Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

With regard to http://www.southwest.com/help/boardingschool/:

I heard on the news this morning that your airline is considering changing their seating policy to not allow travelers with small children to pre-board on flights and instead require them to go through the regular A, B, C seating grab. As a family with a small 9-month old baby who flies at least twice a month, and as a business-traveling father who flies more than once a week, I feel that this is a very bad policy to implement and I urge you to reconsider.

We like Southwest quite a bit. In fact on a flight last weekend we were very happy to learn that some of your newer planes are coming with baby changing stations in the front lavatories. This is a very nice feature that parents appreciate quite a bit. However, because of the way your check-in and boarding process works for families, we will be unable to fly your airline if you implement this newest policy.

Normally, I like the open seating policy. However, if you require families with small children to wait in A-B-C order to get a seat, then there is a high likelihood that we will not be able to find seats together, and that is very a very difficult problem because when flying on a small airplane it usually takes two people to try to manage and keep calm a small baby. While online check-in is a useful tool for normal travelers, we have found that your online check-in system does not work well for family travelers because we still have to have our daughter’s birth certificate verified at the ticket counter, and we have found that if we do that on the outbound leg then whoever she’s attached to will not be able to do online check-in on the return leg. Worse yet, if we are in a location where we can’t do online check-in then it has become impossible to get into an A boarding group even if you arrive 3+ hours early at the airport (I’ve gotten a B pass checking in a mere 6 hours after the online check-in window opened up!)

I also believe that requiring families to board in the proposed order will result in delays and frustrations for the rest of your customers as well. We try to be efficient travelers with our baby, but there are still more items we have to carry and a squirming little child we have to deal with, so I can guarantee that families boarding along with everyone else will slow the process down for the bulk of your travelers that simply want to board, stow, and go.

To a family traveling with small children, the risk of not being able to find seats together is unacceptable. Since we are traveling with our daughter on a predictable schedule, and since there are plenty of other airlines that offer low fares in advance as well as assigned seating with pre-boarding policies, if you chose to eliminate the pre-boarding policy for families then we will likely be choosing another airline for our flights.

Again, I urge you to reconsider this change. Southwest is an excellent airline and has a well-deserved reputation for being customer focused. I truly feel that a change like this will be a detriment to all of your passengers, and result in more frustration and dissatisfied passengers.


Rand Wacker

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Finland/Russia Photos

I posted a selection of pictures I took last month on my school trip to Finland (Helsinki and Tempere) and Russia (St Petersburg and Moscow). This was an international business course where we met usually twice a day with local businesses and attended some very interesting seminars actually. I didn’t know what to expect when I was leaving, but the trip ended up being completely different than anything I could imagine.

Russia was a pretty tough place to travel in. Interesting sites and crazy business environment. People in Finland referred to it as “The WIld West” and as I was plowing through Season 3 of Deadwood during the trip I have to say, Russia is even more insane. Finland was a great contrast, and due to several factors — historical, political, and social — is I think an interesting model for what the US may be facing 20 or 30 years down the line.

Educationally I learned a ton on the trip, and had a very good time working with a lot of the third year students (I was one of four second years lucky enough to get on), plus the summer course has gotten me that much closer to graduation. So now that I’m home I’m happy I went; even though there were times on the expedition that I wasn’t very thrilled.

I’ve posted a selection of the best pictures, all annotated with comments. My recommendation is to use the Slideshow feature of Gallery to go through them to get the full story.

Glad to be home now and after finishing an insane week of worldwide field meetings at the office, looking forward to some sanity and predictability.

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Just got back from a school trip where we spent a week in Finland and a week in Russia. The purpose was to visit different companies and meet with different people and get a feel for the opportunities and challenges of doing business in those two (drastically different) countries.

The trip was very educational, if not trying at times. I’m ludicrously happy to be home, and will see about posting photos sometime soon.

Other than that, school starts up again next week as does our company-wide Sales Training (which I am heavily involved in). Frying pan…fire…such is life. 😉

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Alexis and I just got back from 3 days in Upper Peninsula Michigan; the part of the state that is actually part of Wisconsin; and area that has called itself “The U.P.” for a lot longer than that stupid TV show has been on; an isolated and rural slice of middle America.

We went to attend a friend’s wedding at their family cabin on the shores of Lake Superior. Turned out to be a very small, very informal event, with about half of the event’s 30 or so guests staying in the 500 square foot log cabin. It really was right on the shore though, and very peaceful and relaxing.

Alexis was an attendant for the wedding, and I busied myself hopping around taking photos, filling in for what the pro photographer didn’t catch. After the ceremony, dinner, and tremendous drinking, the family rolled out a $1000 stash of fireworks they had collected for the event. Let me just say, California fireworks suck compared to what you can buy in Michigan…Giant artillery mortars with huge sky-bursts, flat-pack boxes with 350 to 750 to one thousand different explosions that you light once and that go on for over 20 minutes. The brides father and his old army buddy took it upon themselves with a couple of other folks to coordinate the best damn amateur fireworks display I’d ever seen, eclipsing even some of the “professional” displays I’ve seen at various fair grounds and parking lots over the years.

Wednesday we drove an hour back to the small local airport, caught a puddle jumper back to Minneapolis, had a 4 hour layover where we got dinner with a high-school friend of Lex’s at the Mall of America, then finally arrived at SFO about 8:30pm. We were supposed to then be immediately getting on a plane for Sydney for a week and a half of work/vacation in Australia and New Zealand, but due to mounting work piles for some upcoming events my boss asked me to postpone that trip (along with the week in India afterwards), which actually worked out very well because Alexis wasn’t feeling very well by the time we got home and I developed a pretty nasty head cold the next day that kept me sprawled out on the couch.

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Heading back to my hotel in Tokyo tonight, I arrived at a rather large subway station called Tameike-sanno. My co-worker had told me “go to exit 13” (yes, this station had 13 different exits). Underground, with no sense of direction I, could have sworn that exit 13 was absolutely the wrong way, so I decided to pop up and find my way to the hotel.

Never “pop up” out of a subway in Tokyo. You’ll have no sense of direction in the dark and you’ll have no points of reference because there are too many tall buildings to see more than half a block. You’ll see some interesting architecture and odd street-side activities, but you’ll have no idea which way to go.

Knowing I was within one subway stop of my hotel I started an expanding circle search. Of course I picked the wrong direction first and ended up two subway stops away, but then I turned around and found a much more interesting neighborhood than I wandered through the night before.

Eventually I saw a landmark I recognized (a bike shop of course) and guessed a new course. Mostly correct, I only had to make a 45 degree adjustment to end up on the wrong side of an 8 lane surface street across from my hotel. After five minutes waiting for the sole cross light for 5 blocks to change I finally got home.

And just before I went in for the night I checked the number on the subway exit into the hotel…”exit 13″. Time for sleep then. Tonight I have to remember to close the blinds as the sun comes up at 4:30am…what…the…heck…

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Small world (as usual)

Funny. I flew into Hong Kong this afternoon and decided to go for dinner at a Korean restaurant near the hotel (Holiday Inn Express…posh) that I tried last time I was here. Was sitting in on a conversation among a couple of guys at the next table who were talking beer and breweries and what not. Turns out one of the guys worked for Pabst in China (they were until recently the largest foreign beer sold in China) and the other guy owned the brewery that Pabst uses in China. The brewer was on his way to the US for a brewery tour, all over the west including Coors, Anheisser-Busch, and some show in Nevada. Then him and his group were heading north…to Chico…to visit Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada. Hah

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After my finals last year, Alexis had planned a fantastic weekend for us in Mendocino, several hours north on the California coast. We had never been there before, even though we’d been very close on numerous occasions. Soooooooo glad we finally made it all the way, we totally fell in love with that little town! Beautiful views, great food, totally mellow, and no cell reception. We had a fantastic weekend, very relaxing.

This last weekend we went up again, for an early anniversary trip. This trip we ended up sleeping a lot, going for some nice hikes, and enjoying a couple of longer-than-usual road trips. We got some really good pictures out in the forest and I thought they were worth posting:

If you go, we highly recommend the Headlands Inn, in particular the Strauss room with the view of the ocean.

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Hong Kong

A couple of weeks ago I got to go to Hong Kong for work for my first time ever. Ridiculous trip schedule (taking a red-eye right after a school midterm, landing and going straight into three days of meetings, turning around and coming home less than 72 hours later), but a very good trip nonetheless.

Since this was a work kick-off event, we had half a day of team fun to get out and explore the city. I posted some of the interesting scenery photos to my gallery:

Particularly fun was an adventure to the “Ladies Market” with my co-workers Mike and Sonny. They were under orders from their wives to find some knock-off handbags, and had even been trained in what to look for as a “good quality fake”. We had little luck finding the right items in the usual street-level bazar, but we soon found a stall that consisted of nothing more than a folding table and a bunch of catalogs. Not catalogs of the original products mind you, but full catalogs of knock-off items.

It seems like there’s been some cracking down on displaying certain manufacturer’s wares out in the open, but there’s apparently no problem with taking people up to sketchy “showrooms” housed in converted apartments. We started in one place that was a 3-room apartment where the sales guy lived with his family, and used one of the rooms to store piles and piles of different fake bags; unfortunately none of what we wanted though.

The second venue was much larger (they dedicated an entire 4 room flat) and organized by different categories (handbags, purses, briefcases, and a huge table of watches). This place turned out to have just what everyone was looking for, and we ended up bargaining for a couple hundred dollars worth of knock-off goods. Actually, I use the term “we” lightly, as it was Sonny who drove the really hard bargain and essentially got my little gift for the wife almost for free.

Final note, don’t bother buying button-down shirts from a street vendor in Hong Kong. They might look like a good cut and color, but they are usually made out of polyester and of completely crappy quality. Oh well, it was a $6 experiment.

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Mirage in the Desert

Heading back from a long weekend in Las Vegas with Indiana Jane. Had a great time of course, but our Vegas vacations are always a little different from most people’s idea of a debaucherous weekend in Sin City. Mainly, neither of us really gamble all that much these days; just doesn’t interest us that much. I don’t mind finding a low-limit table in the old downtown and shoot some dice around, but I’ve given up on pretending that I can win enough at any game to make it worthwhile. As Penn Jillette said at his show, “this is Vegas, which means that no one here is really good at math.”

Well, this weekend we decided to explore a new end of The Strip and try a new hotel, The Mirage. Our main priorities for Vegas hotels are primarily:

  1. The pool – we spend a lot of time hanging out in the sun during the day, a spacious and nice pool is must-have. So far my favorite is at the MGM Grand, huge complex, a lazy river, several waterfalls, and even a lap pool for morning constitutionals. The Mirage’s was pretty good, but felt a little crowded. Last time we were in town (for work) and stayed at the Hard Rock and Lex said that pool was nice, but pretty much a ridiculous scene.
  2. The food – plenty of good grub destinations all over the city, but invariably you’re going to eat at least a couple of meal at your hotel. This is where The Mirage really fell down. Their in-house cafe were not very tasty and way overpriced. The MGM again does very well here, a solid selection of cafes on the main floor as well as numerous fast food dives in the basement walkway for a quick fix in the mornings.
  3. Location – there’s a lot to do in every part of Vegas. Its worth trying one end of the strip and then the other and even off-strip for something completely different (Palms, Rio, Green Valley Ranch)
  4. Privacy – hotel rooms can vary widely in design. Another complaint I had with the Mirage was the noise you can hear from the hall in your room; slamming doors, singing neighbors, housekeeping, etc. Oh well, you can’t have peace and quiet everywhere, even in the middle of the desert!

Other hotels we’ve tried and our thoughts:

  • Monte Carlo – central location, nice rooms, poor pool and little food.
  • Bally’s – even more central location, nicely updated rooms, quite good food, and right on the monorail. Main drawback is the small square pool.
  • Luxor – rooms usually have no view, poor food and poor pool. I won’t even mention the Excalibur.
  • New York – solid on all counts, if not a smallish pool. I also love the roller-coaster.
  • Sahara – Getting a major update with the Monorail coming to the neighborhood. Crummy food and pool, but you can get suites with an attached room for real cheap. Works well for wedding parties.
  • Hard Rock – surprisingly nice rooms, far from the strip, merely OK food, and too small of a casino to house the “scene”.

Every time we go back I look for deals at the high-end places we want to stay: Mandalay (great pool), Bellagio (beautiful), Venetian (hearing a lot of good things), and of course the new Wynn. We checked out the Wynn this weekend and were very impressed with the architecture and the food.

Other fun things we did this weekend included seeing Penn & Teller at the Rio (great show), driving out to Green Valley Ranch for some excellent ribs at a local joint called Lucile’s and staying for a weekly club party out by their pool, and doing a bit of much-needed clothes shopping at the nearby Fashion Show Mall (having a car changes your horizons during the day quite a bit).

Hah, and as luck would have it a friend just sent me this link that agrees with a lot of the above:


Damn, now I really want to go back! Whoops, flight time…

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Props to Southwest

With Alexis returning to the desert for a new five-month archaeology project next week, we’ve started booking a huge number of flights back and forth between the Bay Area and LA on Southwest. I fly a fair amount, and I really have to say that Southwest is one of my favorite airlines to deal with. In particular, the fact that they make changing your reservations so easy and NON-PENALIZED eases our worry about shifting plans.

The most annoying aspect of most airline reservation systems is that if you want to change a flight its going to cost you at least $50, most likely $100 or more just for the “privilege” of shifting your schedule. And forget about canceling a flight, on United it will usually cost you more to cancel a reservation and get a refund on the balance than the flight was actually worth (if you could actually get a refund).

With Southwest, you can change or cancel a reservation at any time, even if your in the middle of your itinerary (haven’t used the return ticket yet). You’ll always get the full value of your cancelled flight back as at least a credit you can use towards future fares, and the worst they’ll do is charge you for the difference between what your old ticket was worth and the fair market value of whatever flight your switching too.

But now it looks like its time to land though, so I guess thats all for now!

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