2011 in Review: The Year of Travel
As we hurtle forward into 2012, I thought I would take a moment to look back over an incredibly busy 2011. I put together the numbers and was astonished to find that I was away from home for 94 nights, or just over ¼ of the year! The breakdown is as follows: 38 nights in North America, 24 nights in Asia, 9 nights in both South America and Europe (non-UK), 7 nights elsewhere in the UK, and an incredible week of nights (7) onboard airplanes!
In 2010 I was initiated into the world of business travel and flew just a hair shy of 50,000 miles, which I summarized here. This year I blew past that, however, with just over 83,000 miles (for the metric-minded, that’s almost 134,000 km)! To do that, I was on 34 separate flights on 12 different airlines, including first-time travel on seven new airlines. Using the Wikipedia definitions for flight length (short-haul=<3 hours, medium-haul=3-6 hours, with long-haul above that) those flights break down into 13 short-haul, 5 medium-haul, and 16 long-haul. Those long-haul flights took me to the West Coast of North America (twice), the East Coast (three times), Asia (twice), and once to South America. Below is a chronological account…
The year began in January with our trip to California, which very successfully combined work, vacation, and a family visit all in one 15-day extravaganza! It also included my longest flight of the year – BA 268 from LAX to London Heathrow, coming in at 5442 miles (the flight there, to San Francisco, was second-longest at 5358 miles). I should note that both of those flights were in World Traveller Plus, British Airways’ Premium Economy class (decidedly not business class – although Astrid made those same flights in Virgin Atlantic’s economy class, so there is no room to complain!).
February (and July) were the only months without any international travel. In March I made a whirlwind weekend business trip to Washington DC on United in Economy Plus (which, it is worth noting, is better than nothing but NOT in any way equivalent to Premium Economy on BA or Virgin Atlantic). It was a good (if quick) opportunity to see both friends (Sarah and Drew in DC) and family (in nearby Baltimore).
My April trip to Taipei and Hong Kong involved a complicated schedule of 7 flights, including an overnight in Finnair business class both ways. The way there involved both Finnair via Helsinki to Hong Kong and a connecting flight on a seemingly ancient EVA Air 747 for the short-hop of 483 miles over to Taipei.
After a very busy work week, I flew EVA Air back to Hong Kong, and after a couple of days exploring there the way home was even more complicated; a medium-haul flight in Cathay Pacific regional business class (which was really more like Premium Economy) to Bangkok, and then a midnight layover at Suvarnabhumi Airport before heading back to Helsinki and London.
June was perhaps the busiest month of the year, starting with an US East Coast trip for the kick-off meeting of a new project that I’m in charge of. The trip was punctuated by possibly the hardest 72 hours of work I’ve ever done so far. We flew in to Rochester via BA to JFK and JetBlue (flying for the first time on their snazzy Embraer ERJ-190 plane), then back via US Airways to Boston and a BA daytime flight to London. After just two weeks back at home, I headed off to Munich for a quick meeting, followed by a through trip from Munich to Vancouver via London. It was odd to change planes at Heathrow Terminal 5 without entering or leaving! After that crazy work week I managed to add on a couple of vacation days in Portland and Seattle, and flew back on British Airways again from Seattle, capping a two-week trip. This was my first (and, so far, only) trip in British Airways business class (“Club World”), and I was completely won over by the upper deck of the 747. With just 20 seats, the upper-deck cabin is like a private jet – you barely realize that you’re stuck on top of a jumbo with nearly 300 people downstairs!
After that crazy month, I had a break from business travel in July, August, and September. We had more “local” long-weekend vacations – to Cornwall by train with Astrid’s mom, short-haul to Copenhagen and Stockholm, and to Galway and Dublin in Ireland with my friend Matt in early September. For the Ireland trip (which, due to time constraints, I think I neglected to blog about at all), Matt and I eschewed flying to take the historic train+ferry route via Holyhead in Wales on the way there. Coming home, however, the timing for the once-a-day ferry option just didn’t work, so I managed to get an award ticket (using miles) on BMI. This is funny because, although I am a “member” of the BMI Diamond Club and have a not-insignificant number of air miles with them, I’d never actually flown BMI (I’d collected miles by travelling on partners like Qatar and United). I actually got an amazing deal, with a one-way flight back from Dublin to London for just 4,500 miles and €14.70 in taxes.
At the end of September I went back to the US for my third East Coast trip, and tried Virgin Atlantic for the first time. Since I’ve flown a lot in British Airways’ Premium Economy (World Traveller Plus), I wanted to try Virgin Atlantic’s. Overall, I’d say it is on par with, or maybe even a bit better than, BA; the seats are a bit wider (21” vs. 18.5” on BA) with the same legroom and slightly better service.
In October I made my first voyage to South America, flying with Iberia via Madrid (Iberia is now part of the same company as British Airways). It was a long, gruelling trip, beginning and ending with short but annoying 785-mile hops between London and Madrid, then miles to walk connecting within Madrid’s massive new Terminal 4. The Madrid-Sao Paulo legs were my 3rd/4th longest (and only other >5000 mile flights this year), and overnight both ways. Iberia’s “Business Plus” left me wondering what the plus part was; the entertainment system was pretty barebones, the service was just alright, and the seat was not terribly comfortable, leading to not very much sleep.
My shortest flights of the year also occurred on this trip, as I flew for the first time on TAM Linhas Aereas, the largest airline in Brazil and all of Latin America that is based in Sao Paulo. TAM took me the slightly more than 200 miles from Sao Paulo to Rio and back. Any way you look at it, this is one of the busiest air routes in the world, largely because there is no rail service of any kind between these mega-cities. Brazil will hopefully rectify this soon (with the World Cup and Olympics coming up), as the distance and populations make this route an absolute dynamite candidate for high-speed rail. Each city has a domestic and an international airport, and there are flights between all four combinations; the busiest is between the two domestic airports (Congonhas in SP and Santos Dumont in RJ), where there are about 80 flights per day in each direction (the most aircraft movements of any individual airport-airport route in the world) flying nearly 625,000 seats per year (the 8th most, because of the larger planes used on many busy Asian/Australian routes).
After a quick three-day weekend train trip to Northeast England over my birthday, the year of travel was rounded out by the mega-trip to Japan. I flew again on Finnair, marking my third trip to Asia via Helsinki. They market themselves as the “shortcut” from Europe to Asia. Indeed, as the great circle air routes practically pass over Helsinki, there is not really any added distance to stopping there – only 36 miles more in total than the direct London-Tokyo route that Astrid flew on British Airways (of 5960 miles, longer than any of my flights). There is, however, inconvenience in the time lost (an extra takeoff and landing, the layover in HEL), and the 3-hour flight between London and Helsinki on a smaller and less comfortable plane. I do it primarily because it is cheap – I can usually afford to fly in business class on Finnair instead of only premium economy on British Airways, which is a critical difference when travelling overnight and needing to work hard almost as soon as you arrive. I should also make a plug for Finnair’s food; it is consistently good and sometimes excellent, and the best airplane food I’ve had so far. On this trip I had amazing elk meatballs and a reindeer steak on the way out, and a really superb braised lamb stew on the way back.
Phew – what a year! With 83k miles traveled, I’ve earned quite a few miles and other perks, such as using the first class lounge at London’s Terminal 5. So, there are some benefits of all of this, and hopefully we can take advantage of them.
What will 2012 bring? I think perhaps a little less flying and less time away from home, as some of my big meetings will be in Europe or even the UK this year, but you never know. Happy travels to all in the New Year!