A week of public transportation…

I just got home from a whirlwind week in the UK to visit family, friends, and colleagues. I was struck by the fact that everything depended on a diverse network of public transportation, and I thought it might be amusing to document all of the services I used during that week. So here goes. (This is going to be long….)

Wednesday February 7: I flew from Portland (PDX) to San Francisco (SFO), and then on to London (LHR). To get from home to PDX I used a rideshare service (Uber); the only realistic alternative would have been to drive and leave my car at the long-term car park.

Thursday, February 8: I arrived at Heathrow around noon. Passport control was swift and self-service: “scan my UK passport, gaze into the camera”. No checked baggage to retrieve, so I headed to my hotel in Pimlico. There are several ways to get from Heathrow to London, but I chose the oldest and cheapest: Piccadilly Line tube from Heathrow to Earls Court, and District Line from Earls Court to Victoria. My hotel was a 7 minute walk from Victoria. As with all of my bus and tube travel in London, I used my phone to pay; I didn’t have to buy tickets, or even install a special app. In fact, I didn’t use a (physical) credit card or cash during the entire trip. And of course(?), for the various travels which I’d booked in advance – United Airlines to London, Eurostar to Paris, GWR to Oxford, Avanti to Manchester – all of my tickets/boarding passes lived on my phone, either contactless or QR.

Friday, February 9: I had a business meeting in Paris, and so I was travelling by Eurostar train from London St. Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord. My train left at 7, but because of the passport control bullshit following Brexit you’re advised to arrive 60-90 minutes before your train. I could have used the Tube, but the service frequency at 5am is iffy, so I asked the hotel to call a taxi, which arrived in about 90 seconds. Sweet. Once I got in line at St. Pancras, I was invited to switch to the 6am train, which I did. Eurostar was very nice; I was traveling in Standard Premier class, and it was quiet and delightful.

Within Paris, I planned to take the Metro from Gare du Nord to Ecole Militaire using lines 4 and 8 (changing at Strasbourg Saint Denis). In preparation, I tried to set up for contactless payment, but this proved much more difficult than in London. (You have to install the IDF Mobilit├ęs app, which then asks you to install the My Travigo ticket management app.) The setup process failed several times, so in desperation I restarted my phone; that did the trick.

The return journey to London was uneventful, and I took the Victoria Line from St.Pancras to Pimlico to get back to my hotel.

Saturday February 10: The main event of the day (and the ostensible reason for the whole trip) was a family gathering in Blackheath, in south-east London. The party didn’t start until 1, so in the morning I spent some time in my favourite parts on London. I caught a 24 bus (my first ride on a New Routemaster) from just outside my hotel up to Leicester Square, and meandered towards Covent Garden and the London Transport Museum. Eventually I walked down The Strand to Charing Cross station and took a southeastern service out to Blackheath. After the (delightful!) family event, I walked back to Blackheath station and took another southeastern train to Victoria.

Sunday February 11: I may have been born in London, and have lived more than half my life in the US, but Oxford is one of my home places. So on Sunday I took a GWR train from Paddington to Oxford, to have lunch with an old friend and do a little shopping in Blackwell’s. I used the Circle Line to get from Victoria up to Paddington, which worked very well but triggered a momentary confusion, because I grew up in the era when the Circle Line was really a “circular” service, rather than today’s weird loop! The GWR service was on one of their 800-class bi-mode multiple units (it’s electric from London to Didcot, then switches to diesel power up to Oxford and beyond). The 800s are widely criticized; maybe my standards are too low, but I found it to be fast and comfortable. (It runs at around 120mph for much of the way, compared with 165mph for Eurostar.)

Monday February 12: I spent the day with my cousin, exploring the Victoria & Albert Museum and walking through Hyde Park.Travel was mostly Circle Line between Liverpool St and South Kensington, and bus from Marble Arch to Victoria.

Tuesday February 13: My plans for the day were straightforward: travel to Canada Water station (Victoria Line to Green Park, then Jubilee Line to Canada Water) to meet an old friend for lunch; then return to Victoria to meet a former colleague for dinner. I set off quite a bit earlier than I needed to, and as I approached Canada Water station I had an inspiration. I would stay on the train to North Greenwich, and then ride the cable car across the Thames. So I did. I can imagine that in good weather the views must be spectacular, but in the steady rain…. Definitely the weirdest bit of public transportation on this trip.

Wednesday February 14: Yet another “lunch meeting with an old friend” – but this time in Manchester. I took the Victoria line froim Pimlico to Euston, and boarded an Avanti Class 390 Pendolino for the 2 hr 6 min journey to Manchester. I decided to indulge myself by booking First Class, and the service was excellent. I met my friend at Manchester Piccadilly station, and since we are both transport nerds, we spent the time before lunch in a thoroughly appropriate fashion. We took a Metrolink tram out to Manchester Airport, and then rode on one of the new electric buses back into the city.

Thursday February 15: The last day of my trip, and there was one more transportation decision to make: how to get to Heathrow? There are three obvious choices: the Piccadilly Line (slow, cheap), the Heathrow Express from Paddington (fast, expensive), and the Elizabeth Line (moderately priced, new and interesting). I chose the Elizabeth Line, of course. I took the Circle up to Paddington and walked across to the new Elizabeth Line station. (I understand the infrastructure constraints, but the need to tap in and tap out twice seems less integrated than I’d expect.) The trains feel like an odd hybrid of tube and mainline design, with both longitudinal and transverse seating. But they’re comfortable and fast, and definitely better than the Piccadilly!

Then home. As on my outbound flight, the United 777 was only about half full, and I had a complete row to myself. Immigration was almost as fast as at Heathrow; I have Global Entry, so it was simply “look at the camera, flash my US passport to a human”. Parts of San Francisco airport seemed eerily empty. Since we’d got in quite early, I decided to try switch to the earlier SFO-PDX. I snagged the last seat – middle, of course, but at least it was Economy Plus. And then Uber home.

So that was the trip. Commercial air, Ubers at both ends in the US, one taxi in London, and otherwise 100% public transportation. (I think of all of the mainline rail services in England as “public transportation”, because even though some of the operators are commercial entities, they are required to operate in accordance with their franchise arrangements.) One minor ticketing glitch in Paris, but otherwise flawless. Tired, but happy, and so glad to have seen all my fiends and family.

So here I am again….

I arrived at SFO this morning, looked up at the flight information screens, and saw that my flight was shown as “Scheduled 1:20PM, Actual 1:10PM”. Optimism, perhaps, given that departure was still over three hours away. And as it turned out, the cleaners took longer than usual to prepare the 747, and we boarded late. Oh, well.
The flight was full. Not, I think, as oversold as the Singapore flight a couple of gates away, but I didn’t see a singe empty seat. I had a middle, between two people each of whom had bulky carry-on bags which they had placed under the seat in front of them. Not only did their bags remove a lot of my legroom; both of them kept on diving into their bags to retrieve or stow items. This inevitably meant them bumping and crowding me, and the upshot was that for the first time in years I didn’t get any sleep on the long flight. And since United’s 747s don’t have personal in-flight entertainment systems, I was reduced to listening to music while wearing eye-shades. At least we had Channel 9 for the last few hours….
After the very uncomfortable flight, the rest was easy: bought a ferry ticket, took the train to the new Sky Pier, caught the 7:30 ferry, zipped through passport control at Shekou, got a few minutes sleep in the taxi (the best way of coping with Chinese driving), and I was checked in at Baicao Gardens just after 9. I turned on the TV, and they were showing the European Grand Prix from Valencia. I watched laps 47 to 53, and then suddenly they cut away to squeeze in a huge block of advertisements before the start of the England-Germany world cup match, which is on right now as I type this.
I’d like to watch, but I think I’m going to have to sleep instead. Good luck, England!

Who would have thought that flying to China would become routine?

I’m heading off again tomorrow – SFO-HKG, then the ferry to Shekou, and a taxi to the Huawei campus in Shenzhen. I’m trying to pack light, with no camera and no books (except for Kindle books on my iPad). No toiletries – I can get them cheaper in Shenzhen. I’ll take my laptop, iPad and both phones (iPhone 4 for the US, Android G1 for China). I had hoped to unlock my iPhone 3G and use that in China, but I haven’t been able to download a copy of the relevant IPSW firmware without MD5 errors.
This is just a short, one week trip. This means that I won’t miss too much of the World Cup….

Here we go again

Half an hour from now I’m starting another burst of travel. Tonight I fly from SFO to JFK (trying out the United p.s. service for the first time), so that I can attend the Cloud Expo at the Javits. On Wednesday I’m taking the Acela up to Boston, where I’ll be staying until Sunday. Back home for a week; then off to Xi’an on May 3 for a couple of weeks, and from there I’ll fly on to Nice to attend the TM Forum Management World conference. By then I hope that either the Icelandic volcano will have subsided, or the airlines will have figured out how to fly me home from France!

Misfortune for some, great for us

Due to (I think) equipment failure Because of snow in Washington DC, last night’s IAD-LHR flight was cancelled, which meant that United was forced to cancel an LHR-LAX flight. They tried to accomodate as many of the LAX passengers as possible on the LHR-SFO flight, which meant that when Kate and I went to board our flight home, we were upgraded to Business class. This made the nearly-11-hour trip much more enjoyable….

Heading back home after a month in China

So we’re at Hong Kong airport, waiting to board our flight back to Vancouver, and thence to San Francisco. Originally it was a 2 week trip, but we extended it to a full month. It’s been a good, productive trip, but I’m glad to be heading back. On the ferry from Shenzhen Shekou, Kate and I were comparing notes on the things that we’re looking forward to. Clean air is high on the list for both of us, we’ve got mild coughs from the ubiquitous dust and pollution. Quiet will be nice; China is a very noisy place. A nice glass of wine together with a chicken Caesar salad is on my list; I enjoy the food here, but I eat a lot of meat and fish, often cooked in hot oil, as well as noodles and dumplings. And while light lager beer is ok, I would prefer something with more body than Tsing Tao.
But now we face 12 hours of sleep, movies, and eating, followed by a 5 hour layover, followed by a puddle-jumper down the coast. See you on the other side.

The risks of getting greedy for miles

I just dodged a nasty little trap over at the United Airlines website, and thought it was worth passing on.
About a week ago I received an email from United advertising their “Fall into bonus miles” program. It works like this: register on their website with the special code (MPD539), then enter that code when purchasing a qualifying roundtrip this fall, and get an extra 2,500 miles. It sounded like a sweet deal, so I registered.
It also happened that I need to visit the UK in December. It’s partly family stuff and partly business, and I have a little flexibility about dates, so I plugged in the dates, checked “Search by flexible dates”, and… Ah, yes! Before I clicked “Find”, I carefully entered the code “MPD539”. Back came a matrix of fares for various date combinations, and the best (December 7-21) was around $900 per person.
I wasn’t quite ready to book the trip, so a couple of days later I looked again. This time I forgot to enter the promotion code, and I was delighted to see that the prices had gone down, to around $700. Great! Isn’t yield management a wonderful thing? I still had one thing to confirm, so I waited until I got home to actually book the flights. I logged in, entered the dates, added the promotion code… and the price was up over $900.
On a whim, I tried my search again, without the promotion code. Bingo! I got the $700 (plus taxes) fare. So I booked it, and then checked to figure out what had happened. It turns out that the fine print on the promotion says:

Qualifying class of service: United First(R) (F, A, P), United Business(R) (C, D, Z) and select United Economy(R) (Y, B, M, H, E, U, Q). Other classes of service are not eligible for this offer.

So each time I entered the promotional code, United only showed me fares from the eligible classes of service, and gave no indication that cheaper fares were available. My nice cheap fare was Economy “S”, which may be the bottom of the barrel, but I still got nice seats in Economy Plus.
The moral of the tale: if someone offers you a cool promotion, check the prices with and without the promo code. You may be surprised.

Another day, another airline

Having travelled out here non-stop on Cathay Pacific (CX), I’ll be flying home tomorrow on ANA through Tokyo (NH912 HKG-NRT, NH008 NRT-SFO). I guess there are a lot of people flying between China and the US right now. (Of course booking at the last moment didn’t help.)
I’ve never flown ANA before. NH912 is on a 767, and I have a window seat; NH008 is on a 777, with no seat assigned. I hope that isn’t a bad sign. At least I can credit the miles to UA.
So here’s the full trip, courtesy the Great Circle Mapper:



A change in the weather

My first week in Shenzhen was accompanied by the expected hot weather: high temperatures around 90-95F, high humidity, heat index around 105F, oppressively sticky at night, occasional afternoon showers. It sounds unpleasant, but it was actually less of an issue than I’d feared.
Yesterday, all that changed. Typhoon Molave arrived. From Window on China:

Molave landed at Nanao town in Shenzhen City of Guangdong at 0:50 a.m. (Beijing Time) Sunday, packing winds up to 145 km per hour in its eye. CMA issued an “orange alert” at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday that the typhoon has weakened to strong tropical storm after landing in Shenzhen. It located at 22.7 degrees north and 113.7 degrees east at 5:00 a.m.

It rained pretty heavily yesterday, so that we postponed our plans to go sightseeing, and by the time I went to bed the wind was howling and the rain was hammering on the windows. During the night I heard a number of loud crashes, and the noise of the storm made it difficult to sleep.
This morning, Jim and I headed out to find some breakfast. The wind had dropped to the point where umbrellas were not at risk, but the signs of the storm were everywhere: palm fronds down, many trees and shrubs uprooted and shattered, minor debris everywhere. South of the Baicow Gardens complex, we saw the remains of a security (?police) booth. Yesterday it had been a handsome aluminium and glass box on a six-foot high substructure. Today it was a mess of twisted aluminium sheeting surrounded by piles of shattered glass. The whole scene was quite reminiscent of Hurricane Gloria, which tore through central New England in 1985.