With the grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner now in its 6th week and looking to stretch into several months the long-term impact on flight schedules is starting to build up. With no certainty of the planes reentering service anytime soon airlines are extending route cancelations or aircraft swaps, depending on the circumstances. For United Airlines the groundings are affecting a number of routes, even those not scheduled to operate on the 787.
United has officially removed the 787 from their schedule through June 5, 2013 (or they will be with this weekend’s schedule updates). The only flight on the 787 expected earlier than that is Denver-Tokyo, a route which was supposed to launch on March 31; the new launch date for that route is May 12th, a delay of 6 weeks. And that date is soft, depending on the 787s getting back into service. Because United has other routes scheduled to be operated by the 787 which are now being operated with other planes the ability to continue expansion efforts are also impeded.
United’s flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo and Shanghai, as well as Houston to Lagos, Nigeria, will continue to operate, but with the 777 rather than 787s. Flights between San Francisco and both Paris and Taipei, both scheduled to start in the coming weeks, are pushed back. Paris service is now slated to begin April 26th and Taipei is expected to start June 6th; these dates are several weeks after the originally announced route launch dates.
For me, the delay on the DEN-NRT flight creates a personal problem for me: I was supposed to fly on the inaugural. United is being quite flexible on rebooking and reroutes, including positioning flights to Denver, and so I now have to decide what to do. I’m still inclined to get the new line and I’d still love to be on the inaugural. Plus, I think I can make the timing work with another event near Denver that weekend. So that’s probably what I’ll do. But I’m tempted to get creative on the way home, extending my mileage run. Maybe a routing via Honolulu? Or something else. Hong Kong or Singapore might be a bit too much, I think. I’d love to get the Island Hopper in there, especially since I’m on a B fare so upgrades would be easier, but I want to do that flight on the daytime, westbound version so that doesn’t work out for me. Any other suggestions??
The past week or so has been quite glorious for anyone looking to get into South America from the United States on the cheap. Both American Airlines and United Airlines had crazy sales from Orlando to Rio and now there is another sale available – in business class no less – from New York City to Chile on either AA or LAN metal for the long-haul segments. We’re talking about <$1000 fares to just about anywhere in Chile in business class, and Easter Island is included! And they are still available as of this morning. Needless to say, I’ve got a couple more flights booked now than I expected to have at this point in the year. But all in a good way. I think.
Considering that I started the year without any major trips planned I think that I’ve filled out my dance card pretty nicely so far. Between late April and Labor Day I have the following southern hemisphere flights booked:
And I still have to figure out how I’m getting home from Johannesburg. I’m hoping that a routing via South America works. Those are fun lines.
And, lest there is any confusion, I am not actually averse to traveling anywhere, including the southern hemisphere. It just seemed like a decent post title.
UPDATE: The fare was pulled with the 1pm feed.
Rio is an awesome city, well worth a visit to experience the beaches, culture and people ((see links below for details from my prior visit). Earlier in the week American Airlines apparently wanted to help Floridians visit, offering up ridiculously cheap fares. I’m not seeing those fares still on offer right now but United Airlines is now following on American’s heels. They have apparently decided that they REALLY want people to visit Rio, so long as you are starting in Orlando. There are fares available right now for less than $500 all-in between Orlando and Rio, with no minimum stay requirements and reasonably wide open availability.
If you are feeling particularly creative and looking for a mileage run out of these fares it is not too hard to make something around 3.3 cents/PQM on United, thanks to routing rules which permit Denver to be used, at least on the outbound segment. Even without Denver getting 3.5 cents is pretty easy; just focus on the Houston routing as it is more miles than the Newark or Dulles options. The following is what I would earn as a 1K with a Denver routing:
There is generally better availability on slightly shorter and more reasonable routings but the ability to route the return via Newark has some other, unintended benefits for me in terms of positioning costs.
One caveat to the earning potential is that the United N fare is the lowest they offer and, as such, does not earn credit in several partner programs. Asiana, US Airways and United all will give 100% credit for these segments. Lufthansa‘s Miles & More, Aegean and TAP Air Portugal will not accrue points for this trip.
The fare is valid on a pretty wide range of dates as well. Here are the United fare rules:
Do keep in mind that Brazil requires a visa for visitors traveling on a US passport and it is not cheap to acquire. Still, the fare is awesome and the visa lasts 10 years, covering multiple future trips.
This is a great fare available for visiting a wonderful destination. And it probably won’t last long. I’ve got a couple on hold already and I’m looking at a few other options.
I’m sitting in the Club Lounge at the Intercontinental Hotel just off of Istanbul‘s Taksim Square right now, sipping an Efes Dark and picking at a few snacks while I wait to meet some friends for dinner. Given that, as of Monday I didn’t have any travel planned for the weekend and as of Thursday my flight was canceled I’d say that the current circumstances are quite impressive. I booked the flight on Tuesday evening, snagging a $550 round-trip fare ($500 of which I covered with a voucher from my last Istanbul trip) on United Airlines to fly out on Friday night from Newark to Istanbul, returning on the same route Sunday afternoon. Only 26 hours on the ground but that’s plenty of time to see a few sights, eat a few meals and enjoy a trip. At least if you’re crazy like me.
I probably should have known there would be trouble given the forecast for a blizzard but I paid it no mind. Worst case scenario had me stuck in NYC, eating leftovers and snowed in. Not ideal, but not awful either. And when the email came in on Thursday afternoon that the flight was canceled I was a bit annoyed.
Still, I knew I had options and I was willing to explore them. A quick call in to United had an agent offer me a Lufthansa connection without any troubles. I asked him to check the Turkish Airlines non-stop rather than the Lufty options as I’ve already flown those routes and I’ve been meaning to fly Turkish long-haul at some point to try out the experience. It took about 15 minutes for the agent to call over to Turkish and confirm things but I was quickly rebooked and the ticket reissued. All set.
Friday morning rolled around and I started to get worried about the late Turkish flight. Yes, the inbound was en route to JFK but snow levels were predicted to pick up late in the evening and the 11pm-ish departure had me apprehensive. Another quick call in to United had me rebooked on Austrian’s 6pm departure from JFK. Yeah, a connection, but Vienna’s airport is easy and getting out early seemed like a good idea. That agent forgot to reissue the ticket so it took another call to resolve that but around 10am I was able to complete OLCI and, thanks to the rebooking in full Y, choose the reclining exit row with huge legroom for the flight.
We pushed back early – the ground crew were particularly good in dealing with the people complaining about the early departure in spite of the impending storm – and then waited an hour for deicing. We certainly needed it, with the accumulation from the prior three hours of the plane on the ground.
And then off to Vienna. I had escaped!
The meal on board was presented beautifully but not actually all that delicious. With Do & Co catering the Austrian flights I had reasonably high hopes. The meal on Turkish on Saturday was much better. Still, it was enough to get me through the flight. I watched the end of Casablanca on the very mediocre IFE system and then managed to sleep a solid 4 hours or so.
Before I knew it we were on final approach into Vienna.
From there it was off to the lounge for a shower and then meeting up with a friend also on his way to Istanbul, though on a later flight. Turkish boarded a full A330 from a gate area built for an A320. It was packed and not at all pleasant. Still, I settled in to my seat and slept nearly the whole two hours of the flight.
I did wake up for lunch which, as noted above, was quite tasty, in addition to the excellent presentation. Yes, this was a coach meal on a less than two hour flight. My, how things are different. Also, apparently ordering the "kofte" instead of beef had the flight attendants convinced I spoke Turkish. That ruse fell apart quickly when I had to order a drink, but it was fun while it lasted.
No line to get my visa was great. The part where, as a Star Alliance Gold elite I got fast track for immigration was WAY better. I skipped a roughly 30-45 minute line and was through in 5 minutes. Less than 20 minutes from when we pulled in to the gate and the door to the plane opened I was on the Metro, headed in to town.
I stopped off to see the Basilica Cistern, now one of my favorite sites in a city filled with amazing things to see. A separate post coming on that eventually because, quite frankly, it deserves one. And then I checked in to my suite at the Intercontinental. Thank you, Best Rate Guarantee!
I’ve got time for another Efes or two before dinner. And I’m drinking them while looking out at the Bosporus and night settling in over this beautiful city. Not a bad day at all.
Crazy cheap fares tonight on Air Berlin from Los Angeles to Europe for winter travel. Many destinations being reported on MilePoint, FlyerTalk, Facebook and twitter for <$500 round trip, including Copenhagen, Vienna and more.
These aren’t the greatest as a mileage run as they book in to a very low earning fare bucket (at least if crediting to AAdvantage) so don’t expect this to be a great start towards your EXP earning for 2013. And flying Air Berlin longhaul in coach is something of a self-hating exercise, but it is a great fare.
Get ‘em while they’re still around. The flexible dates search on ITA is your friend here.
There is much more to Lausanne than just the waterfront. The Cité, or Old Town, district offers up a rather compact and accessible walking area worth spending an hour or two in. It has the requisite Cathedral (I poked my head in but it was Sunday morning and there was a service being held which I didn’t want to interrupt) which dominates the skyline. It also has a pretty cool old castle adjacent to the church.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the sundial on the corner of the castle-ish building was still accurate, though it doesn’t take into account Daylight Saving Time.
And how often is it that you get to wander up or down a covered stair path from the medieval era? These connect the merchant and residential areas below with the cathedral above and have carried pedestrians and goods since the 13th century or so. Definitely some new treads in there and at least one relatively modern mural painted on a wall so it isn’t completely an old world experience but it still has quite a bit of that charm.
The shops along the stairs are useful for window shopping. And I couldn’t help but grab a photo of this resident hanging their arms out the window under the word Armes.
There is a metro line which runs from the central train station down to the waterfront, making that transit quick and easy. As an added bonus, nearly every hotel in Lausanne (at least the ones I spoke with) participates in a program where guests get free day-passes to the train at check-in meaning that it is also free to get between the different parts of town. Of course, that only works after check-in and I was staying along the waterfront so I walked there first but after that it was free rides the rest of my stay. That made getting up to the Old City in the morning rather easy.
And the views down to the Ouchy waterfront area, Lake Geneva and Alps in the background definitely made it worth the trek up the hill.
After spending most of the day hiking through vineyards along the shores of Lake Geneva it was time for a bit of a break. Of course, my idea of taking a break is, at times, not particularly relaxing. In this case it was more walking but in town and along the waterfront of Lausanne rather than out in the countryside. And with the added bonus of sunset approaching, softening the light and making for some great views.
The waterfront has a working harbor, chock full of yachts. There are many miles of parks and paths along the water to keep visitors entertained during a stay. And there is also a ferry terminal with ships carrying locals and the occasional tourist between Lausanne and the French town of Evian across the lake. I considered doing the ferry just for the sake of stepping in to France for a few minutes but the timing of my evening was a bit tight with the schedule and I was getting tired. I chose to take in the sunset from the Swiss side instead.
And, if you’re into that sort of thing, there are a bunch of swans and other water fowl in the park at the harbor. They are more than willing to accept donations of food scraps from visitors.
The big "C" shaped statue in the photo below is actually perched out on the breakwater outside the harbor and it isn’t only a statue. It is actually a wind vane. There are four "viewing posts" on the edge of the waterfront, each with a curve cut out facing a different angle. Depending on which way the winds are blowing the C will line up with one of the curves and that’s how the locals call the winds. A bit different from the typical compass directional approach, to be certain. And a nice art piece as well.
The waterfront was quite lively on this particular evening. I attribute some of that to it being a Saturday and some to the weather being unseasonably warm. And then there is the part where it is quite beautiful. Hard to complain too much about that, really.
I missed the Olympic museum in town (closed for renovations). And I heard after my visit about L’Art Brut, an art museum which features works by criminals and other atypical artists. I’ll definitely put those on the list for next time.
Every now and then a travel moment just "clicks" and everything seems right. They aren’t all that common but when it happens there is a moment of clarity, a bit of release where you realize that all the other crazy bits were worthwhile. Things make sense. As I stepped off the commuter train in St. Saphorin, Switzerland a few weeks ago I had one of those moments.
It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday afternoon and I, along with 20-30 other tourists, had just walked in to a wee bit of living history. We were about to walk along the trails cutting through the Lavaux Vineyards. They are a designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are incredibly easy to visit, keeping pace with their natural beauty.
There are many miles of trails passing through these vineyards built into the cliffs which rise up from Lake Geneva. Documented history dating back to the 13th Century indicates that monks terraced the slopes to more efficiently cultivate grapes in the area. Prior to that it is believed that the ancient Romans were growing grapes in the area back when it was part of their empire.
The current operations are no longer part of the Church; locals bought out those estates over the years. And other bits have changed in the style and technology of the harvest. The plots are generally a single type of grape now rather than many varietals, mostly to improve yields and avoid some disease issues seen in the relatively recent past. Other parts of the operation are quite similar to how they ran hundreds of years ago.
Because of the steep incline the vineyards are built on and the relatively small chunks of contiguous land much of the work is still done by hand. I watched as a crew walked the rows, picking some of the last grapes of the season. There are some mechanical aspects – many vineyards had motorized "roller coaster" carts with tracks running up and down the hill so the picked grapes could be carried up or down more easily. But still nearly all the work is manual.
The trail stretches a dozen or so miles along the shores of Lake Geneva. There are markers all along the trail, guiding visitors to the next stop. And, depending on just how much you want to walk, a visit can range from brief to a full day or, if extending beyond Lavaux, many days worth of walking along the lake. Each small town along the trail has a train stop making it easy to end the trip, riding back in to Lausanne (the closest real city) and wrapping up the day. The towns also offer up some awesome "old world" architecture, with narrow streets and steep hills matching the surrounding landscape.
The villages also offer the infrastructure for the winemakers to produce and distribute their wares. Every half hour or so along the way was another village, chock full of cellars, bottlers and tasting rooms. Alas, thanks to being so late in the season the tasting rooms (and supposed restaurants) were all closed so I didn’t have much in the way of opportunity to partake of the goods.
I didn’t strike out completely, however. There was a woman running a tasting from a small hut among the vines at an intersection of the trail at one point. Somewhere around 11am I found myself with this view. Hard to beat, really.
I spent about four hours out in the vineyards on this magical day, covering roughly eight miles. Not the fastest walk I’ve ever done, to be certain. But when you have views like this at pretty much every turn it is easy to understand how there are stops reasonably often to take pictures and soak in the experience.
Next time I’ll pack a picnic lunch to hedge against all the shops in the towns being closed for the season. Plus there are places all along the path with tables and views like the one from the wine tasting photo above; incredible scenery for a lunch. Other than that, however, I’m not sure it could have been any better of a day. And I managed to raid my emergency snack stash of Biscoff and Milano cookies from airport lounges to make it through the day.
Putting the experience in to words is challenging. There was something about the natural beauty combined with the lack of crowds – I was often alone enough that I figured I was lost – which made for just an incredible couple hours. Considering that I had no idea this even existed just 26 hours earlier when I landed at the Geneva airport I’m calling it a HUGE win.
I made the trip as a quick hop from Lausanne. It is reasonably easy to do as a day trip from Bern or Geneva, too. Just budget an extra hour each way for the train ride on the ridiculously efficient Swiss rail network. You’ll need to transfer in Lausanne anyways but the local trains along the waterfront which get you to the trails run a couple times each hour so not hard to build a connection.
More photos here.
Sitting on the roof-top deck of my hotel, listening to the church bells ring as the sun set over Bern, I decided that perhaps my trip to Switzerland was a rousing success. Sure, I’d only been in country less than 12 hours and a few of the things I wanted to see were closed, but the weather was beautiful, I’d managed to enjoy a couple local beers through the afternoon and I had 360 degree views of the area as evening set in on the Swiss capital. What was not to enjoy?
It actually got even better as another hotel guest discovered the patio. His English was far, far better than my Japanese and we chatted for a few minutes about his travels and mine and our impressions of the city. I love meeting other travelers like that, even if the conversations are less than fully coherent.
The sun finally set on my day but that wasn’t the end of the exploring. I still needed dinner and the city had in incredible glow about it at night. The Capitol was particularly well lit:
The other buildings in the old city were also lit up reasonably well.
Also, in a display which was incredibly kitsch but also reasonably entertaining there was a group of men playing Alphorns at the end of the block outside my hotel. I only caught the end of the performance but it was fun enough. And the guys were quite friendly after the show. I was also impressed by how the instruments separated into smaller sections to be packed away for transit.
My meal that night was rather unmemorable and probably overpriced for what it was. I don’t have many dining recommendations at all from the trip really. But walking the old city at night definitely evoked some of the historical aspects of the area, making me think it might be a bit more worthy as a UNESCO world heritage site than my initial impressions gave me.
The afternoon came quickly on my day in Bern. Part of that is because I didn’t get into town until after noon and part of that is because I spent my first few hours wandering the streets of the old city, taking in the architecture and watching the bears frolic. The long shadows settling in on the town, combined with jetlag starting to catch up with me, had my body convinced that it was time to wind down the afternoon. Fortunately I came across this set of stairs, leading up from the riverfront back towards the heart of the city.
Yeah, a lot of steps (there is a small elevator adjacent available for 1CHF/person) but the gardens on the sides were pretty. And the park at the top was awesome.
It turns out that I had found the Münsterplattform, a recreational area high above the river and adjacent to the Cathedral of Berne. The terrace dates back to the 14th century and served over the years as a churchyard, dumping ground during the reformation and a cemetery. In the 20th century it was converted to a public park; the paths were laid out and the trees planted leaving it in the condition I found it. There was a small kiosk in one corner selling refreshments. I purchased a beer (soda, wine and snacks were also available) and then walked around the small park for a bit, watching all the locals relaxing in their own way on a beautiful Friday afternoon.
The people watching really was wonderful; much better than in the other areas of the town I saw. Another kiosk had games available. These guys were playing bocce and there was a pretty active table tennis game going on as well.
Others chose to take in the views …
…or just take a nap.
Oh, and after finishing my beer I spent a few minutes touring the Cathedral (Münster), a building dating to the 1400s. It is the tallest cathedral in Switzerland though, while I was in town the bell tower was closed for repairs. Still, both the interior and exterior are quite impressive.
Some of the stained glass windows date back to the 1400s and as a whole they are considered the most valuable in Switzerland.
The cathedral itself is worth stopping by for a few minutes. It isn’t the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen but I’m also not particularly a connoisseur. And as a way to wrap up my happy hour it was definitely a worthwhile stop in a quick tour of town, even with the tower climb closed. That actually gave me a good excuse to save the ~350 steps to the top without feeling too guilty.
And then the afternoon was over. Time to retreat to the hotel and get ready for an early evening, catching up on some sleep and getting ready for the rest of the trip.