1 July London Journal

I thought America had flat seats in Business Class. British Airways has REAL flat bed seats; they don't pinch you at the waist and feet. In fact, I was able to get six hours sleep, but that's all I've had in the last  33 hours. It is 10:30 here and I am fading fast; I am meeting an old friend for breakfast in the AM

Anyway, the six hours sleep prevented jet lag, along with lots of water, no caffeine, moving my bedtime up, and staying awake all day Tuesday in London. And melatonin at bed time.

I have been flying regularly since I took a United flight from Seattle to Boston to attend MIT in August of 1970. And in all that time, this was my first seat upstairs. It is quieter up there. Which is a good thing because--did I mention the Bose noise-cancelling headsets on American? I used to carry my own NC headsets when I flew regularly but now it seems like too much trouble. Well. Fly a long flight with them and a long flight without them and you'll have another think coming.

We arrived at 9, a  half hour late. I don't know what UK Borders did with the extra time, but they sure as heck weren't bringing in extra agents. Several  hundred people stood in line in front of six people. Thank God I didn't have checked luggage; the additional wait after the 45 minutes waiting for my 90 second border formalities would have friend my brain (things have changed in the 28years since I was last here; you no longer get your luggage before "entering" the country.

_uk border

*Long Lines at UK Border

I had expected to be in worse shape than I was, but I had prepaid a car service, so it took me 90 minutes to get to my condo in the Greenwich Millenium Village (a 10 minute walk from the O2 Coliseum, where Monty Python will peform for me... and 14,999 other people... on Friday night. Since the express train only takes a half hour, I'm going back via that route.

*O2 Coliseum: A White Tent With Poles Sticking Out

On the way in, we passed the London Eye ferris wheel. R and I had talked about my using that as a way to stay awake. So, I checked in, grabbed  52 pounds of supplies (laundry soap, paper towels, TP and food) at a convenience store (price, not weight), then walked to North Greenwich tube station to buy an Oyster card  (don't get me started. I never did get the machine to sell me a card; I had a human do it instead.).

Over lunch, I read a review of a play called Great Britain, about a woman named Britain, that was hastily written to parody the recently completed trials of journalists accused of hacking into people's voicemails. I was already signed up for Harry Shearer in Daytona on Wednesday (he had plugged it on his radio show last week), and Rock and Roll Politics with a journalist named Steve Richards. But what the heck... now I am going to see three plays.

The line at the London Eye was depressing. Then, I discovered that England (or at least the London Eye part of it) is following in the footsteps of America in general and Disneyland in particular, by offering a better experience for more money. Basically, it is the same schtick; hand then an extra 10 pounds, and you go in via a special gate; five minutes on line instead of 45.

_fast track
*Fast Track Everywhere

It is amazing--the wheel never stops; people get in and out of each "capsule" while the wheel is still moving.

I took a selfie with Big Ben behind me at the top of the London Eye ride. It isn't great.

Big ben selfie
*London Eye Pinnacle Selfie

Afterwards, amazing dim sum at a Chinese place called Ping Pong across from Southbank Centre, near the National Theatre... and the London Eye. The honey glazed ribs were to die for. 

My first impressions of London are of an impossible diverse and very lively city. Everywhere I went, sidewalks were crowded (like midtown Manhattan at lunchtime) with people young and old, walking and biking. And there was a Tower of Babel re-creation going on with all the languages.  Generally, when I hear a snatch of dialog, i can place it as European, Slavic or Asian. Not today--there were vowels and consonants I am quite sure I never heard before. This could have to do with the fact that, in England, the official start of summer vacation season was Sunday June 29th. Chalk one up to my good timing.

George Bernard Shaw once said that the English and the Americans are "two great people, separated by a common language." I had not even been here a day, when I found my go-to phrases were "I beg your pardon, could you repeat that," and "perhaps you could spell it for me." Frequently, I just nodded my head and went looking for an easier accent. Of course, Steve Martin fans know the danger of just nodding. You might be saying, "I'll have a shoe with cheese on it, and force it down my throat."

No one here has done that. Yet.

30 June London Journal

I am returning to blogging after a long absence. The occasion? I am off for nine days in London, the highlight of which will be the Monty Python comedy performance on the 4th of July. And, my retirement from teaching, as of June 13. I believe I will now have the time and energy to post regularly again. Including daily on this trip (although I will only send email reminders every few days).

I am an odd duck; I know that. I know many well-educated, sophisticated people who do not own a passport (only 10 percent of Americans do), and who live on the West Coast but have never been to New York City (or only been once or twice). Mind you, this doesn't count as a trip to New York City; changing planes at JFK is not a visit. But I am a New York regular, even since my frequent train and bus trips from college in Boston back in the 1970s. Ironically, on one of those trips, I saw the first Monty Python movie (and, for the ages, identified John Cleese as Monty Python in my review in The Tech). I went regularly, at least 80 or 100 times, until I left journalism in 2001. Since then, not so much. In fact, hardly at all.

Still, while my regular travels are more than a decade behind me, this trip does bring back memories. For one thing,  many of the trips I took all those years ago were Red Eyes--planes that left San Francisco at about midnught and arrived in New York around 6:30 a.m. After all, if you pamper yourself with a daylight flight, you lose an entire working day! When I landed at 6:30, I would change into business attire in a bathroom at the Admirals Club (or the Ambassadors Club, or the Red Carpet Club), work a normal day with lots of caffeine, then collapse into a blissful slumber at around 6pm Pacific time (9pm Eastern).

Of course, I flew couch on all those trips, but even so, I discovered the "flat bed" long before airlines offered it as a perk of business class travel. In the early years, I flew mostly Pan Am and TWA--venerable airlines now long departed--whose red eye flights were seldom full. In the center section of a 747, if you raise all the armrests, et voila, you have a flat bed. So, this trip in the daylight would seem quite luxurious, even if I were not travelling business class.

Business class? Isn't that expensive? Well, for the last decade of  my regular flying, I flew American Airlines almost exclusively. I paid small fees periodically to keep my mile available. Those miles, plus points on American Express, added up to a business class round trip ticket to London.

This Trip

Ps in car

*Paul in the car to SFO

A car picked me up at 5:50 am. That still isn't early enough to beat rush hour on the San Francisco Bay Bridge. But as I allowed two hours before my flight, I was still in plenty of time. I had to check in at the airport because the British and American abbreviations for junior (as in Paul E. Schindler Jr.) differ (the British abbreviate it JNR), which precluded check-in from at home. But of course, unlike Southwest (my travel companion for the last decade) on a legacy carrier, you have an assigned seat! An hour in the Admiral's club (now serving food), made possible by my ticket (I haven't paid the $400 for membership in the club in a long time), and I boarded, first, with the airline royalty. I was not dressed to match, as it turns out.

Plane design has changed in the last decade. I don't know what it was like for the little people, but in first class there was one pod on each side of the aisle; those passengers had what amounted to private rooms. In Business Class, there were two of us on each side of the aisle.

Ps pod

*My Pod
All pods

*American Airline Airbus 320 Business Class Pod Lineup

We had "flat bed" seats, which, of course, I tested out. A bit snug at the top (chest level) and bottom (foot level), but still better than the best "almost flat" seat. Freshly baked cookies and milk before landing.

The entertainment system only worked at about half the seats, but I was able both to listen to music and watch a movie, Bad Words starring Justin Bateman. It did not exactly kill at the box office, and it is easy to see why: Bateman plays a complete, total, utter, foul-mouthed bastard, who uses a loophole to enter the national spelling bee.

I lucked out at JFK; I landed at terminal 8 and needed to go to terminal 7. I figured I would be riding the shuttle all the way around the airport. It was too hot (80), too far and a violation of the airport design to walk from one terminal to another (some people told me it literally wasn't possible). So, imagine my surprise when I discovered the shuttle ran... IN REVERSE ORDER! Terminal 7 (United and British Airways) was the first stop!

My ticket gave me entree' to the sumptuous BA lounge, which includes a buffet dinner, nutritious snacks (including lots of fruit) and all kinds of alcohol. Too bad my research indicates that alcohol and caffeine compound jet lag. The best advice: stay hydrated. Boy, did I stay hydrated! We'll see tomorrow if it prevents jet lag.

Scary Airline Story

If you're like me, you probably assumed that the airlines were run by people who were, perhaps stupid, but probably not malign or evil. Joe Brancatelli has some news for you.

Joe is an old friend (and now a Byte.com columnist) who writes the Brancatelli File column at Biztravel.com. His May 13 column, Running on Empty" tells the scary story of a Malaysia Airline flight that landed at Heathrow with the equivalent of a pint of gasoline (in a car) left in its fuel tank.

But the Aviation Daily trade newsletter reported Tuesday that Malaysia Airlines pilots have been under orders for more than two years to carry minimal fuel to save on costs. Worse, the newsletter reported, the near-disaster on the MAS flight coming into Heathrow was "nothing new." Malaysia and other airlines routinely carry less fuel than safety regulations require and "ground staff attending to the aircraft keep it quiet."

You don't think a jetliner could crash because it ran out of fuel? I was there. I covered the crash of a United Airlines flight in Portland, Oregon in 1978 that ran out of fuel 10 miles short of the runway. The crash killed 5 people--a remarkably low death rate for an airplane crash--largely because there was no fire afterwards. And because the pilot deftly landed in a grove of trees, avoiding killing people on the ground.

The problem in Portland was human error (something about liters and gallons). Apparently, it's human error at Malaysia Airlines as well--they forgot to hire human beings to run the airline.

Vitriol Shortage Victim: Carry-on Baggage

Remind me to tell you why I hate Microsoft Word.

Anyway, I am really upset about the irrational and punitive policies airlines are instigating with regard to carry-on baggage. I'd be more upset if I still flew frequently. I'd also be more upset if I hadn't just blown my whole wad of vitriol writing about the impeachment proceedings.

This issue resonates with me personally. Once, shortly after United baggage check-in at SFO was automated, my bags took a lovely vacation in Hawaii while I went to New York City. I've never waited less than a half-hour for my bags, and have had them lost on a dozen occasions in 20 years of regular flying. That's why I carry on. That's why I resent the manufactured crisis. My good friend Joe Brancatelli, who writes about travel, knows much more about this than me, and wrote about it in his column last week (you may have to get into the archives to see this one if you don't read my column right away):

The internecine fight between Continental and United and Delta over templates and other carry-on issues points out the folly of it all. The confusion is now infuriating. Read all about it in this week's edition of The Brancatelli File. Point your browser to biztravel.com, then click on the home-page hotlink for the Brancatelli File.

I wrote Joe to ask him what I could do, and he responded:

I've gotten a ton of Emails on this week's column and there's one message: people seem to be switching in droves to American from United Airlines. Shocking, really, because frequent flyers are loathe to change carriers and lose their elite privileges.

Of course, you could write a column about it, too.

Well, I didn't write a column about it, Joe, but I did the next best thing: I pointed people at yours. And let me conclude by saying that thank goodness my employer has a deal with American for transcontinental air flights. If you haven't switched yet, and you can, do. Let's make sure United gets the message: we carry on because your baggage handling stinks like yesterday's diapers.