Yesterday I published a look at travel statistics for 2014 – just shy of 115,000 miles flown on 61 flights, both of which were new records. Here I am going to review the year’s travel chronologically… in pictures. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I must note that most of the time on business trips is spent in non-photogenic (i.e. ugly!) conference or hotel rooms…but I’m picking out the highlights here from special events or any extra time after the work was done!
JANUARY – AN ANNUAL PILGRIMAGE
Although we started the year in Dubrovnik, I was soon off to Washington DC for my annual trip to a massive transportation conference (in 2014 there were more than 12,000 people attending!). Unlike in past years, where I added on extra time to see family or for other work on the East Coast, 2014 was a quick turnaround.
FEBRUARY – BACK TO BYZANTIUM
In February, I spent a week in Istanbul for work, returning a little more than a year after our Christmas 2013 trip. Astrid went to Istanbul later in the year with our friend Sarah. While I spent more time riding the trains, I believe they spent more time shopping in the bazaar. There are things for both of us to like in Istanbul, that is for sure!
MARCH MEANT MEXICO
March was my first time in Mexico, with a week-long trip to Mexico City. It was interesting – amazing hospitality from our local hosts, including caring for my boss when he got sick during the week (and I had to take over everything!), great food, and interesting challenges for the metro – but also the feeling of being in an armed bubble, with a big security force surrounding us at all times (even surrounding our bus in pick-up trucks – no doubt also a type of hospitality, but not one that made me feel at ease).
APRIL – A MIDWEST TOUR
At the start of April, a colleague and I made a trip through the Midwest of the US, visiting Dayton, Cleveland, suburban Chicago and Des Moines.
Although business was in suburban Chicago, we had a weekend day to spend in Chicago.
The last stop on the Midwest Tour was Des Moines. Not much to report from “flyover country”, although to be fair it was a decent place that exceeded my expectations. I thought I had a picture of a sign that said “Des Moines – not as bad as you think” but I can’t find it!
APRIL IN LOVELY LISBOA
MAY MEGA-TRIP TO THE US AND CANADA
After the work part was done, I had essentially three days on my own before meeting Astrid in Los Angeles for the family part of this massive May trip. As you can imagine, I agonized over how to spend this precious time. Visiting friends in the US was basically ruled out due to working weekday, and from a starting point of Buffalo I had to end up on the fourth day in LA. I seriously considered a visit to the Canadian Club factory in Windsor, Ontario followed by a dark tourism stop in Detroit, but I figured that wouldn’t work so well by transit and with lots of luggage.
Instead, I chose to visit Calgary and Edmonton, two Canadian cities (and two excellent modern light rail systems) that I had always wanted to see. This required a complicated travel plan, especially since air travel to and within Canada is generally pretty expensive (with the airport in Toronto, for example, having some of the highest taxes/fees of any in the world). I devised a cunning plan, combining the purchase of cheap segments with an available first-class miles redemption from Dallas to Calgary (for the expensive cross-border part). Now, you are probably thinking that Dallas is slightly off any sensible route from Buffalo to Calgary…but such is life in “air world”.
It started brilliantly; a hard but rewarding day’s work in Buffalo, with an early arrival and easy check-in at the airport, and settling down in the US Airways Club with a nice glass of wine. 30 seconds later, the iPad revealed that my flight to Dallas that night was cancelled! Instead of a relaxing night in the Hyatt Regency DFW and an easy 10am start the next morning, I had a ‘free’ night at the crappy Days Inn Buffalo Airport and a 4:30am wake-up for a 6am flight to Chicago, to then connect to Dallas all in time for my scheduled 10:55 flight to Calgary. I was actually hoping that my extensive luggage wouldn’t make it through both tight connections (so they would have to deliver it to me in Calgary instead of me carrying it!), but it did.
Some tense moments and a little running at DFW got me to the Calgary flight just in time…and the plan was back on track. Until Canadian border officials in Calgary didn’t like my reason for being there – “just to visit the city” – and decided to give me an extra private interrogation and a VERY thorough check of all my bags. I thought Canadians were all supposed to be friendly? Again, I know that a lot of people get treated like this all the time, so I shouldn’t complain – but after a 4:30am start and the hassle of the day, I wasn’t in the mood. After that, I have to say, Calgary and Edmonton were nice cities.
I then ventured even further north to Edmonton, in the comfort of a Greyhound (Canada) Express service. Who can argue with $25?
After more than a week visiting families in Los Angeles and Baltimore (where we proudly watched my little brother graduate from High School), we made a quick stop in New Jersey to visit our storage unit, pack up a few things, and then head home.
JUNE – JUST AS BUSY
After getting back home from the mega-trip, we headed right back out for a quick weekend in Manchester. We had scheduled this long before the May madness was arranged based on a great deal – the ability to add a domestic flight within the UK onto either (or both) ends of any European award flight redemption on British Airways for free. So, despite living a 5-minute walk from Euston Station, which has express trains every 20 minutes to Manchester that take about 2 hours, we actually flew from Heathrow as an add-on to our flight back from Lisbon (there can be up to a year stop-over in between, as I understand it – it just requires you knowing what you want in advance, because changes cost about $50 each).
Later in June I was very happy to be able to return to Malaysia and Singapore. Despite the extreme heat I really liked both places on my first visit in 2013, and it was great to confirm those first impressions in 2014.
JULY – HOME JAMES
We didn’t really do much in July.
AUGUST IN CHINA
After a break, it was on the road again to China in August, with the first stop being a week in Shanghai. Although I was there in 2010 on one of my first work trips, so much has changed in Shanghai in that short time, including the continued massive growth of the metro into the world’s largest.
At the end of the week I took a train from Shanghai to Nanjing, which is a little under 200 miles. The high-speed train took only about an hour and 20 minutes (even with a couple of intermediate stops). As my train proceeded northwest, the atmosphere got more and more desolate…away from the coast and the financial center of Shanghai are the factories, which produce the famously dreadful Chinese air quality.
After three days in Nanjing I flew to Hong Kong for my final stop. This was my first flight on Dragonair, the shorter-distance subsidiary of Cathay Pacific. The flight was good, although the delay on the ground was longer than the entire 2:30 flying time! I understand that this is becoming more and more common as Chinese air space is often taken up by the military. It was very stormy in Hong Kong, but having selected a hotel adjacent to the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station, I didn’t even have to go outside!
At the end of August, after so many trips through Helsinki Airport, I finally got out and entered Finland! Astrid and I had a great long weekend there, enjoying the long hours of daylight, the relatively laid back atmosphere, and especially the island fortress of Suomenlinna.
I started September in Vienna, on a quick one-day trip to that amazing city. It definitely requires a longer return with Astrid! From there I had to be in Barcelona a day later, so I took 22 hours to cross Europe by overnight sleeper train to Zurich and then on across Switzerland to Geneva and then into France and ultimately Spain by high-speed TGV train.
After Barcelona, while Astrid went to Istanbul for a week’s vacation, I headed to Delhi in India – a new country! It was overwhelming – a week of hard work but also Delhi belly, extreme poverty, and amazing transformation as they build one of the world’s biggest modern metro systems.
OCTOBER – DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS
A week after returning from Delhi – just enough time for my stomach to recover from a week straight of Indian food – it was time for Tex-Mex on another trip to Texas, this time primarily to Austin.
After Austin, we hopped on a Megabus to Houston for a quick overnight stop. Houston was the largest city in the US I’d never been to, and I have to say it was a bit more cosmopolitan than I was expecting.
By far the most important happening in October, however, was getting our permanent residency here in the UK! After a lot of paperwork and money – and a test – we made it…see our separate post about it.
NOVEMBER – A FORBIDDEN CITY AND A “PRETTY GOOD” (maybe even great) WALL
After a special birthday visit to the top of the Shard in London, I headed off on Finnair (via Helsinki once more) to the Far East, this time to Beijing.
We tried for the second year in a row (and succeeded this time!) to visit the famous German Christmas Market in Birmingham – it is said to be the largest in the world not actually in Deutschland. Astrid attempted to eat a bratwurst that was 1/2 meter long, while I chomped down on some schnitzel.
To wrap it up, our very relaxing Algarve holiday in Portugal that you’ve been reading about.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading my annual chronicle. I’m sorry that more of these didn’t come out over the course of the year.
Best wishes to all for a happy and healthy 2015!
Here I am, in the middle, bringing you my 2014 year-end review from wintry England. This is my fourth annual year-end review (previous installments were 2011, 2012, and 2013). Although it may not have always felt like it, this fifth year of life in Europe and life as a business traveler was a record-breaking one. I spent 35% of the year, or a whopping 129 nights, not at home – 10 more than 2012 and 13 more than 2013. And more of it was for business purposes (and therefore not with Astrid)…only 23% of those nights away were personal (compared to a solid 1/3 last year).
So, while Astrid and I were away together for 25 nights, that means that we were apart an average of nearly 9 nights a month. This is mostly because in 2014 Astrid and I didn’t have a long trip together like our South American odyssey in 2013 or as many weekend breaks as in prior years – something we hope to fix in 2015. But it was also because both of us were busier with work, with Astrid away on business (with me at home in London) for six nights.
Being away for 99 days for business purposes sounds like a dream, and it still is in many ways – I’ll cover some of the highlights below – but it does take a toll on an individual, no matter the degree of comfort in travel (which is admittedly thankfully quite high!). This year was also one for returning to some destinations, which I worried might be a bit of a let-down but actually found was quite nice, helping me to go slightly beyond first impressions.
I refer to east and west in the title because my time away from jolly old England was primarily in North America and Asia. I spent 15% of 2015 in North America, more than any year since living there (53 nights vs. just 42 in 2013). It was also nice to diversify in North America a bit, spending 8 nights in Mexico and 10 in Canada. The big increase in 2014 compared to prior years was Asia, where I spent more than twice as much time in 2014 as 2013 (37 vs. 15 nights). About half of this time was two trips to the China Region, but also a very welcome encore trip to Malaysia and Singapore and introductions to Delhi and Seoul.
I spent 10 nights on airplanes in 2014, very similar to previous years – and interestingly, one night on a train for the third year in a row! I wonder whether 2015 will also feature a lone overnight train?
This year’s total flying set a new personal record at just shy of 115,000 miles, just edging out 2012 by 3,000 miles. Interestingly, though, those miles were on many more flights – a total of 61 flights, or one every 6 days if evenly spaced throughout the year! FlightMemory also informs me that I just missed traveling halfway to the moon (but still only 1.2% of the way to the sun…which is hard for me to comprehend). My scheduled time on flights adds up to be exactly equal to 11 days…before considering time waiting at airports, or traveling to or from them!
Despite the small mileage difference, this year’s 61 flights were in way more segments than the 37 in 2012, when I flew to/from Australia and across the Pacific. That means more shorter flights, and in fact I had more journeys split into multiple flights than in the past…such as traveling between London and Oslo via Stavanger both ways (turning two short flights into four really-short ones!).
So what were my 2014 flying highlights? The best experience of the year had to be flying on Qatar’s new all-business class A319. I was lucky enough to fly on this only a month after it launched on the London-Doha segments of my trip to/from Kuala Lumpur. A319s are normally short-haul aircraft with 3×3 seating for 100-125 people (like a small 737), but Qatar has taken two of its planes and reconfigured them especially for the premium London-Doha market as an all business-class service with just 40 lie-flat seats. This is the first all business-class service at Heathrow, but British Airways offers something similar using even smaller A318 planes between London City Airport and New York JFK (but they have to stop at Shannon in Ireland westbound to refuel). SAS has recently started an all-business class 737 between Stavanger and Houston (for the oil industry).
The experience was really what I can only imagine a private jet is like – aided by Qatar’s excellent service and there being only 17 people on board on my way back to London. It was pretty funny boarding the plane from a huge gate area at the brand new Hamad International Airport!
There wasn’t too much else new or exciting in the year’s flying – nearly half of my flights were either British Airways (18) or American Airlines (12) – but I did travel on four new airlines in 2014. The best was Asiana, the five-star South Korean carrier, where a short hop from Beijing to Seoul on a long-haul A330 aircraft was excellent…lots of leg- and elbow-room, a full meal, and seatback TV with free entertainment in economy! I also traveled for the first time on Dragonair (great service despite a ground delay due to Chinese air traffic control longer than the scheduled flight time from Nanjing to Hong Kong), SAS (five flights to/from Norway…but they seem to be getting tired), and WestJet (Canada’s version of Southwest Airlines).
I also had some old favorites, including two more trips on the American Airlines excellent new 777-300ER and getting to try their great new A321T transcontinental service from SFO to JFK with Astrid. Finally, it was a busy year for going to and from HEL – I had two more long-haul trips on Finnair via Helsinki, plus – after 18 take-offs and landings at Helsinki where I never left the terminal, I finally entering Finland in August with Astrid!
Lastly in terms of flight highlights – or perhaps lowlights – it is worth noting that our very first flight of the year – home from celebrating New Year’s 2014 in Dubrovnik – was also the longest flight delay I think I’ve ever had. We left more than six hours late, and had to make an unscheduled stop in Venice to exchange cabin crew (otherwise the original crew wouldn’t have been able to continue all the way to London), which meant that we didn’t land at London Gatwick until well after Midnight.
I won’t tell the whole saga, but after a few months of increasingly threatening e-mails and then a formal letter from us to British Airways they finally very calmly agreed to compensate us for the delay, in accordance with well-established EU law. I had to cite a number of legal cases as precedent and use some very precise language (many thanks to some references from colleagues and the frequent flyer community on the Internet).
The sticking point was whether the delay was due to “extraordinary circumstances” or not…BA said that because they followed the manufacturer’s maintenance procedures the fact that something failed on the previous flight from London to Dubrovnik was extraordinary…which is complete crap. I can see why they try this tack, though, because it takes time and energy to keep pursuing it and they can get very cheap labor in their customer relations/call centers to send these generic responses and potentially save themselves a lot of cash! Luckily it all turned out well, as we were were refunded the cost of our travel (and a bit extra, in fact!). It’s the first holiday we’ve ever gone on where we actually made money.
Now, enough of the boring statistics – let me move on to a pictorial review of the year in travel, which will be coming your way tomorrow!
I am admittedly late with my year-end travel review this year, and for the sake of all, I’m going to make it more succinct than in the past. This is the third annual year-end review – 2011 was “The Year of Travel” and 2012 was “Crossing the 100k Line”. I’ve chosen 2013’s title because the year was slightly less crazy than 2012, involved a bit less total travel and an overall somewhat better work-life balance, as seen not only in more personal travel but also working fewer weekends.
In 2013 I was not at home for 116 nights, just a bit shy of 1/3 of the time (and only 3 nights less than last year’s monster total). With 27 nights away with Astrid (very similar to last year’s 26), that meant we were apart for 89 nights, or just about 25% of the year – which is about one week each month on average. The greatest difference from last year was more personal travel – in addition to time with Astrid I was away for 11 additional nights that were not for business (although usually tacked on to the end of business trips).
Looking at where I was, I spent 41 nights in North America (vs. 42 in 2012) and a lot of time in South America – 26 nights over two trips including our long vacation in Argentina and Chile. I just had one long trip to Asia, with 15 nights in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. That trip featured my only night on a train, to match last year’s night aboard the Caledonian Sleeper to Scotland – but quite a different experience!
The rest of the time away was closer to home – 18 nights in Europe highlighted by my trip through France to Barcelona with Bill and our end-of-the-year vacation to Dubrovnik, and 7 nights here in the UK, including our romantic getaway to the swanky hotel in the former eye hospital in Exeter around Valentine’s Day and two nights in a hotel in London (same as 2012, and again for a big local work event). In addition to the night on the Thai train mentioned above, 11 other nights were in transit – two nights on Brittany Ferries’ Pont-Aven to and from St Malo in France, and 9 nights on airplanes (on five different airlines).
The year’s total flying came to about 92,000 miles. Although this is nearly 20k fewer than last year, it still comes to more than 3.5x around the Earth! Interestingly, despite traveling less distance I took 6 more flights – 43 individual flights in 2013 compared to 37 in 2012. To make the math balance out, that means that there were more short flights; 63% of my flights were short-haul, this year all about 4 hours or less.
Although 2013 doesn’t look all that interesting on the map compared to 2012, the flying highlights were different. In 2013 I flew for the first time on both the Airbus A380 super jumbo and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. My A380 flight from Singapore to London was also my longest flight at more than 6700 miles and about 13 ½ hours, and it was on 5-star Singapore Airlines, the launch customer for the world’s largest passenger aircraft back in 2007. Despite its size, you really don’t even notice that the plane is two levels because each deck is boarded from a separate jet bridge. The other really noticeable characteristic is noise – there is virtually none! I have to give Airbus credit for being dramatically quieter than Boeing.
Although the A380 was memorable, it was actually my only long-haul Airbus flight this year. The other 15 long-haul flights were all Boeing. The highlight was probably the my Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight from London to Newark on British Airways. Luckily, this was in November, well after the innovative aircraft got back in the air following its worldwide grounding early in 2013. The 747 with its short upper deck is still a favorite, though – I’ve had 16 flights on 747s in the past three years, and it will be sad to see them disappear over the coming years – although British Airways is the largest 747 operator in the world with 52, they are going to be phased out in favor of new and more fuel-efficient planes.
I flew the most on the old Boeing 767s – eight times including three short-haul flights and long-haul flights on BA and twice each on Delta and LAN.
The other highlight of 2013 flying was airlines – although nearly 1/3 was British Airways (14 flights), I flew six totally new airlines as well as first-time long-haul flying with both Delta and American. I covered a lot of ground in Singapore and Malaysia, flying for the first time not only on the superb Singapore Airlines, but also on Malaysia Airlines and two of the top low-cost carriers that are following the path of easyJet and Southwest – Jetstar Asia and AirAsia. Despite not flying previously with LAN, I flew with them five times in 2013, including two long-hauls between Miami and Santiago, and they definitely appear to be the best airline in South America. I also note that the newest premium long-haul products on both American and Delta were both quite good, and it is nice to see the US-based airlines posting a decent showing.
Rounding out my new airlines was Vueling, a fast-growing ultra low-cost carrier based in Spain, and now owned by both the Spanish flag carrier Iberia and IAG, the parent company of British Airways. It was perfectly efficient for an hour-long flight from Barcelona to Paris, but they sure do pack them in – with the maximum number of 180 seats in an Airbus A320 (as compared to just about 150 seats on the same plane as operated by British Airways).
Looking at airports for a moment, it is no surprise that Heathrow again is in the lead. Over the last three years I’ve taken off or landed at Heathrow 58 times, including 18 this year – meaning that in 2013 one in five of my flights either started or ended at Heathrow). Heathrow gets a bad rap all around the world, but actually I don’t think it’s so bad if you know how to navigate it. Even though London has now six airports, in 2013 I used only Heathrow, apart from departing Gatwick twice – to Las Vegas in March and to Dubrovnik last week. Second-place in airport frequency this year was New York JFK at the start or end of 8 flights, followed by six at Singapore Changi (which is often rated the best airport in the world) and five at Santiago.
Rather than go back through the entire year, I thought it might be worth just touching on a few highlights via pictures.
The year ended with a great trip to Dubrovnik for New Year’s – see the scene at Midnight here. More to come on Dubrovnik soon. As for my 2014 travel outlook, I’ve got some new and exciting (if challenging!) destinations coming up – Mexico City, Delhi, and Beijing before the year is out. Best wishes to you and yours for a healthy and successful 2014 and happy travels!