Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Year in Travel

For all I talk about travel, let's look back at the year that was. Also, everything below is for calendar year 2010, but doesn't include flights to/from Portland this coming week and jetting off to Ireland on Dec. 30.

Total flights: 73 of which 52 were on Star Alliance carriers
Total miles: About 82,600
Places I went for the first time (a sampling): Paris, Warsaw, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Nashville, Eureka, Redmond, Ore., Salt Lake City, Kayenta, Ariz.

Favorite airport: Seattle-Tacoma (SEA)
I love any airport with a central terminal where all concourses are easy to get to. My new home airport qualifies, but it also has some local eating options and is mass-transit accessible. Takeoffs and landings are great because you either buzz the Seattle skyline or Mt. Rainier. And, of course, there's nothing like landing at home.

Least Favorite Airport: Paris-Charles DeGaulle (CDG)
What a god-awful mess. The interior architecture is pretty in parts of terminal 2F, which is where the good parts of this airport end. Hugely, sprawling, heaven help you if you need to make a connection on a short turn. The fact that they bus you from your gate to your plane for most intra-EU flights means you need to be at your gate much farther ahead than normal. In fairness, the in-airport helpers are extremely friendly and have a great grasp of English. But, flying through here twice was enough.

Pet Peeve of the Year: Southwest Fanboys
They are the Apple enthusiasts of the air. They speak with a superior air about them, but few truly understand the economics of the airline industry. They love telling everyone how they only fly Southwest. This despite the fact that, often, Southwest isn't the cheapest option. If they were, they'd list their fares on Orbitz, Expedia and the like. They love to talk about how Southwest "has no extra fees," but fail to mention Southwest's "early-bird check in" fee, which is nearly mandatory if you are carrying on bags. They also fail to mention Southwest's terrible record compared to other airlines when it comes to losing baggage. Southwest's marketing program has been brilliant in that they've convinced a nation of occasional flyers that it's better on Southwest. They do an OK job, but they are not that much better than "legacy" carriers. But the "fanboys" won't hear it...

In-Air Trend of the Year: E-Readers
It started after Christmas last year and I can only imagine how it's going to be after this holiday season. Everyone has a e-reader. I would say mainly the Kindle from my unscientific observations. After that, the iPad, though I do find it amusing to watch someone with a bulky iPad try to do anything on the tablet and take a sip of their drink in the cramped quarters of the fuselage. Regardless, they're the item of choice. Smaller than a traditional book, means it's much easier to carry in already-packed carry-on bags. I can say for sure having one changed the way I enjoy my flights.

Surprised-That-Works-So-Well of the Year: Smartphone Boarding Passes
It doesn't seem like it should work, having a boarding pass on a cell phone. But yet, it does. I always try to check in prior to getting to the airport, but sometimes, it's not possible. Now... I can check in from the rental car shuttle bus if I'm on certain airlines. And despite the troubles people have with security lines, somehow, mobile boarding passes have seemed to work pretty well.

Overhype of the Year: Body Scanners
See all those flights up there? You know how many times I was body-scanned? Once. Whoop. Dee. Doo. The one time I was (at the Oakland, CA airport) it was really not a big deal. The person who gets to the see the scan isn't even visible to the person being scanned. And, despite the whole "they're going to see me naked" talk, unless the person looking at the screen gets off on grainy, black and white, low res, not-at-all-sexy-and-detailed images, it's pretty innocuous. Beats a pat-down, for sure. I still think this is overkill... airport security has done nothing to provide a marked difference in the security of our airlines since 9/11... banning knives and things may have. Cockpit doors locking from inside certainly have. I think we should go back to the old system, but, in the meantime, you people want to feel safe. And now the terrorists make underwear bombs. You get what you want, then... body scanners. But really? No big deal.

Best Food on the Road: The Malt Shop, Pagosa Springs, Colo.
This is it:Just sitting there on the north side of US 160 in a town the better part of an hour east of Durango. Was told to stop here by a friend in Santa Fe. And it was absolutely worth it. The hamburger was tremendous. The cross-cut fries, a la Chik-Fil-A, were great. And the milkshake... oh, the milkshake. This was not the healthiest lunch I had during my travels. But it was my favorite.

Favorite Things I Saw

The Petroglyphs in Mesa Verde National Park - A mile down from the Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling, native peoples has etched a story into a sandstone wall. Crazy to see a handprint, knowing hundreds of years ago, someone who lived in one of those cliff dwellings had placed that hand there. It honestly felt like it must to stand on the moon and see one of the astronauts' footprints: a perfectly preserved part of the past in it's natural place.

Paris - If you've been there, you know what I mean. There is no city that looks like it. There are sounds that are unique to the city. Just a cool place.

The High Desert - Driving on the Mt. Hood Highway in Oregon, you pass Mt. Hood and begin descending a bit... and suddenly you go from dense pine forest... to high desert canyon country. It's almost an instantaneous switch. Lush to barren. But still beautiful. For an eastern boy like me, I wasn't aware you could go from one sort of climate and flora in the blink of an eye. But you can.

Here's to what 2011 brings!

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