will continue West over the Pacific on one of those beautiful, large planes I had the chance to explore on this trip.