Friday, November 30, 2012

Run Run Rudolph!!!

Holiday travel is amongst us...  Our friend Jeremy, seasoned traveler has some inside tips that might just make your travels a wee less McCallister's running through O'Hara in Home Alone.  Thanks Jeremy for sharing these great tips!

By Jeremy

Seven days—one whole week—spent in the air this year. Breaking it down a bit more; that’s 81,000 miles on forty-two flights in seventeen different airports spread over three continents. Not half bad.
Of course, you don’t fly that much and not learn a few tricks to pass on. With the holiday travel season fast approaching, here are a few tips and tricks:
-Checking in:
                -Almost every airline now offers online check-in.  Use it to print tickets and sometimes even luggage labels at home and save time…but beware to read the fine print: some airlines consider online check-in to be your way of saying you’re at the airport even if you aren’t (which means if you miss your flight and checked in from home they may not owe you anything). So don’t run late.
                -Some airports have multi-airline ticket kiosks in parking garages and transit stations. They save tons of time and are often underused. Some examples are Las Vegas McCarran and Seattle-Tacoma airports.
                  -Make sure you check your carriers policy on checked bags and any fees before coming to the airport. It’s not fun having to leave stuff behind. Also, know your destination airport code and try to check the label before your bag disappears. For example SJU (San Juan PR) and SJO (San Jose CA) are one letter yet thousands of miles apart.
-Those dastardly security lines:
-Place things you’ll have to remove from luggage like laptops, liquids & gels, etc in easy to access locations in your bags: nothing more frustrating than to watch someone tear apart a bag in the middle of the line while holding everyone up.
-If wearing a coat place items like cell phones, keys, and wallets in the pockets. When the coat comes through the scanner, slip it on and walk away instead of fumbling through the bin.
-Wear footwear that slips on and off easily. If that isn’t an option, loosen up (but don’t untie) your shoestrings so they can slip on in a hurry.
-Don’t like the body-scanners? Check out other security lines in the airport and see if one has the scanners turned off…usually there’s at least one. Or see if you qualify for TSA-Pre.
-Check things that you know will bring extra attention and don’t bring things aboard you know you shouldn’t. Most airports have a little exhibit showcasing things that have been confiscated at security…it’s unbelievable.
-Boarding/Overhead bins:
-You’ve probably seen it… the person sitting by themselves in a row, feet stretched out comfortably under their seat, while the luggage bin over the row—your row—is already full with their roll-on, briefcase, coat, wet umbrella, and shoes. Don’t be that guy. The overhead bin is for your largest carry-on; not everything you own. The rest goes under the seat. Doing otherwise isn’t fair to everyone else boarding after you. But, if you’re one of the lucky last ones on the plane and see coats and purses gunking up the bins you can politely ask surrounding passengers whose stuff it is. Usually they’ll fess up and take it back. Not comfortable doing that?...ask a flight attendant. Most will try to take care of it for you.
-If you want to board first, buy a ticket in first class! Now that we’re done laughing…for the majority of us stuck back in steerage there can be a few strategies, but they’re sort of hardcore. First, many airlines have monetized early boarding. For a little bit extra you can get boarding group one, for example, on Delta. Check with your carrier. Second, if you’ve got an airline credit card you might qualify. If you’ve got good credit and are in the market for more (think carefully before opening credit), consider an airline-based card if you travel more than 10k per year. Three, you can check how airlines board their planes. A little searching will usually find a frequent-flyer forum board describing the logic (or lack thereof); sometimes the airline posts it on their website. Book your seat accordingly.
-Alright, so we joked about buying first class…but there is increasingly a middle ground that can be surprisingly affordable: premium economy. This new offering usually offers a little more legroom and early boarding. Some add additional perks such as free booze and food and expedited security lines.  American, Delta, jetBlue, Frontier, United, and Virgin America all have premium economy options. Upgrade costs per flight can range from $20 to well over $200 depending on carrier and distance flown. I’ve flown almost all of them and while Virgin America has the best by far I’ve only purchased an upgrade with my own money on Delta’s Economy Comfort.
-While flying:
-Keep your seat belt on when you’re seated. A) If you fall asleep and the fasten seatbelt light comes on the crew won’t wake you up. B) Dangerous turbulence can happen out of nowhere without warning. You wouldn’t want to end up like Stewie Griffin. C) In the extremely unlikely event of a rapid decompression resulting in the ceiling ripping off, you’ll be a little less likely to go with it.
-Keep hydrated…seriously. Those airplanes get dry fast. If you like a little liquor when you fly, definitely make sure to compliment it with water.
-Having a small stash of clean wipes with a high alcohol percentage are a great idea. Wipe down the tray and in the seatback pocket – and the armrests. Lots of pleasant bacteria and germs live there.
-The bathroom? time to use it is right before the credits roll on a movie.

And of course there are the super fun delay and cancellation questions…so a few quick ones:

Q: We've been sitting around on the runway for hours. Isn't there a rule about having to let us off eventually?
A: Yes there is...and it's three hours by law.

Q: We finally came back to the gate, and then the flight got cancelled. The next available flight isn't until tomorrow. Do I get a free hotel room?
A: Only if it's the airlines fault. And sometimes not even then. If your cancellation was caused by weather, act of God, or an idiot passenger who won't turn off their cell are out of luck. If it was because a crew timed out or the plane was broken then maybe. But even if the airline offers hotel rooms they won't likely give you one unless you ask.

Q: Well what about flying me home on another airline?
A: Airlines used to do this to be nice. Some still do, but others - like Southwest and Spirit - do not. It’s their choice.

Q: I ended up taking the first flight out the next morning, but it was oversold and I got involuntarily bumped. Do I get money?
A: Almost certainly, but only if you're flying a US carrier and only if it was involuntary. Most airlines will preempt this though and offer vouchers first, so if you took an airlines offer to get bumped in exchange for a free bag of pretzels thinking they’ll also cut you the check at the gate you’ll be sadly mistaken.  Otherwise, how much money ($650-$1300) you get depends on how long you wind up stuck at the airport. If you do get hosed, take the cash...many vouchers have travel restrictions: cold hard cash has none.

Q: Finally home, but now my bag is missing…what do I do?
A: First, no matter what, DO NOT leave the airport until you’ve tracked down an employee from your airline and file a missing bag claim (same thing applies if your bag comes back damaged). Demand a copy of it to take home with you and take down the employees name whom you submitted it to. Second, the airline will want an itemized list of everything that was in the bag. Think long and hard about what was in it – and better yet take a picture of it before you leave. Sounds crazy, until you need it. Third, be patient but proactive. Lost bags are not an airlines top priority, so you sometimes have to push them into finding it for you. If the airline ultimately declares it lost for good they owe you some dough…about $3300 per bag regardless of what was inside it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


by Liz

With Thanksgiving this week, I thought it would be a good idea to share what this Rider is thankful for in the context of… well, riding.  I have particularly been down on riding as of late.  Happier with driving in than riding the bus it might be hard to come up with a thankful list, but I’ll just look to the quote that is on my cubical wall this week.  “There is always, always, always something to be thankful for.”  Sure! Yeah! You betcha!  No, really there is always something to be thankful for, even when bleak feels more comfortable.  
As a rider, I am thankful for…
1.     Bus drivers… some are more considerate than others, but most are generous and kind with their customer service  and getting a bus load of people safely from point A to B. 

2.     Bus adventures with friends… it could be a planned one or a ride on the same line with a friend after a Happy Hour tryst.  It is fun to chat and enjoy the adventure with some good company.

3.     Wi-Fi on the D line… the tech geek in me is happy when I can connect with the Wi-Fi’s hot spot to browse on Pinterest during my ride without draining my battery over 3G connections.  I know!  I am such a nerd!

4.    Reading… Like Jamie posted about the opportunity read more while riding the bus or waiting for it to come.  I too have been able to read a few more books in the past 6 months with the extra wait/ride time.  Yay books!

5.    Green… I am happy to do my part to help lessen the carbon footprint.  Riding gives me the opportunity to increase my part. 

6.    Savings… parking adds up, even with the smallish amount that I drive in to work I feel I have to justify paying for parking when riding the bus is a free-ish task. 

7.    Community… riding gives me the experience to meet more people in this rainy city.  It is so wonderful watching people be kind and generous to each other. 

8.    Bus lanes… when traffic is bad and I’m on the bus passing all the folks in their cars, I’m thankful that I should not be too late for work :O)

9.    Walks to and from the bus stop… sometimes up to a mile, the walk helps clear my head and is part of my commute.  I truly enjoy it (when it is not too windy or wet or cold or dark or…) I try to truly enjoy it when I can. 

10.  Blogging… I am thankful for the past 5 months of posting stories with my friend Jamie and sharing them with you.  It is an odd platform, but it works for a couple of odd ladies. 
I hope you all have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and everyday.  On top of being a thankful Rider, as a thankful lady I would like to add a few personal notes…  I am thankful for my family, friends, friends that have become family, job, home, and life.  Life is pretty darn good and that is fan-freakin’-tastic!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ecalyptus Fun Fact Adventure

Thanks again to our guest poster Jeremy for his three part series from Africa and around the globe.   We'll always welcome more stories from his exciting adventures in and out of Seattle.  As we wrap up this third installment, Jamie and I will see you next week for some more rider chronicles encounters. 

We did eventually arrive to our planned destination, albeit forty minutes late. A representative from the company and I were supposed to get started and work on some B-roll footage promptly at nine. By the time we took care of paperwork and got the OK from security (I was filming at the airport), it was already well past ten. Things didn’t get much easier from there. A security officer was attached to our group of two. Restrictions on what I could and couldn’t photograph were tight and tightly enforced – despite being told before coming out that I’d have free reign to shoot whatever I wanted. It was certainly strange because otherwise I could pretty much do or go wherever I wanted: Walk on the wing of an airplane?; No problem. Go behind the scenes of the baggage area?; Sure. Climb up a ten story ladder to the top of a hangar?; Done. Take a picture with a person in it?; Don’t even think about it. Putting the final nail into the coffin, no one wanted to talk on the record: story = dead on arrival. Very frustrating, but the experience was still pretty cool.
The tour of the field was followed by a whirlwind tour of the city; up to nearby Mt. Entoto and back. The mountaintop, with its sweeping views of the city, is a twenty-minute drive from downtown, again giving me a good opportunity to see the city and a very brief snippet of more rural life. The driver took us along a more scenic route stopping by the National Museum, University of Addis, and a bunch of the big squares – many of which commemorated significant milestones in the countries history.
The road up to the top of Entoto was an adventure in itself (notice a theme on the roads?). Herds of animals replaced the ubiquitous mini-busses found in the city, and women with bundles of eucalyptus firewood on their backs trekked down the mountain back into town (fun fact, Addis is surrounded by eucalyptus forests). The scent was understandably much more powerful than in the city, aided by a light rain that began to fall pushing the smoke down. The view from the top was spectacular with the entire valley in view; it struck me as a great place to sit and think. 
Sadly the serenity didn’t last long. Small children, usually headed by an elder sibling, began to swarm trying to sell us things. Cute as they were I also knew that while most of these groups are innocent, others take advantage; they’ll distract you with their cuteness while another one behind you swipes your bag or your wallet. Thankfully that didn’t happen, and I picked up a small souvenir. 
The rain picked up to a steady clip as we drove back down the mountain toward the airport for my flight home. The route brought us through the embassy district, which was striking. Nations like Zimbabwe seemed to have little more than a walled shack, while Qatar maintained a beautiful compound full of color and Middle Eastern accents. There was of course no mistaking the US embassy. The huge walled compound looked like it was capable of surviving just about anything. Devoid of trees or any natural aesthetic value it looked large and imposing. It made a lot more sense why we’re often perceived as such aboard. 
Sipping a Coke at an airport Café, rain pelting the glass exterior, I began to try to ingest the overload of new experiences good and bad I’d had in only twenty-four hours. Perhaps most interesting to me was the level of insulation you could have in a country with an average annual income per capita of about $500USD. Here I was sitting in an airport café about to board an airplane whose ticket cost was more than most people I saw will make in a year. I stayed in a hotel that was literally walled off from the rest of the neighborhood, and who’s amenities most folks can only dream about. Most of my time experiencing the city was from the back seat of a private vehicle.
While the short trip was exhilarating, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that I hadn’t taken the few chances I had to venture out into town and connect more meaningfully. Hindsight is 50/50 though, and considering that I didn’t wind up in an international political thriller, didn’t get lost or mugged, and otherwise got a safe introduction to a whole different world – I’d say it went just fine. A short adventure, but an adventure none the less.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Horn of Africa

Week two of special guest blogger Jeremy... Jamie and I are happy to highlight such an amazing writer and world traveler.  We're also happy to take a little time off too!  Here is part two of three. 

Sleep eventually came as my adrenaline rush converted over into a system crash. Somewhere around six in the morning I awoke to the sounds of Muslim morning prayer wafting loudly across the neighborhood. This struck me as a bit odd as Ethiopia is predominantly a Christian nation – unique these days in the Horn of Africa – but it was cool to hear it live. Half dressed I threw on some clothes and went out to the balcony. 
Throwing open the curtains I got my first good look at the city. Needless to say what I saw reflected what I already knew; Ethiopia wasn’t exactly rolling in it. Larger buildings—many of which appeared to have seen better days—sporadically jutted up above an ocean of scrappy residential shacks. All but the biggest roads were largely unpaved. Rays of sunlight split through low hanging clouds of smoke rising up from homes and alley-ways – breakfast in the making. Things seemed to be moving slowly with the pace of an early Saturday morning.
After a short cat nap, shower, and breakfast I made my way down to the lobby. Getting lucky again, the front desk informed me that the folks I was there to see had scheduled a van to pick me up at 8am. Friends had told me to expect something they referred to as African time, which is to say expect everything to run late and take longer than you’d expect. At first I dismissed it as a tongue-in-cheek jeer, but it turned out to be true. Instead of 8am, the van actually showed up around 8:45am, setting a pattern for the remainder of the day.
The ride to my destination wasn’t quite as death-defying as the one the night before, but it was still harrowing: three traffic lanes turned into four or five and the honking continued unabated. Dozens of blue-striped minibuses (the unofficial mass-transit system) cruised along-side of us, their navigators hawking destinations and scouting for riders. Federal police officers directed traffic in the biggest squares and intersections, but otherwise it was everyone for himself. Despite the seeming chaos it somehow worked (though it is worth noting that World Health ranked the nation twelfth in traffic fatalities in the world).
The ride was a good first glance at life in the city too. First impressions?...busy, crowed but not in a NYC sort of way, and utilitarian. Streets and alley-ways were filled with just about everything you can imagine: heavy-trucks full of watermelons to tiny cabs, goat herds with shepherds to women carrying firewood down from the hills. It may have been easier to think up stuff you didn’t see. Store fronts were littered with Coca-Cola signs and sold goods ranging from live animals to cell phone cases. Squares often featured open-markets selling anything and everything you could imagine. 
Many of the buildings, larger government ones in particular, appeared to have been built in the 1970s and 80s and bore a resemblance to architecture one might find in the old Soviet states. If my guess is right it wouldn’t be coincidence; Ethiopia served as a Soviet ally under a repressive communist regime during that time. Really old buildings bore hallmarks of Italian influence, a product of the late 1930s occupation. Aside from a few scattered new projects in various stages of completion, the rest of the city was comprised of the shack sea. Most were made from what looked to be combinations of sheet metal, wood, and whatever else was locatable; some were larger and made of concrete. In any case, it made the oft-maligned public housing in the US look rosy.
All that to soak in and it was still only 9:30 in the morning.