Friday, November 30, 2007

Miami Airport: How bad is it?

A letter in today's Readers Forum on the Op-Ed page says it all.

Mortin I. Teicher of Miami writes:

    Why does Miami have to put up with a Third World airport? Miami International Airport is a disgrace. Unlike most decent airports, MIA has few moving walkways to help cover the long distances between arrival gates and baggage claim or between check-in counters and departure gates.

    The few golf-cart-type vehicles in some concourses speed around without passengers and are of no help. Wheelchairs are rarely available. Waiting for luggage after arrival is a disaster. And there is no one to provide information about delays. Finally, the taxi lines are scandalous. Police and dispatchers contradict each other, shouting at cab drivers and giving passengers different information, ignoring any sense of orderly procedure.

    When are we going to get a decent airport?

As just about anyone who regularly uses MIA will tell you, the place is a pit.

I say this with apologies to the many hard-working employees there. (The new manager at the Starbucks on Concourse D is a marvel: Cheerful and efficient!)

But let's face it: the laundry list of nightmares stretches to New York. Travelers worldwide complain about it; I've heard earfuls about our airport in Europe, Asia and South America.

Among my own less-than-cheery experiences in the past year or two:

  • Luggage handling. Last Saturday we waited more than an hour for our bags (after the caroussel designation had been switched thrice.) Not sure whether this was MIA's fault or American Airlines, but the result was the same.

    (While we're on that subject, can someone explain why the caroussel designated is almost invariably the one furtherest from the gate at which you arrived?)

  • Non-moving moving sidewalks. This is not to be confused with non-moving escalators, also a problem.

  • Food choices. You know things are meagre when the opening of the Au Bon Pain in Concourse A was cause for celebration.

  • Cranky workers. I've been snarked at by workers in two languages who pretend not to speak either when it turns out that I can manage both. (Kudos to the tourism promotion folks, who have started a friendliness and service campaign for all workers who relate to tourists.)

To be fair, things are getting (slightly) better, and hopefully will improve with the full operation of the new terminal. And there is one thing I really like about MIA: All the places its flights can take me.

Got a MIA beef? A practical suggestion? Praise? Click to Comment below.

What's new at sea? Glass-blowing

You can bowl, star-gaze, golf and surf and go ice-skating on cruise ships. And when the 2,850-passenger ship Celebrity Solstice is launched a year from now, you'll also be able to watch glass-blowing demonstrations.

The demos will be provided by resident gaffers from the Corning Museum of Glass, who will offer demos, lectures and workshops in their decktop studio. And yes, it will be outdoor.


Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cheap seats to London

Deal of the day: $245 each way buys a roundtrip ticket this winter from Miami to London if you book by Dec. 3 on Virgin Atlantic. Travel is cheapest Monday-Wednesdays. But beware of the whopper taxes and surcharges: On the ticket we tested, that came to more than $300!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sick and far from home

I'm sure there are worse things than being sick when you're traveling, but at the moment, illness is the trauma that's got my attention.

I'm not talking anything major, thank goodness. Just good old fashioned food poisoning.

This bout came in New York. The Husband and I shared lunch at one of the many soup-and-sandwich spots dotting Manhattan. Six hours later, I was running out of a friendly little dinner party clutching my stomach.

You'd think I'd get sick in off-the-track places like Cameroon or Papua New Guinea. No, mostly it's mostly normal places, like New York. Or Las Vegas (another case of food poisoning.)

And mostly, I get sick when I'm traveling alone. In Vegas, for instance, I was A) alone and B) naked, thanks to lost luggage, no hotel bathrobes and tiny bathroom towels.

I'm lucky, because I mostly get either food poisoning or dehydration. Other people get heart attacks and stroke -- the most common serious problem for Americans traveling abroad, according to a medical presentation I saw at a conference last year. Seems that office- and sofa-bound Americans tend to get overly ambitious about their physical abilities on vacation.

Still, being sick on the road alone has taught me a few survival skills. Such as:

  • Drink plenty of bottled water, and carry powdered rehydration salts. (Being dehydrated in a country where you don't speak the language, like China, can be an interesting challenge.)

  • Think you're going to need a doctor? Ask for him or her before dark, when the price goes up. (Plus, the idea of heading off to clinic in Vietnam after dark is more than even I can manage.)

  • Find a friend, and ask him/her to stick with you while the doctor visits. A random fellow traveler who speaks English as a first language is an improvement over visiting the doctor alone.

  • Staying in an apartment or house rather than a hotel? Ask about medical services when you first arrive. (We had to call friends at 3 a.m. in New York one night because we didn't know the location of the closest hospital.)

  • Wear your seatbelt in the taxi and watch when crossing the road. Traffic collisions are the No. 2 cause of serious problems for Americans abroad.

  • Consider a medical evacuation policy or travel insurance policy that includes medical care. I've never had to use them and hope I never will, but I do feel better knowing I've got a back-up plan.

Above all, I take a modest jammies in my carry-on. If I don't get sick, I know for sure I'll get locked out of your room with only a towel as cover.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Watch out for holiday air delays

Chris McGinnis, Expedia's in-house travel info editor, offers the following tips in his seasonal Expedia Travel Trendwatch report, just out.

Get the best deals: The two weeks before Thanksgiving and the three weeks after.

Snag cheaper business-class fares: During the holidays. "Thanksgiving, round trip travel must occur between roughly Nov. 18 and Nov. 28. For Christmas season travel, sale fares are good for roundtrips taken between roughly Dec. 17 and Jan. 6.''

Be prepared for delays: "To gauge where departure and arrival delays are most likely during the upcoming holiday season, all you have to do is look at airline performance last season.

Airports with the most delayed departures in November AND December 2006
· Atlanta (however, recent runway improvements have reduced delays significantly)
· Chicago – O’Hare
· Detroit
· New York – JFK
· Newark
· Philadelphia

Airports with the most delayed arrivals in November AND December 2006
· Boston
· Chicago – O’Hare
· Detroit
· New York – JFK
· New York – La Guardia
· Newark
· Philadelphia
(Source: National Air Traffic Controllers Association)

Christmas travel? I need help!

You may find this hard to believe, or even silly, but...The Husband and I are having a hard time finding a place to go for Christmas.

The parameters: Low-hassle, and non bank-breakers.

The problem is that I have vacation time I have to take, and The Husband can get away most easily at the holidays. In this case, we can even go the week before the holidays.

The problem: Where?

He doesn't want too cold or too hot or too expensive.

I don't want too far away. (My jetlag quotient for the year is pretty well filled.) That let's out our favorite Asian spots (which are also cheap.)

I'd love to go to Rome, but even on a package it's painfully pricey due to high airfares. (We're saving our cash for an Africa trip next year.)

He's aiming for boutique hotels in Colonial Mexico. I'm not convinced, but right now, it's looking like a good idea.

Got another idea for me? Pass it along...

Monday, November 05, 2007

More on Windjammer

From the Miami Herald's business staff:

    Financially troubled Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, which only a week ago had planned to resume sailing the Legacy this weekend, has postponed the tall ship's next two cruises.

    Miami Beach-based Windjammer now says it will have the money to resume sailing the Legacy in Costa Rica on Nov. 17.

    Windjammer has owed money to vendors and crew. None of the company's four ships has sailed in weeks.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Air rant: Rudeness unseated

If you check out Shel Holtz's Road Weary blog, you'll find a post about seat hogs who recline and lie in your lap. (My husband is 6'4'' and admittedly, reclines his seat in coach...but he at least tries not to do it during meals.)

(In case you don't know the blog, Holtz is a web guru who travels frequently for business and blogs about the hassles thereof.)

I can relate. The airline seat nightmare that burns me most is The Kid Behind You.

Either this kid really gets around or he's got plenty of clones, because I hear friends rant about the same.

This is the kid who kicks the back of your airline seat...for hours on end. The parent is either completely inured or worse, couldn't care less. (It might be the same couple who, one night in Miss Saigon, let their kid SCREAM nonstop for more than an hour. When they got up to leave, the entire restaurant applauded. Don't people like this have ANY manners?)

My friends and I are divided about how to handle the Kicking Kid. We all usually start with turning around and politely letting the parent know about the situation. If the parent does anything, it's usually a mild (exasperated) "Johnny, don't do that.''

Of course, the reason Johnny continues is that he's heard this before and knows it isn't followed up by any consequences. (I've noted that parents who have routinely followed up with their kids aren't the ones whose kids drive you nuts on planes.)

Now you, the back-sore traveler, have two choices. You can suffer silently, or you can take action.

One of my frustrated friends once finally grabbed a kid's foot and suggested sternly that he stop it THAT INSTANT. She must look mean, because it worked.

But of course, the parent who wouldn't address this herself was incensed.

So what do you think? Should you just sit there and let the kid harrass you for the next three hours, or should you do something? And what should you do?

Click to Comment below.

What do you want and need?

I'm at a conference of travel writers and magazine editors. The attendees represent some of the best in the field, including editors from National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Continental Airlines magazine, various AAA magazines, Art & Antiques, and AARP, The Magazine.

The buzz among the editors is all about Travel as a Transformative Experience. One example was an article about a couple who travels to Costa Rica to volunteer with a children's program. Along the way readers learn that one of the motivating factors was an attempt to resolve a husband-wife conflict: He wants children, she doesn't.

I haven't read the story, but I can see that this is a heart-rending situation that, deftly handled, would make can't-put-it-down reading...the motherlode for any editor, magazine, newspaper or otherwise.

I'd be the first to agree that travel can, and maybe should, change your outlook, your world view ... and yes, maybe in ways large and small, your life. (Hey, my last Christmas vacation was a trip to Cameroon ... and I promise you that's nobody's idea of a restful layby.) I've shaped a decades-long career to support my personal passion for places less visited and experiences far beyond the everyday.

And yet, I can't help wondering: What about those of us who are plumb worn out. So worn out we can't really even think about the kind of trip that would help us feel soothed and sated and rested -- much less plan one.

I'm not talking about an overpriced hour in the spa. (Nice way to spend a bit of time, but really, is it worth $220?)

I'm talking about something deeper and sweeter. Something that lasts beyond Monday morning ... whatever Monday morning lands us back in our day-to-day lives of meetings and deadlines and dinners and commitments and bill-paying and arguing with the tax assessor.

I know this conversation is rooted in my own dilemma about remaining vacation days and how to spend them. The go-go part of my brain knows I should use the time for research for a book that may never get published; the worn-out part just wants to burrow into some mountain lodge or rental house in the country in front of a fire.

But here's the bigger question: What do you want to read about? Do you want the deep story about the transformative experience, or the simpler tale about the beautiful place or the best beach?

Or do you really want both? I think I do.

Let me know; Click to Comment below.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Long lines at MIA

I came through Miami International this morning, where security lines were beyond painful. (The queue for Concourse “E’’ stretched almost to “G.’’) TSA staffers checked IDs three times in the same queue … a change from my last run through the airport in September.

Now, I'm for security as much as the next person. But if we're honest, we'd all admit the while TSA's procedures are important, there's a ton of potentially dangerous stuff that goes through unnoticed...and it has nothing to do with checking my ID.

When I return next week, I’ll check with TSA to find out about policy changes. Meanwhile, if you know of any, please post them here.

Better yet, feel free to rant about your own airport hassles.