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.

All change

The only constant is change, isn’t it? Two days before I was due to zoom off around the world comes a change of plans. I’m postponing my visit to Beijing, and realigning my stay in Hyderabad so that I can participate in some additional meetings. Instead of Star Alliance round the world, it’s probably going to be BA out and back via LHR. (I looked at going LH through FRA, but for some reason, BA is about 25% cheaper than LH right now.) I’ll update with the details when I have them.
UPDATE: Here we are:
BA048 Dep: SEA 07:40PM Mar 16 Arr: LHR 12:00PM Mar 17
BA277 Dep: LHR 01:40PM Mar 17 Arr: HYD 04:40AM Mar 18
BA276 Dep: HYD 07:30AM Mar 25 Arr: LHR 12:55PM Mar 25
BA049 Dep: LHR 02:20PM Mar 25 Arr: SEA 05:01PM Mar 25

I’ll be in 744s between SEA and LHR and 777s between LHR and HYD, with window seats on every leg. I get to kill a couple of hours in T5 each way.