Posts Tagged ‘travel’

I took that crazy cheap flight to Barcelona

July 22nd, 2017

Park Guell
Barcelona skyline from Park Guell
 

Recently a new airline called Level introduced a crazy cheap nonstop flight from Oakland to Barcelona. I immediately decided to take the plunge and book a trip. If that sounds insane, keep in mind Level is from the same company as British Airways and Iberia, so it’s not just some random startup with an airplane made out of cardboard and duct tape.

Now I should mention that going in, I knew that the cheap ticket wasn’t without its limits. The flight did not include free food, checked luggage would cost extra, and selecting a seat was also an extra charge. I only paid for the latter — I’m an aisle seat kind of guy because I drink too much coffee.

The first step was buying the ticket, from there I needed to find out how much time off I could take from work. When that turned out to be a month, I also needed to figure out where else I wanted to go in Europe.

I’ll get into some trip details some other time, but first I learned a few things traveling to and from Europe on the cheap. Here’s what I found:

 
Book now, ask questions later

Over a couple weeks I found my friend in Greece was interested in traveling with me, I could stay at his place in Athens, and that we were both interested in visiting Rome. From there we had to figure out what we wanted to see together, and I had to figure out where else I wanted to go.

After booking half a dozen tours, a few flights, train rides, airport bus shuttles… somehow a couple months had gone by. Oops.

For better or worse, the cheapest flight out of Europe by that time was also on Level, and was also from Barcelona — but for almost double the original price. I shouldn’t have spent so much time on research. Damn!

The worst part of it is that many of the most interesting tours, museums, even restaurants that I went to were the ones I found after I’d landed in Europe, either because someone told me about them or because I happen to Google them late at night before going to bed. Clearly, mistakes were made.
 

Pack light

Discount airlines charge extra for checked luggage, so only bring the absolute minimum with you — and the absolute minimum back. For me this meant I had to buy a few extra supplies like a new toothbrush and more sunscreen while abroad. Not a big deal.

You might think traveling light is hard; I found the experience the exact opposite. Instead of trying to lug a rolling suitcase over cobblestone roads and dragging it up and down flights of stairs, it was just me, a backpack, and whatever was in my pockets.

Clothes were not a problem. Most of the places I stayed at where Airbnbs with their own washing machine, so about four days of clothes was enough. I actually overpacked; I bought a pair of pants and a sweatshirt that I never wore due to the hot summer weather.

Still not convinced? Well don’t take it from me, travel expert Rick Steves recommends packing light as well. Besides, there’s no better feeling than walking past the baggage claim, eyeing your fellow passengers collecting mountains of luggage while silently mumbling “suckers” to yourself.
 

Prepare for liftoff

No food on the plane? No problem. Buy some food at the airport that will last a while, and eat it on the plane when you’re hungry. Bring a bottle of water and some tea or whatever. Most importantly, bring an energy bar or something in case you’re hungry. In theory you could buy food before you even got to the airport, but that can result in TSA headaches.

Like many airlines, Level does have food for purchase on the airplane but it’s overpriced and there’s no guarantee it will still be in stock by the time you’re starving, so it’s best to buy food ahead of the flight.

As with any air travel, check SeatGuru to see what each seat has — in flight entertainment, USB charger for your phone, electrical outlet for your laptop, etc. Even if there is in flight entertainment, it still doesn’t hurt to have some TV shows, movies, audiobooks, and podcasts all ready to go at your fingertips. This is especially important for very long airplane rides.
 

Don’t fear the cheaper

So, what’s the trade off for a cheap flight like this? Here’s what I noticed.

Both flights were reasonably on-time, with the flight back getting delayed 30 minutes or so. Not bad for a transatlantic flight. Seats were as comfortable as other airlines, and the airplane was brand new. Level doesn’t have its own points/miles system, but at least for the moment you can earn Avios points through an Iberia Plus membership.

The flight leaves from OAK instead of SFO. For me anyway, I think the BART ride is a little shorter to OAK so that’s fine. However, the airport food options leave a lot to be desired. At the Barcelona airport the plane doesn’t connect to the gate, you have to get on a bus that takes you between the tarmac and the gate. This seemed a little weird because the Barcelona airport is enormous and not all of it is currently used, but maybe this saves money somehow?

The in flight food ordering system was supposed to work through a touch screen, but it was buggy and impossible to place an order without help. I suspect this will be improved in the future, and I was an unwitting beta tester. As a result the flight attendants could be a little slow to help sometimes.

The in flight entertainment was much better than I would have expected. I finally had a chance to watch Deadpool and finish the first season of Westworld. I also watched the Assassin’s Creed movie, but the less said about that the better.

Online check-in was broken on the flight out, but was working and integrated with Apple Wallet on the flight back. This is a huge time saver when you only have carry on luggage. It also means you have to make sure your phone still has a charge by the time you get to the gate, of course.

Obviously, cancellation or changes are not included in the lowest fares.
 

Just do it

If all that sounds fine to you, then by all means book an inexpensive flight like this on Level, Norwegian, or whatever. But make sure to book as far in advance as possible so you get the lowest rates, and say no to upsells you don’t need.

In my experience, I’ve always flown economy in all my transatlantic flights, and this seemed easily on par with what you’d get with a more expensive major carrier like United. I’d even go so far as to say that not including meal service is a plus, since the cabin frankly smells a lot better without the nauseating stench of airline food.

So if you want to cross some travels off your bucket list without spending a lot, by all means try the new cheap airlines. You have nothing to lose — especially if you don’t check any luggage.

How to be a decent airplane passenger

November 9th, 2012

airplane

Look. I’ve been doing far too much airplane travel recently. Like most of us, I’m not traveling on private jets; I’m flying “economy” on commercial airlines. Airplanes, airports — it always sucks. At best, the experience isn’t complete bullshit. At worst, the stench of airline food will make you beg for death.

Here’s my advice on how to be a decent person throughout your air travels. If we all follow these simple rules, the entire airline experience will suck a lot less for everyone.

Follow along and take notes.

Security

  • The rules are usually posted all over the place, so don’t hold up the line because you forgot to take your shoes off or throw away your water bottle.
  • Yes the security can be demeaning in the United States. If you want to opt out of the scan, just say so. But you don’t need to be a dick about it to the employees. Harassing the security staff will make the other passengers think you’re an asshole — and they’ll be correct.

Boarding

  • Check in your luggage. Don’t be one of those carry-on abusers who brings a giant suitcase on board that takes up half an overhead bin.
  • You can board at any time after they call you row. So why rush to be the first one on? Unless you’re one of those aforementioned carry-on abusers, spending an extra 30 minutes on a stinky airplane isn’t an advantage. Don’t wait in line, just walk in when everyone else already sat down.

Sitting in coach

  • Squirming wildly the entire flight is not fair to the person behind you. Letting your child repeatedly kick the seat is not fair to the person in front of you. Don’t be a dick.
  • Here’s the rule for armrests: if you take one, you can use that space and no more. Armrests are not an excuse to elbow someone in the gut.
  • As for who gets which armrest, it’s simple: the person squeezed on the inside gets it. If there’s four people side by side, only the armrest in the center is in play.
  • If the person in front of you wants to lean back, that’s their call. Need the extra space? Tough luck, cheapass. You should have shelled out for extra space.
  • Does your baby scream and cry repeatedly for dozens of hours on end? If so, have the decency to cancel your flight. I’m sure your “family emergency” or whatever is important, but that doesn’t give you the right to make the next 10 hours of a bunch of stranger’s lives completely miserable.
  • Nothing wrong with talking to your neighbors, but being extremely chatty is obnoxious. I don’t need a 10 hour lecture on collecting flowers. Know when to STFU.

Video-on-demand

  • If you’re sitting next to a young child, you probably should think twice before watching Ultraviolent Sex Horror III.
  • If you sit there with the map open the entire flight, it’s like shouting “ARE WE THERE YET” the whole time.
  • For fuck’s sake, bring your own headphones. You won’t be able to hear anything with the piece of shit ones they hand out anyway.

Food and drink service

  • Bring your own. And you’d better eat before they start microwaving the airline food, because the entire plane is going to smell like rotten farts for the rest of the flight, and the bathroom will smell like death.
  • If you’re going to order a bunch of coffee or booze every time they offer it, take the extra five seconds to request an aisle seat. It’s the least you can do.

Bathroom

  • You went before getting on, right? Don’t be one of those dumbasses who does the “I have to pee” dance behind the food cart.
  • Just because the seat belt sign turned off doesn’t mean you have to go mob the bathrooms with everyone else. Have some restraint.

Landing

  • You know that whole “captain has turned off the seatbelt sign” thing? Follow it, or risk getting knocked on your ass. It’s there for a reason.
  • Just like boarding the plane, there’s no reason to be the first one off. If there’s no room to stand up, then don’t. Wait your turn.
  • Airplane seat pockets are not garbage cans. Leave a magazine here if you want, but not gum or burritos.

 
 
Photo by Wildhaber

4 ways Greece is like California

August 2nd, 2010

If you think about it, there’s plenty of ways Greece is NOT like California; the countries are on different continents for cryin’ out loud. But the two do have some odd similarities when you get beyond the trivial details like olive oil production or a taste for beachfront property.

Here’s four ways that Greece is like California which you probably haven’t thought about:

  1. From the freeway, it’s all brown hills and oleander bushes.
  2. It’s always “hella this” and “hella that.”
  3. The deficit.
  4. Half the people you try to talk to only speak a foreign language.

That said, come to Greece for the unbelievably good food and warm beaches, but head back to California when you miss the ability to flush your soiled toilet paper down our superior sewers. Hell, the first thing I’ll do when I get back to California is to flush an entire roll of toilet paper for absolutely no reason, other than the fact that I can. And you can quote me on this.

Ancient Greek Michael Jackson?

July 27th, 2010

Did Michael Jackson live in ancient Greece?

Greek Michael Jackson

Greek Michael Jackson

Spotted at the Temple of Apollo museum (motto: no flash photos, no photos with people in them, and no we don’t understand that second rule either.)