airlines

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One of the things I love about flying foreign carriers is the little bits of culture that you get to experience on the airline. With SAS, which connects the three Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden to the rest of the world, you get a very Nordic combination of friendliness and efficiency that make traveling with the airline an enjoyable experience. Since 1946, SAS (read as an acronym in English, but pronounced “sass” in Scandinavia) has used geography to its advantage in offering one of the shortest routes between continents in the northern hemisphere via the North Pole. In fact, in the days when multiple refueling stops were required for long-haul aircraft, SAS was the first airline to provide transpolar passenger service: a thrice-weekly flight from Los Angeles to Copenhagen—with fuel stops in Canada and Greenland—and free onward connections into Europe.

SAS vintage poster

With its main hub at Copenhagen Airport and two smaller hubs in Oslo and Stockholm, SAS competes directly with Finnair for the lucrative Asia-Europe market, and with Icelandair and low-cost airline Norwegian for passengers between Europe and North America. As a member of the Star Alliance and with a fleet of spacious, slickly refurbished Airbus A-330 jets, and a trio of comfortable, beautifully designed transit hubs, SAS is one of my favorite airlines for transatlantic travel. As long as expectations aren’t as high for the intra-European operation—the only free beverages are tea and coffee, and the leg-room is a bit tight—I think you’ll end up flying Scandinavian at every opportunity.

SAS

SAS Scandinavian Airlines flies daily from Boston, Chicago-O’Hare, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, and Washington-Dulles to Scandinavia.

 

Images courtesy SAS Group

Lufthansa A380 at MIA. Photo courtesy of Aero Icarus via Flickr.
Lufthansa A380 from Frankfurt landing at MIA

Despite its setting amid a flat, wildly sprawling car-topia, Miami International Airport is an aviation geek’s dream. Airliners from places as far away as Moscow and Buenos Aires or as close as Key West and Nassau, cargo planes all the way from China, the Airbus A380 – the world’s largest passenger aircraft – riding heavy over Biscayne Bay on its way across the Atlantic; if you look in the sky long enough, you’ll see it all. And unlike most big-city airports relegated to the boondocks, MIA is right in the heart of town.

TAM departing for Brazil
TAM departing for Brazil

Vantage points are everywhere: you can catch the afternoon arrivals from Europe at the LA Fitness on Northwest 12th Street, the planes so low you can almost touch them – Iberia, Alitalia, Virgin, Swiss, and British all in a row. Commuters on the Dolphin Expressway course alongside the south runway, sometimes racing TAM to Brazil, LAN to Chile, or Copa to Panama. Delta and United and Avianca and TACA and FedEx and UPS skirt the towers of downtown Miami throughout the day. But all-day, everyday, it’s American – old American, new American, big American, small American – it could be to Tallahassee or Tegucigalpa, somebody’s going somewhere on American.

AA dominates MIA
AA dominates MIA. They’ve been slow at repainting with the new logo.

Nearby Fort Lauderdale might have the most dramatic landings in the region, jets just barely missing the tops of the semis speeding up and down I-95. But Miami’s got the most diverse range of aircraft, airlines, landing patterns, and striking silhouettes of any city I’ve ever lived in.

Swiss airliner at MIA
Swiss prepping for the return to Zurich

So if you’re driving past the airport and see someone creeping along on the expressway at 5 miles an hour trying to snap a shot of a departing AirBerlin jet on their phone, it’s probably me. I really have to stop that; it’s just not safe.

Terminal J at MIA from Dolphin Expressway
Terminal J at MIA from Dolphin Expressway

Oh…and is anybody else but me excited that Qatar Airways will be flying here come next June?! Nobody? Bueller?

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As fall turns to winter in the Northern Hemisphere, travelers have always looked to the Caribbean for a little warmth. But it wasn’t just exotic beaches that were advertised; the region’s exoticized black bodies have always been a part of its allure. I’ve got mixed feelings about some of these. What do you think?

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caribbean-air

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KLM_Caribbean

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AirFrance_Caribbean

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Just over a year ago, Boeing debuted its newest jet airplane, the 787. Designed to take fewer passengers a much farther distance than other long-range jets, the 787—nicknamed the Dreamliner—will allow airlines to make money by serving farther-flung destinations that people want to get to, but that the current crop of planes that can fly the distance are just too big for. For example, there may be 200 people wanting a daily nonstop Miami-to-Tokyo flight, but until the 787 came around, the only planes that could fly the route all seated at least 300 passengers. No airline could financially justify such a route with that many empty seats, no matter how much they charged for first class. Well, times have changed.

Right now, eight of the nearly fifty airlines that have ordered 787s are operating the type and new nonstop, such as Japan Air Lines’ Boston-Tokyo, ANA’s San Jose-Tokyo, and United Airlines’ Denver-Tokyo, have already begun or are slated to begin soon (Tokyo’s seeing a lot of 787 action!). Other carriers, like United, Ethiopian Airlines, and LAN, are using the plane for “rightsizing” existing routes, with United flying the new-new between hubs in the US.

The airlines aren’t the only beneficiaries, though. Besides getting access to additional nonstop markets, passengers will experience larger windows, more room throughout the cabin, and better pressurization, and lightweight composite materials create for a less-gas-guzzling airplane that, in theory, should result in lower fares but don’t hold your breaths on that one.

Anybody else as excited about the new 7-8 as I am? Prolly not. :-/

Check out this video of ANA’s 787 interior. It’s pretty fly.

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As a kid―and a nascent nerd―in the late-80s/early-90s, I used to collect airline timetables, that magical tome of times and places that would transport you from Caracas to New York to Frankfurt to Rangoon and back with the flip of a few pages.

My first timetables were from domestic carriers that flew to my hometown of Jacksonville: Piedmont, Delta, Eastern, USAir. I especially loved the American Airlines timetables because they were thick with flight schedules and included shaded airport maps and detailed seat diagrams of planes like the Airbus 300 and MD-11.

Soon, I hit the phone book and dialed the 800-numbers of every airline listed: British Airways, Canadian International Airlines, Air Afrique, Varig, Thai Airways International. By the time I hit age 10, I pressed my parents incessantly to take me to the airport whenever we went to Orlando so I could bum timetables from strange-sounding foreign airlines like Alitalia, LACSA, and Lufthansa. I even had timetables from tiny operations like Air Nauru, Air Malta, and Aero California.

By my teenage years, my collection of timetables (and travel guides and AAA city maps) began to overflow the raggedy file cabinet my mom had brought home from school, and their pressure for me to just throw all that crap out became more and more intense. Eventually it all went into the trash, just as the internet took off and all but a scant few airlines stopped printing their flight schedules in book format. In the end, my parents forced me to destroy a collection of items―obtained for free―that now would be worth hundreds of dollars each. I remind them of this each time I hit them up for money.

Now I’m relegated to much bulkier in-flight magazines. They just aren’t the same.

What did you geek out about as a kid?

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Fly Favorites: February 2012

  • Don + Whitney =

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Last week, fellow fly brother Greg Gross of I’m Black and I Travel posted about African-Americans, Africa, and why we should be traveling more frequently to the Motherland (read his entire posts here and here). Acknowledging cost, distance, and lack of familiarity with the continent as historical barriers that can and should be overcome, the issue of time remains a persistent hindrance to American travelers of all races, simply because our workaholic culture allows for a mere two weeks of vacation each year (and how many people even actually get to spend those entire two weeks on vacation?). Brother Gross says that a minimum of ten days in Africa is required, but I’m willing to argue that there are at least two or three city breaks you can do from the East Coast of North America to the West Coast of Africa over three or four days, if you’re serious about setting foot on African soil without having to use up any sick days. The flights are shorter than nonstops to Rome, and these may not be the cheapest of weekend jaunts, but consider this: that bargain airfare you get to Europe is often off-set by lodging, food, transport, etc.; you may pay more up-front to get to Africa, but on the ground, it’s a different story. If you’re truly serious about heading “to the East,” you can make it happen.

Dakar, Senegal

Image by Catherine Hine

Cosmopolitan and exhilarating, Dakar packs an unbeatable music scene, jammin’ nightlife, busy beaches, and exuberant street-life onto a pointy peninsula jutting into the Atlantic. This geographic situation made the city an important – if nightmarish – port-of-call during the slave trade; if nearby Goree Island and its Door of No Return doesn’t leave a lump in your throat, you’re a heartless douchebag.

South African Airways links DC and Dakar daily as a stopover en route to Johannesburg, and Delta hits town thrice-weekly from New York-JFK.

Accra, Ghana
Pronounced uh-KRAH – not AK-rah – this bustling English-speaking burg serves up surf and sound, with year-round beach weather (of which Europeans have been taking advantage for a while, now), laid-back riddims, and an intense bargaining culture for those sale-hounds up for a little friendly back-and-forth over that perfect, handcrafted souvenir for Grandma-nem.

United runs five times a week from DC to Accra, while Delta does a daily NYC and thrice-weekly Atlanta nonstops.

Casablanca, Morocco

Image by Jean-Claude Morand

Yes, despite arguments to the contrary, Morocco counts as Africa. The city captured on celluloid as the Bogie-Bergman jump-off may not be sub-Saharan, but Africa – the second-largest continent on the planet – is not ethnically (or even racially) monolithic and Casablanca is a hot-and-spicy concoction of centuries-old Arab, Berber, and black African cultural interaction.

Delta codeshares with Royal Air Maroc on the 7-hour NYC-Casablanca hop.

No excuses.

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Source: Watts/News

Often, the best way to improve skills in a language different from your own is to utilize them under adverse circumstances. As proven by The Nanny, New York’s true mother tongue is Yiddish, and my 24-hour ordeal to fly from The City to Jacksonville on a buddy pass provided ample opportunity to strengthen my flimsy, yet precise grasp on the language. Observe these vocabulary exercises:

  • Shlimazel (n., receiver of bad luck) – I became a shlimazel the moment I tried to fly from LaGuardia during the summer, with one runway out of commission at neighboring Kennedy Airport, all flights oversold by nine or ten people, and five thousand airline employees/family/friends trying to leave town from whatever event they’d attended in New York that weekend (TBEX, Gay Pride, the New York Junior Chess Championship).
  • Shmuck (n., someone who’s intentionally nasty or uses their power for ill) – All the gate agents who seemed hell-bent on making sure I knew how much they held me in contempt for daring to fly on a buddy pass (a job perk that those same gate agents even have) are shmucking shmucks: “You’re on a buddy pass? Pssshhht! You’re not making this flight.” ~or~ “Your ‘buddy’ should have warned you of the realities of buddy pass travel.”
  • Shlemiel (n., a clumsy, inept, pathetic oaf) – I stood there like a shlemiel as I got the shpiel* about buddy pass passengers being the lowest of the low, only cleared from standby AFTER all employees, their spouses/domestic partners, their family members, their former roommates, their cable guy, and their masseuse make the flight, with THAT list then being sorted by employee hire date.
  • *Shpiel (n., a story, sales pitch, speech).
  • Putz (n. a nasty, unlikeable man who has no real power, except to make your life miserable or at least unpleasant) – I couldn’t tell if the agent was calling me a putz or insinuating that I shouldn’t become one by informing me of the airline’s “act up” policy in which the friend who gave me the buddy pass would lose her privileges if a customer “acted up” in the airport, such as “demanding a seat.” The ambiguity lies in the fact that I never technically “demanded a seat,” but either way, they tried their damnedest to make me feel like a putz.
  • Punim (n. face) – All I could do was give ol’ girl the gas punim and get back on the “Help Line” to change my routing yet again. She looked trigger-happy enough to invoke the “act up” policy just to send one of her own kind to jail, the shmuck (and yes, if the “act up” policy had been invoked, there would have been some furniture moving around that terminal).
  • Shlep (v., haul, carry, drag either something or oneself) – After not making the 8:05 departure Monday night, I shlepped over to the Upper West Side on the M60 bus because my friend in Queens wasn’t getting home until 2am. Then, my buddy told me I was booked on the 6:10 morning flight to Detroit, meaning I had to shlep back over to LaGuardia on the M60 at 4am. Once it was certain the 6:10, 6:45 to Memphis, 8:42 nonstop to Jacksonville, and 10:29 to Cincinnati had no room for me, I shlepped back down to Long Island City where I had to shlep my bag off the bus, up the stairs to the elevated, over the turn-style, then back over the turn-style, down the stairs, and fifteen minutes up the road to my friends place in New York summer heat.
  • Shlump (v., sag; hang around in an unkept manner) – I shlumped around the airport in the limp polo and khakis I had worn for two days in the New York summer heat, and under imminent threat of deodorant failure.

Finally, one of the agents who’d seen me attempt to escape New York the night before had pity on my soul and got me on the very last seat on the very last row of the very last flight to Jacksonville.  I was whisked onto the plane, my carry-on left in the jet bridge to be stowed, as the overhead bins were full.

Needless to say, it did not arrive with me in Florida, despite the 30-minute delay in pulling back from the gate.

“Oh, you unfortunate shlimazel,” I heard the baggage agent say in my mind before I realized I was back down South.  “Well, baby, you were flyin’ on a buddy pass,” she said as she logged my missing bag into the system.

Oy vey!

This is the first of a new monthly series of eye candy at Fly Brother, imaginatively named VTP (short for Vintage Travel Posters). We’ll see how travel companies and bureaus have been enticing people off the couch since international leisure travel first became a bourgeois conceit. Our first destination: the marvelous city of Rio de Janeiro, where both terrestrial and corporal landscapes have been hot commodities since the 1920s.

Fly Brother welcomes your views. If this post hit the spot, please comment and/or click.