I’ve been to Philadelphia a couple times for work, and I even spent the night once for pleasure, but I never really got out to see the city. This past weekend I set out to address that issue, planning a get-away with my other half to celebrate our anniversary. Part of the fun for me was that the trip was a complete surprise for her. I gave her almost no details, other than a departure time on Friday and some vague guidelines on events (including a MLB game on Saturday, but not which one). Heading down to Philadelphia on Amtrak was incredibly easy. I’ve often suggested that the train is better than flying for the North-East Corridor, and after this weekend’s trips I am more steadfast in that opinion.
So we got on the train, popped a split of Proseco and had some cheese and crackers and enjoyed the ride into town. We booked in to the Hilton Garden Inn ($55 on Priceline versus a list price of $159 on Hilton.com, and they gave me my HH Diamond benefits anyway, though I don’t think they were supposed to). Actually, the HGI was the highlight of the trip. We got a nice room upgrade, free drinks and free breakfast and everyone was incredibly nice. I actually filled out a comment card lauding some of them; it was that good.
That night we headed to Buddakan for dinner, an experience that we’d both been looking forward to for some time. And boy were we disappointed. The scene was what we expected – “hip & cool” – but the food was most certainly not up to par. The menu came loaded with options like “Zen-gria” and “dip sum” donuts. We were surprised to not find Moons over my Hammy™ on the menu (nod to the wife for that gem). We ordered five appetizers for our dinner. At most restaurants the apps are better than the entrees, with the chef willing to take a bit more risk on getting creative. And this was supposed to be a haven of new flavors, so we thought we made a good choice. Shrimp & Scallop Spring Rolls, King Crab Tempura, Tuna Carpaccio “Pizza,” Lobster Fried Rice and Hot Eel Dice were the choices. And here’s how they fared:
- Shrimp & Scallop Spring Rolls – Probably the best of the five, with decent chunks of the shellfish and a light wrapper. But that was it. No other flavors mixed in the stuffing. The dipping sauces were pretty good.
- King Crab Tempura – Overly soggy and lacking in flavor. We were spoiled by having the king crab app at Morimoto earlier in the week, but I was still expecting some crab flavor to seep through. I was denied.
- Tuna Carpaccio “Pizza” – I was hesitant to order it because it had “pizza” in the name. I should’ve trusted my gut. Without the sauce it was sliced tuna and avocado on a toasted pita. And neither the tuna nor the avocado were all that great. The sauce was a soy/wasabi blend, so that added some flavor to it and made it passable, but really just barely.
- Lobster Fried Rice – I’m still trying to figure out where the saffron got lost in the kitchen; it certainly never made it to our fried rice. The lobster chunks were overcooked and lacking that tenderness that correctly cooked lobster effuses.
- Hot Eel Dice – This is the only app without a description on the menu. We asked for one and it definitely didn’t match what was served. The “dice” is actually a couple pieces of hot eel sushi with a bit of avocado layered in. And unlike normal eel sushi it was lacking the tangy sauce that is normally served, meaning that this plate also was missing out on flavor. And it was full pieces. lending no credibility to the word “dice” in the name.
The dessert was OK (we had the chocolate/banana thing), but still not great and certainly not living up to the high expectations that we had. Maybe our expectations were too high, but it just wasn’t a great meal. Sad, but true.
Back to the hotel that night and then up and out the next morning to take in some of the historical sights downtown. That translates to the liberty bell and the old state house. We spent the typical 30 minutes going through the liberty bell pavilion, reading the signs and basking in the history. And I still have absolutely no idea why the Liberty Bell is relevant in American history. It pre-dates the revolution by 20-odd years. It was not used as a signal for anything in particular because it broke pretty soon after it went into service. Best as I can tell it actually did nothing, other than to become an icon for various civil rights groups throughout the past 200 years. It didn’t figure in the drive for independence nor in the revolutionary (or other) wars. I guess it is all that is left of Philly’s claim to revolutionary history so they keep pumping it up, but I cannot figure out what its relevance is. The other building was the old state house. We toured the grounds but did not wait in line to go inside. Maybe that part of the tour was better, but the grounds were nothing special, save for about a dozen Argenbright security guards posing for photos with the tourists. Oh, and a statue of Washington.
I’ll admit that we didn’t make it to the art museum nor to the Franklin Center, both of which I’ve heard good things about. But still, I was left wondering what all the fuss is about in Philadelphia. At least we saw this guy in the train station which was entertaining:
I’ll probably give Philly another try at some point, like in September when I have another 6am flight out, but until then I’ll be looking at other options, and will continue to try to figure out why the Liberty Bell has garnered the reputation it has as relevant.
Delta is sticking it to their frequent fliers starting on August 15th, when they will institute a fuel surcharge for all reward redemptions. The fee will be $25 for travel in the US and Canada and $50 for everywhere else in the world.
Interestingly, US-based carriers are not allowed to charge the fuel surcharge portion of their fares on reward seats, only the government taxes and fees. In this situation, however, it seems that Delta is pulling an end-run on that rule, effectively just charging a flat rate across the board to try to generate a bit of extra money. Sucks for folks that were looking forward to that “free” flight with their miles. I’ve got 90K miles to burn on Delta; looks like I’m going to be paying a bit more, too.
Like most domestic carriers United Airlines is looking to cut service this fall/winter in hopes that they can avoid bankruptcy and/or liquidation. The latest salvo in this battle was the announcement yesterday that they will be pulling out of Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach completely, shifting all that traffic to their Miami operations.
These cuts would seem to be a part of the previously announced intent to shed the Ted brand. The traffic in those markets is predominantly leisure passengers who are more price sensitive and competition from other carriers (Spirit, JetBlue, etc.) seems to keep the fares low, reducing yields. And United wasn’t offering a first class cabin, which actually does sell pretty well into PBI and into FLL to a slightly lesser extent.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised as I see markets close up. The other airlines are doing it too. But it is always sad to see knowing that the options for people to travel keep shrinking.
Following a spate of recent air rage incidents on flights a group in Denver plans to open a smoking lounge air-side at the airport in an effort to make the travel experience more relaxing. Of course, they plan to permit the smoking of marijuana in the lounge, not just tobacco.
They admit that they haven’t really thought through any of the legal issues of the plan, but they’re also the group behind the recent ballot initiative that had all penalties for possession removed, so they are pretty sure they’re on to something. Of course, with the removal of snacks on flights or the buy-on-board approaches that most airlines have, this could come back to haunt them, causing more issues for those with the munchies.
Yeah, it is pretty ridiculous, but also pretty funny.
The Coney Island Mermaid Parade is the quintessential way to kick of the summer in New York City. Held every year on the first Saturday of summer, the parade celebrates Coney Island and all the fun that it represents. Each year it is a bit different, but every year includes a few consistencies. There will be mermaids celebrating in various states of undress. There will be body paint. There will be kids dressed up as pirates and mermaids. There will be folks who put a LOT of effort into building floats and others who show up as they are and walk just for the fun of it. Spectators get in on the act too, with many in the crowd dressed up for the celebration.
I wandered amongst the crowd during the pre-parade festivities capturing the scenes of folks prepping for the show and otherwise enjoying the first day of summer.
Lots more fun during the parade as well.
One thing that the parade always benefits from is that there are plenty of people in New York City who aren’t afraid to show off their wild or creative side, especially if it is out in public with a few thousand spectators. And this year’s parade was no exception.
One of the most impressive performances was from a troupe of hula hoopers. Not only could they hula, but they also managed to do it while walking in the parade, which was quite amazing to me.
This float was pretty amazing. The sea horse was set up to spray water for added fun.
And a number of participants used the parade as an opportunity to speak out on various issues, ranging from the war in Iraq to the planned redevelopment of Coney Island that will be effectively ripping out the boardwalk, the arcades and the attractions to make way for residential and commercial development. These women represented the three main attractions that are likely to suffer at the hands of the developers, the Cyclone, the Parachute Drop and Wonder Wheel.
I took a ton more photos, many of which are available here. It is truly a great experience and highly recommended. Be sure to wear sunscreen; I’m fighting of a bit of sunburn, and I’m sure several of the participants are too based on their very limited costume coverage.
I hate surcharges. I’d much rather just see what the cost of an item is and make a decision based on that number. The airlines seem to disagree, trending towards surcharges and fees to generate revenue in pretty much every situation. Airlines have actually raised fares a dozen times so far this year, so they’re doing that, too, but the fees can get out of hand. The most egregious fee, in my opinion, is the fuel surcharge.
The fuel surcharge is unlike the checked baggage or assigned seat fees in that it actually applies to everyone. If I don’t check bags or care about my seat assignment I can fly for just the cost of the plane ticket. By when fuel surcharges come in to play the cost cannot be avoided. It is essentially part of the fare, but the airlines hide it as an extra fee, helping them advertise fares lower than what they are actually charging.
And now the fuel surcharge has broken into new territory, surpassing $1,000 for trips between Sydney and London on Japan Airlines. That is $1000 in addition to the actual fare. The flight is about 10,000 miles each way routing via Tokyo, and the $1,000 is a round trip fee, so the fee is only $500 each way. That’s about $0.05 per mile flown. Considering that the airlines pay about $0.03-0.04 per seat mile flown for fuel (based on CASM numbers published by the airlines) this fee will actually more than cover the fuel costs for the flights. Plus passengers are still going to pay the rest of the fare, meaning that the airlines should be able to cover their costs OK, but without charging higher fares, at least not officially.
Of course, if the airlines just raised the fares the folks paying money for their tickets wouldn’t really see any difference, as the end number is the same. But for passengers looking at reward redemptions they have to pay all taxes and fees as part of the redemption, in addition to the miles. So if you participated in the JAL frequent flier program and were looking to redeem your points to go from Sydney to London you’ll also have to pay the $1,000 fuel surcharge, since it is not part of the fare. That just sucks.
Interestingly enough, the fees vary from airline to airline, even for the same flights. I’ve just booked a flight on Turkish Airlines using some of my US Air miles. If I purchased the tickets outright from Turkish Air the taxes would be ~$70 for one person. Using my US Air miles the taxes were $6. Even with paying the US Air fee of $40 to book the ticket through the call center despite the fact that the online site doesn’t even recognize the destinations I still came out ahead on the cost by using the miles.
Boeing has achieved another major milestone in the build process for their 787 Dreamliner, powering up all the electrical systems on the plane. The power-up process has been running for the past 10 days, with the cockpit activated first and additional sections of the plane subsequently turned on one by one. It seems that everything powered up OK, so Boeing will be able to move forward with their timeline as planned, at least for now.
This is a pretty big deal for Boeing and the 58 airlines who are looking to fly the 787s. I’m sure that some of the US-based carriers are OK with delaying paying for the planes while they try to stay in business, but the more solvent carriers actually need these planes to be able to continue their international growth, so the delays have been less than stellar for them.
The next major step will be first flight, expected in Q4. In the mean time, Boeing will be running the computer systems through a gamut of tests to make sure it really knows how to fly and also will be getting one of the frames ready for fatigue testing. In the fatigue testing bit they’ll actually bend the wings of an aircraft to ensure that it can meet the stresses of flight. They usually bend them to failure. There used to be a video of the 777 fatigue testing online but it seems to have disappeared for now; it is pretty awesome to watch if you can find it.
Anyway, big news for Boeing and their customers. Things continue to move forward and the planes are expected to begin customer deliveries in 2009.
I’ve posted about the new BA subsidiary OpenSkies previously. They’re looking to start flights from a number of European cities to New York to take advantage of the recent Open Skies treaty. They launched their service this week with their JFK-Paris Orly route.
And now they’re looking to boost bookings on the flights, offering 2-4-1 deals for travel this summer in the Business and Premium Economy cabins. You have to book using a special code available from this page. Both passengers have to be on the same flights, the free ticket still has to pay $100+ in taxes/fees and the free seat doesn’t earn points, but it is still a nice way to sample the new product a little cheaper than otherwise.
The idea of Continental teaming up with United and the rest of the Star Alliance collection of airlines has been talked about off and on for the past couple years. When Continental walked away from the merger opportunity with United things got even more interesting, as there were some very high level conversations between Continental and the OneWorld alliance as well. After reviewing their options Continental has chosen to move from the SkyTeam alliance to the Star Alliance.
This is still contingent on a number of contractual issues, not the least of which is actually getting out of all the direct agreements with all their SkyTeam partners, in terms of code-share flights, lounge access and various other arrangements. Their contracts require a minimum of 9 months following the completion of the DL/NW merger before it can really go through, so it will probably be late 2009 or more likely 1/1/2010 before this actually goes in to effect.
I generally like the partner options for Star Alliance better than those for SkyTeam. And Star has much more complete coverage of some key areas, including Oceania and SE Asia. I’m very much looking forward to some new redemption options in the coming years.
Cue the rampant speculation of benefits, partner earnings, etc.
Flying to and from the New York City area I’ve become rather familiar with weather and air traffic control delays over the years. I was delayed coming out of Vancouver on Thanksgiving weekend because they had to figure out if the plane was OK to fly without a little piece of plastic to cover the button in the cockpit that drains the lavatory. But I am happy to say that I have never been delayed due to jackals.
That’s right – jackals. And lizards, porcupines and various other animals.
It is monsoon season in India, and the heavy rains are forcing much of the local fauna to seek high ground while their homes are flooded. Apparently airports are a great place for that, especially the runways. And they don’t seem to understand that when the really big planes come in to land they should get out of the way. The animals are causing many flights to be delayed or canceled while animal control officers attempt to keep the runways clear.
“The monitor lizards — they look frightening but they are harmless animals,” Kartick Satyanarayan of the conservation group Wildlife SOS told CNN. “But they can grow about three to four feet long. And at the velocity a plane lands, the [lizards] can still cause damage.”