Air Travel Lessons from the Pandemic

When it comes to my trips, I’m a planner. I’ve gone on at length in other posts about the way that I approach new cities and the way I plan out my trips. The experiences of the last three months have led me to rethink a few of my previously held stances about travel.

Never again will I book my flight more than 60 days before the trip: In the past, I have usually tried to get my flights about three months before I actually want to travel- having them booked relieves the mental stress of a hanging to-do list item, and getting them done early helps to get a good price on the ticket. Or at least that’s how it used to be.

The conventional wisdom used to be that the best prices on flights are usually found about 70 days before a flight and that the best booking window is 21 to 121 days before your flight date. If you wait until the last minute, flight prices are often hugely inflated, and if you get them too early, they can be just as bad.

When Covid-19 hit, my plans started to disappear and I was left with a need to cancel five separate trips out of state- that meant I had to cancel flights with JetBlue, American Airlines, Delta, Spirit Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Frontier Airlines. I will never again buy my flight more than a month out- there’s just too much uncertainty, and having to cancel a flight is a giant pain in the ass. This leads me to the next lesson-

Never again will I use an all-in-one travel planning site: I have been an Expedia.com user since some time in 2001. I’ve used it for countless flights and hotels, using various airlines throughout the last eighteen years. I always felt like it was useful to have the web equivalent of a travel agent, and it worked well for me until it didn’t. The mass cancellation of all of those flights is where Expedia fell apart.

It was nearly impossible at first to reach an actual customer service representative, and when they finally started to get their response organized it was still clunky and hard to get a response.

JetBlue was the easiest to deal with- I was able to go directly to them and they canceled my flight and put a credit in their “Travel Bank.” Nice and easy. Several of the others wouldn’t talk to me directly though- if you book through an agent or a site like Expedia or Travelocity, a lot of the airlines will make you go back to that site to deal with any flight changes.

To my vast and unending surprise, the first airline to just do the right thing and give me back my money was Spirit Airlines. The cancellation with them was fully refunded, with a minimum of fuss. I was expecting more difficulty there, and their goodwill has guaranteed that I will use them again if the route I need is there.

Alaska Airlines also gave me a refund, once I called them and spoke to a customer service representative. They were very classy to me.

The other three allowed me to cancel flights, but only gave me credits. This is where the real lesson begins.

I have a long-standing relationship with Delta, and I’ve always enjoyed flying with them, but this experience has put me off of them a bit. For one thing, I haven’t been able to reach a person in weeks. For another, my Expedia flights resulted in airline credits, but those credits aren’t visible in my Delta account. If the credits from all those canceled flights lived in my Delta Skymiles account, I would be sanguine. They don’t, though. They live in Expedia. This is a problem.

The Expedia site is garbage. Up until a few days ago, there was absolutely no place on Expedia to even see a credit. Now you can see it on a per-trip basis, but there’s still no obvious list of them- if you don’t know you have a credit, you’ll never get a notification that you do. And you can’t use Expedia airline credits while booking on their site, you have to call their call center to use your credits. I’m not looking forward to that at all.

American Airlines is the same way- a credit, living somewhere in the Expedia system, that I will have to call in to use when booking a new flight with the same airline.

Frontier Airlines is the last of them, and Frontier gets all of my rage. All of it. The first time I called in, I only had to wait about forty minutes to reach a customer service representative. She initially said that I would have an airline credit, good until September of 2021, but that I would have to re-book within 90 days.

This is a problem because the event that I was attending via a Frontier flight is canceled, not rescheduled. None of my regular travel goes on Frontier routes, and I’m certainly not going to have more travel plans to coordinate with them in the next 90 days. I told the customer service rep this, and she said that she would get me a refund. She said she would route my information to another department to get the refund processed.

I now know that the Frontier Airlines customer service representative lied.

I know this because after a few weeks went by, I tried to call again. This time, it took me more than ninety minutes to get to a rep. He took my basic information, asked to place me on a “brief hold,” and that was the last I heard from him. I had roughly ten minutes of dead silence, and then the hold music came back and I was on for another twenty-five minutes, before I was suddenly disconnected from the call.

For my third attempt to reach someone helpful, I went the Twitter route, speaking to https://twitter.com/FrontierCare, who took more than two days for the first response. I explained my situation, and they said my reservation does not qualify for a refund. I repeated my explanation that the credit was useless to me, and a full two hours later repeated the “booked in 90 days, good until September 2021” bit.

So yeah, Frontier Airlines is going to keep my money, and will provide me no service for it. If they had said all along that they would not give me a refund, I would not have been angry, but the first customer service representative said I would have a refund. Either she lied through her teeth, or the next person I spoke to did. This is shitty customer service, and they’ve guaranteed that I will never fly with them or recommend them to anyone else I know. They can still save their relationship with me by doing the right thing, but they don’t seem willing to, and I’m not feeling up to spending another few hours of my life trying to get them to change their minds.

I have a long memory, Frontier, and I travel a lot. Just not with you.

I’m sure that I’ll still have new lessons from Covid-19 in the future. After all, most of my favorite things involve travel and the entertainment and travel industries are still changing and adapting to life with a pandemic. For now, I’ll leave you with this summary, the three main lessons I have learned from this experience:

  1. Don’t book early. Just don’t. Wait until no less than thirty days from your travel date to get your airfare. You might have to pay a little more, but it’s less expensive than having an airline just keep your money without ever flying you anywhere.
  2. Book directly with the airlines, not through a site like Expedia or Travelocity. If something goes wrong, it’s a hell of a lot easier to deal with the airline directly than with a giant nebulous glob like Expedia. At this point in time, I’ve got a bunch of airline credits that I can ONLY use if I book through Expedia during a phone call. Once those credits are gone from Expedia, so am I.
  3. Never fly Frontier Airlines. They suck. They have earned a spiteful place in my heart for taking my money without a usable service.

Have you learned any lessons from living through a global pandemic?

20/52

The London Film Museum

My previous post about London led to a conversation with a friend about London, and I wanted to look at the pictures I posted in my blog post about the London Film Museum. When I went to look for the post, I discovered to my vast surprise that I never wrote a post about the London Film Museum, I only wrote a paragraph in one of my previous London posts. In August of 2012, I said the following in a longer post about London:

I quite enjoyed the London Film Museum, which had a lot of neat stuff, including Daleks, a TARDIS, the superman suit from Superman Returns, the Batman Begins batsuit, and a large variety of props from other movies.  There was an entire room of Harry Potter stuff, and a large exhibit dedicated to Ray Harryhausen, including a full sized original Bubo.  This was a highlight for me.

That’s it- just that one paragraph. All the pictures I took at the museum, which I thought I had posted years ago, were still unshared. I will now correct that oversight.

When I visited the London Film Museum, it was in a section of County Hall, right near Westminster Bridge, close to the London Eye along the Thames River. I have since learned that it moved to a location in Covent Garden in April of 2012- my visit was in July of 2012, so I suspect the museum was still moving, and I saw only a fraction of the entire exhibit. What I did see was pretty dang cool though.

Harry Potter props and costumes- A variety of items were present here, including some costumes, the Tri-Wizard cup, and Harry’s Nimbus 2000.

Star Wars stuff – London is the home of Pinewood Studios, which has been a production facility for most of the Star Wars films. There were a few Star Wars artifacts on hand during my visit. I saw much more at the Star Wars exhibit in Tokyo a few years later.

Alien – They had a sculpture of a Xenomorph and some facehuggers from the Alien franchise.

Doctor Who – A film museum in England would naturally have some Doctor Who items. Not as much as the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, but still- a Tardis and a handful of Daleks were still neat to see.

Superman and Batman – Pinewood has a long history with DC Comics, and there weer a number of Superman and Batman artifacts on hand. First up, some costumes!

Next, we have part of the ship that brought Kal to earth in Superman (1978) and a newspaper from Superman II.

Braveheart, Hellraiser, and various animation – The Dangermouse cardboard stand was my favorite in this part.

The Ray Harryhausen Exhibit – This was my favorite part, to be honest- they had a special exhibit in plae called “Ray Harryhausen: Myths and Legends.” It contained various items from Harryhausen’s stop-motion work, but I was most interested in the Clash of the Titans items, particularly the full-sized Bubo the Owl!

Have you ever been to a film museum? What’s your favorite prop that you’ve seen in person?

17/52

Ancient Ruminations on London

I have been slowly going through the old posts on my ancient LiveJournal, deleting most and saving some as pdf. There are a few, the rarest of posts, that are worth preserving, so I’ve been adapting or revising them to bring forward to this blog.

One such post was my answer to a question-meme, “If you won a trip to anywhere, where would you go, and why?” While I travel quite often now, that was not so when I wrote this on LiveJournal. This particular LJ post was written before I had ever been to Europe.

Anyone who’s known me for more than a week knows that I want to go to England more than any other destination; <lj user=’raptorgirl’> even gave me a London travel book a few years back as a birthday gift, The Irrevent Guide To London. I just need a travel buddy and a little lead time to put together the money and the vacation request.

It’s true, I used to go on and on about London. By the time I lived overseas, the money and vacation time was no longer a hindrance to going, and I realized pretty quickly that if I kept waiting for a travel buddy, I would never make it anywhere. So, I started traveling alone. And before long, I took that first trip to London- the first of many. By the time I finally made it to the UK, “The Irreverent Guide To London” was wildly out of date, but it was still a fun read. (And for those who aren’t hip to the LJ lingo, raptorgirl is the LiveJournal username of Vanessa, a dear friend here in Orlando. I met her originally when we were both students at the University of Central Florida, and it feels really weird that we’ve known each other now for more than two decades.)

I want to ride the London Eye. I want to see Stonehenge. I want to visit Stratford-on-Avon. I want to see that giant odd looking tower in Cardiff that figures so heavily in the early seasons of Torchwood. I want to see a show in Picadilly. I want to get drunk and lie in a field in Cambridge. I want to ride the Tube and mind the gap. I want to visit a very particular grave in Highgate Cemetary in London. Years of watching British television and reading British authors have given me a laundry list of things to do and see.

I’ve actually decided that I’m going to get there before I turn forty- that gives me just over a year and a half to get my shit together.

I’d like to see other parts of the world too, but that can all wait. London first.

All in all, I did pretty well on this list- In my first trip to London, I managed to ride the London Eye. (And again on a subsequent trip.). I took a day trip from Paddington Station to Salisbury to see Stonehenge. I went to Cardiff with one of my best friends on a subsequent trip to see Roald Dahl Plass, which was used for establishing shots as the Torchwood Hub. (Today is that friend’s birthday, actually- Happy birthday, Lorrie!) We went to the Doctor Who Experience on the same trip- alas, the. DWE has since closed. I’ve watched three different shows in Picadilly. I went to that grave in Highgate. I rode the Tube and minded the Gap. And I did so, so much more.

I didn’t get to go lie in a field in Cambridge, but maybe I’ll manage to do that after this pandemic wraps up. And while I still haven’t made it to Stratford-on-Avon, I did tour the Globe Theater in London, so maybe that’s close enough?

While I was wrong about the sequence – I was living in Germany before I ever made it to London- I did manage to see London before the deadline. Just barely. My first trip there was the summer before I turned forty. I’ve been back a couple of times since though, and there’s always more to see.

After seeing 28 different countries away from home, London is still my favorite place to visit in all the world. I miss it. I hope I can get back there sometime soon.

If you won a trip to anywhere, where would you go, and why?

16/52

Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation

Last April, I was in Chicago for a few days and I had a chance to swing by one of the holy places of music: Chess Records.

To be more accurate, I visited Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation, which is dedicated to the preservation of the history of blues music. The Blues Heaven foundation lives in the former site of Chess Records.

Chess Records was founded in 1950, and was located initially at several different locations. The main offices moved to 2120 S. Michigan Ave around 1957, staying there until 1965. Chess Records is where Chuck Berry recorded Johnny B. Goode. Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, and some other lesser-known acts like the Rolling Stones recorded there.

There is still a functioning studio in the building- Chess Studios continued beyond Chess Records, and the Rolling Stones and other bands also recorded here. Marie Dixon, Willie’s widow, purchased the building in 1993 and reopened it a few years later as the Blues Heaven Foundation. The Blues Heaven Foundation does four tours a day from Tuesday to Saturday. The tours are inexpensive and well worth a look. While you wait for the tour to start, there’s a gallery filled with artifacts that will fascinate anyone who loves the blues.

The red dress in the gallery above was work by Koko Taylor, often referred to as the Queen of the Blues. Willie Dixon brought her to Chess Records in 1964, where she recorded Wang Dang Doodle. Here’s a slightly more recent recording of Koko just killing it live.

I happened to be there on an auspicious day- the Blues Foundation was opening a new exhibit about the blues festivals that Willie Dixon organized in Germany throughout the 1960s The gentleman in the hat in this photo is the son of Willie Dixon, on hand for the opening of the new exhibit. If I remember correctly, the other fellow was a representative from the German embassy.

Finally, it was time for the tour!

The absolute highlight of the tour was spending time in this room- the main studio. Countless legendary recordings were made here, like this one:

9/52

What I Spent In Linz, Austria (Just kidding.)

I love the “What We Spent” posts that Ali writes when she travels, and I wanted to do one for my side trip to Linz, Austria last month.  Alas, I didn’t track my spending very accurately.    I can tell you that I spent somewhere around sixty euros for all my food in Linz, and I can tell you that I spent €12 on a ticket for an art exhibition, which I will come back to later in this post.  I also spent around ten euros for various public transit needs around the city, €6,30 of which was just for the Pöstlingbergbahn.

It turns out that tracking my spending in such minute detail isn’t really my style, so I’ll leave that to Ali and go back to doing what I do best-  posting waaaaaaaay too many photographs.  Seriously, I came back from a twelve day trip with roughly five hundred photographs, and I did not take a dedicated camera.

While the overall trip ran about twelve days, I was only in Linz for about a day and a a half.  I started off on Tuesday morning from Regensburg, traveling in one of my all-time favorite conveyances, a Deutsche Bahn high speed ICE train.

After I reached Linz, I dropped my bag off at the hotel and set out immediately to start my tourism.  Here’s the highlights of a brief visit to Linz.

The Mariendom. 

Also known as the New Cathedral, this very enormous cathedral is the largest in Austria, although not the tallest.  The style is very similar to the cathedrals in Regensburg and Cologne, although this one only has the one spire.  It was really difficult to get the entire thing into a single photograph.

I took a bunch of pictures inside, but I think this one gives you a sense of the size while also showing you some pretty, pretty stained glass.

Schubert, Kepler, and Mozart all lived here.

While I was in the city, I sought out the listed former homes of Kepler and Mozart.  The Mozarthaus is actually kind of difficult to spot because it’s part local government office (hence the Austria and European Union banners on the building) and part cultural location with shops and restaurants.   The only obvious sign I could find was a bust of Mozart and some commemorative placards just inside that archway.

The Kepler house was much easier to spot-  the sign over the door says that Johannes Kepler lived in this house, and the little one off to the right has a bunch more information.

I didn’t set out to find the Schubert sign on purpose, I just sort of stumbled across this one.  Basically, it indicates that Franz Schubert came here to visit family friend Josef von Spaun.  The bottom floor of this building now holds a Douglas, which is a perfume and cosmetics store.

Höhenrausch.

Höhenrausch is an art exhibit that Linz puts on every summer.  This year, it runs from late May to mid-October.   The theme this year is “The Other Shore,” and everything has to do with water in some form.  There are regular exhibit rooms, but the true delight of Höhenrausch is that it winds its way over the rooftops of the city, through church and building attics, and up a custom-built tower.  This is the flyer they give you at the start, showing you the full path you take for the exhibit.

I paid my twelve euro admission, climbed over the starting barricades seen all the way to the left of this flyer, and moved onward.  On a nice sunny day, the views as you clamber over the rooftops are spectacular.

I’m curious to know whether these walkways stay up year round, or whether they build them anew every year like they do for the decks at Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls.

After I first emerged on the outdoor portions of this exhibit, I saw the sculture man in the distance.  I didn’t yet realize how large he is.

It had rained before and after my day in Linz, and this was a perfect day for this part of the trip.

As I got closer, I saw just how large the  sculpted man is.  His name is El Pensador, sculpted by Cuban artist K’cho.  He is made from the remains of Cuban fishing boats.

The tower behind El Pensador is called the Oberösterreich-Turm, which just translates to Tower Over Austria, I think.   Regardless, it was tall and I wanted to climb it.  Long time readers know that I always like to climb the tallest thing in any new city I visit-  I get a little bit King Kongy when I travel.  I wasn’t able to climb the spire at Mariendom because that’s only allowed during tours and my visit didn’t coincide with any tours. So, I climbed this instead!

Partway up the sculpture was “The Flying Ship,” said to signify a “new departure.”

Here’s one of the views from about two thirds of the way up the tower, looking toward the top of the Flying Ship sculpture.

Here’s one last look at the Linz skyline from the rooftops of Höhenrausch, before I head back inside.  Nice view of the Mariendom’s spire from here, don’t you think?

I took lots of photos of the art inside of Höhenrausch, but most of those photos were set aside before I started writing this post because I already had more than thirty shots to include.   Besides,  I feel like most of the art in this exhibit loses something in a still photograph.

Even this piece, “Uncertain Journey,” a dense network of woolen threads created by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota, loses a lot of its impact in a single photograph.  Pretty neat though.  I wonder if this was created within the space it currently occupies, or if it was made elsewhere and then installed here.

These pictures are only a fraction of the Höhenrausch exhibit, and if you have a chance to swing by Linz before it closes in mid-October, I highly recommend checking it out.

Hauptplatz and the Trinity Column

Hauptplatz is one of the largest city squares in Europe, and it’s home to the Dreifaltigkeitssäule, or Trinity Column.   The column is a giant Baroque sculpture which was installed in 1723 as a monument to those who had died in plague epidemics.

This building is in the square, and this interesting relief work on the building was directly over a restaurant.  I have no idea what the history is on this, but it looked pretty nifty.

Hauptplatz is also the launching point for this adorable little tour train that goes through the old city, as well as the end point for the Pöstlingbergbahn.

The Pöstlingbergbahn and Pöstlingberg.

Linz has a wonderful system of Straßenbahn (street cars,) but the Pöstlingbergbahn is a special part of the tram network.  The Pöstlingbergbahn is considered the steepest mountain rail in the world.  It was built in 1898 although it has since been modified to use updated rail technology with a more commonly used gauge of track.  To ride the Pöstlingbergbahn up to Pöstlingberg, you will need to pay for a round trip ticket, and then wait-  it comes once every thirty minutes.   The ride is picturesque as you climb the mountain.  The Pöstlingberg stop at the very top is quite pretty for a tram stop.

This is the door to the men’s room at the tram stop.  I just thought this was hilarious and kind of adorable.  And I cracked my head on low hanging stone at least twice trying to get a good photograph.  I feel like this is what it would have been like if Gandalf needed to take a whiz in the Shire.

When you walk out of the tram stop, there’s a sign to let you know that you are at the very border of Linz.

As you walk into Pöstlingberg, you quickly come across an open space that looks over Linz.

Pöstlingberg is high on a hill, on the bank of the Donau (Danube) river.  At 539 meters (1,768 feet,) the view of Linz is pretty great.  This was not the same day as the earlier pictures from Höhenrausch, and you can tell that this was a much more hazy day than in the Höhenrausch shots.

One of the big draws for families in Pöstlingberg is the Grottenbahn, a train ride geared toward small children.    As you approach it, fairytale creatures help to point the way.

I found the entrance to the Grottenbahn, but decided not to ride because there was a pretty large number of small children already waiting to ride and I just didn’t feel like waiting.  I will say that the walkway leading up to it was cooler than the rest of the hilltop by several degrees, and this was a very refreshing place to walk.

The decorations on the entrance walkway give you an idea of what you can expect inside.

Another major point of interest in Pöstlingberg is the Pöstlingbergkirche, a large pilgrimage church built at one of the highest points on the hill.

The walkway leading up to the door of the church has a fenced platform which has begun to collect Europe’s ever-present love locks.

I honestly have run out of things to say about the inside of churches throughout Europe.  They’re all pretty ornate and they’re all very impressive.   And most of the time, the people I find inside them are tourists rather than congregants.

The Ars Electronica Center.

After I rode the Pöstlingbergbahn back down the hill, I got off the tram one stop earlier than Hauptplatz so that I could go to the Ars Electronica Center.  It’s a museum that has exhibits related to technology, and I was curious to spend a few hours checking it out.  I had heard that it was a really cool place to visit.

Unfortunately, it was closed.  I didn’t catch that on their website-  they opened up again about a week after I left.    I got to see the entry vestibule, but that’s about it.  Anyway, the building is right on the bank of the Donau, directly across from Hauptplatz, so I walked back over the river.

Four random pictures that don’t fall into the rest of the narrative for this post.

This street is Landstraße.  I spent a lot of time traversing this street because it was kind of central to everything else I was doing, and it led directly to Hauptplatz.  It was also the path that most of my tram usage required, including going to and from the train station.

I hate a couple of times at Deli-Linz while I was in town, and this was my favorite snack of the visit-  Peanut Butter Bread with bananas and cracked cocoa beans.  With a Fritz-Kola.  Sehr lecker.

Last, but certainly not least, I saw a great many interesting vehicles during my visit.  This brightly colored Vespa was just too cute.

Have you ever been to Linz?