Wednesday, April 30, 2008

TripAdvisor's Traveler IQ Challenge

How well do you know the world? Don't get started on this challenge unless you're at peace with wasting time and acknowledging that your geography skills may el sucko.

Take the Traveler IQ Challenge!

-- Clear Plastic Bag

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Beware the PNR

Last fall my six-year-old niece was selling magazine subscriptions for a fundraiser at her school. I had just reupped on my National Geographic Adventure magazine, Vanity Fair wasn’t offered, and another kid had already gotten me for Sports Illustrated. So I decided to try Frommer’s Budget Travel. It’s a really interesting read, with lots of lists, such as the 10 greatest tourist traps and the best airport bars. Of course, most of those bars were in places like Sidney, Australia, and Tokyo.

This month, there was a column featuring confessions of an airline agent. Apparently, they really don’t know when there are flight delays because all of the computer systems run independently of each other and frequently there is no internet access at the gate! And, of course, it always pays to be really, really nice to them if you want a shot at getting your upgrade or a ticket on another flight when yours is cancelled.

More importantly, however, for High Flying Birds, ticket agents are always updating Passenger Name Records, or PNRs. These computer files, which contain basic details on passengers’ trips, are accessible to most agents at check-in counters and departure gates. Agents generally use PNRs to record special requests by passengers, but sometimes they also comment on a person’s behavior. A friend of the agent's discovered this after she had a heated argument with a ticket agent about getting an upgrade on a flight to London. When she reached her gate and inquired again, the agent remarked on her "inappropriate behavior" at check-in, and the friend was stuck with her economy-class seat.

The details in PNRs are also fodder for airline-employee gossip, especially when shocking behavior is involved. Passengers once complained about a woman breast-feeding her Chihuahua on board a flight, and an airport supervisor in the arrival city put the incident in her PNR. Within hours, a gate agent came upon the PNR and shared it with countless other agents across the country. In fact, the agent noted, she and her former colleagues still talk about it to this day!

You can read the whole article here:

You might also want to check out this on-line exclusive list of the world’s weirdest hotels:

-- The Commish

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Big D
Lock up your bouncers
kiss your season goodbye 'cause
Pacman is coming.

Oh little dollar
why are you so weak and frail
ass kicked by euro.

Pollen on my car
sharp numbing pain in my head
spring is a beyotch.

My longed for beach trip
bright shining hope through winter
will never get here.

--Haiku Hannah

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ain't that lonely yet

Two Australian newspapers, the Herald Sun and The Sunday Telegraph, are reporting that author Thomas Kohnstamm has claimed to have made up parts of the travel guides he wrote for Lonely Planet. Kohnstamm has since backtracked from those remarks and claims they were taken out of context. (Maybe he should be running for president.) He says that most travel writers aren’t able to visit all of the places about which they write. Okay, what up with dat? If I’m relying on a travel guide, I want the author to have actually set foot in the location. Am I in the minority here? We’re not talking about writing fiction here people. It’s a TRAVEL GUIDE for crying out loud.
--Haiku Hannah

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Is AmNorDelConU Air Just Around the Corner?

We’ve all heard about the proposed merger between Northwest and Delta, but what exactly does it mean for High Flying Birds? First, travelers can expect fewer deals and higher fares on some routes, because it could trigger a wave of consolidation within the airline industry. Continental Airlines has reportedly had talks with the parent companies of both United and American. And “[a]ny type of reduction in competition is not good for consumers,” according to the CEO of, a price-finding Web site. Airlines generally try to keep flights as full as possible, and the proposed new carrier would likely continue that trend by decreasing the number of flights to the same locations, according to industry experts. Fuller planes and fewer available seats, in turn, would allow airlines to cut back on the supply of cheapest seats, charging more on average per seat. Check to see the cities on which US News believes the Delta-Northwest, or a potential Continental-United, merger will have the most impact. Looks like High Flying Birds in Minneapolis, Detroit and Memphis are going to be the big losers.

Second, combined with Northwest, Delta will be the #1 airline in the United States; #1 U. S. carrier to Japan; #1 U. S. carrier across Europe; #1 U. S. carrier in Africa; #1 U. S. carrier in the Middle East and India; #2 U. S. carrier in Asia; and the #2 U. S. carrier in Latin America. How long will American stand for that? Might we see a Continental-United-American merger? That can only bode ill for fares and choices in air travel. How about if all 5 of the big boys merge and we just have one national airline?

At the same time, however, the price of jet fuel has risen 55% in the past few months, while fares have only increased by 6%. Industry analysts say the fares must increase in order to offset the cost of fuel, but obviously cannot absorb the entire increase.

Regardless of whether we may or may not be in a recession, and whether airplanes will or will not fly based on the whim of the FAA, travelers so far have not indicated that they are going to decrease their air travel anytime soon. What effect do you think the merger and increased cost of jet fuel will have on your travels?

-- The Commish

Monday, April 14, 2008

HFB Salutes: Martha Gellhorn

Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1908, Martha Gellhorn began her career as a journalist in 1927. In a long career that broke new ground for women, she covered the Spanish Civil War, World War II and the Vietnam War. With her constant focus on harm to civilians, her reporting was considered a morally courageous model. During World War II, she stowed away on a hospital ship in the D-Day fleet and went ashore as a stretcher bearer. In addition to writing numerous novels, her work appeared in Collier’s, Atlantic Monthly and the Guardian. She was also Ernest Hemingway’s third wife, a description she did not particularly care for as she had “no intention of being a footnote in someone else's life”. Interviews with Gellhorn were sometimes granted on the condition that Hemingway's name not be mentioned. Indeed, the “another” in her travelogue, Travels with Myself and Another: A Memoir refers to Hemingway. Despite her two marriages and numerous affairs, Gellhorn remained a staunchly independent high flying bird.

Following her death in 1998, published a profile of Gellhorn by Kevin Kerrane, co-editor of an anthology of literary journalism which included works by Gellhorn. Kerrane reflects on his occasion of actually meeting Gellhorn in preparing for the anthology and ultimately sending Gellhorn a copy of the published anthology with a thank you note for her part:

But her biographical note in the book included a poison passage: "Gellhorn's war reporting began in Spain. She traveled there with Ernest Hemingway, whom she later married. (He dedicated 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' to her.)" I had mentioned Hemingway because he was featured in the anthology, not only in Lillian Ross' profile but in an early story of his own from the Toronto Star. Still, I had overstepped my acquaintance with Gellhorn -- and worse, I had distorted the crucial facts of a daring journey. She had traveled to Spain alone, with only a knapsack and $50.

"I was very cross," Gellhorn wrote, "that you insisted on putting in Hemingway and the information was false. I did not go to Spain with him; anything but. I made my own way with some difficulty crossing the border of Andorra on foot. I dislike terribly this harping on Hemingway and as far as I know you do not mention the marriages of other authors in your book. So if there is another edition please remove all that."
In 2007, the U.S. Postal Service immortalized with a “forever” stamp five American journalists who risked their lives reporting some of the most important events of the 20th Century, among them only one high flying bird: Martha Gellhorn.

Note: Reading Kerrane’s entire article on Gellhorn is highly recommended. And to hear a short interview with Gellhorn about the Spanish Civil War, click here for BBC 4 Radio live stream.

-- Clear Plastic Bag

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Where's my bus stop?

Traveling recently with the original High Flying Bird, I was reminded of the beauty of taking public transportation, to which she introduced me and of which she is the world’s biggest fan. Just stopping off for lunch in one of your favorite cities and don’t want the hassle of renting a car or the high price of a cab? Take the bus! Going to a big football or baseball game and don’t want to miss the National Anthem while looking for a parking spot? Take the bus! Just going out to your favorite bar and don’t want to drive home after tossing back a few? Check the bus schedule! And when you’re riding the bus, trolley or train, who knows who you will meet or what interesting sites you may discover along the way! Whether you are a traveler or a resident, a city’s public transportation system can be a High Flying Bird’s best friend.

We all know about the wonderfully extensive, inexpensive and easy public transportation systems of the big East Coast cities like New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. Chicago, San Francisco and Atlanta also have fairly well-developed systems. And Dallas is trying. But what if you find yourself in Sacramento or Phoenix or Oklahoma City or even Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and want to take a train, bus or trolley? Try checking out one of these sites before you go: or, both of which list various public transit agencies by state. An Airport Flyer stops at all of the big hotels in downtown Austin, for example, as well as the University of Texas and other major landmarks, and then takes riders straight to the airport, with all of the great restaurants easily accessible in between! If Des Moines, or anywhere else in the seven-county region that makes up the Heart of Iowa, is your destination, just call the Heart of Iowa Regional Transit Agency 24 hours in advance and they will provide on demand, door-to-door service for a recommended $3.75 donation!

As Clear Plastic Bag has pointed out, we don’t necessarily subscribe to the green point of view on all fronts, as the hypocrisy within the movement is rampant. But if that’s your thing, then in addition to the convenience, cost-savings and adventures you may find on the route, by all means grab a bus to reduce your carbon footprint, as well!

-- The Commish

Thursday, April 3, 2008

If you ain’t got no money take your broke ass home

I don’t know about you, but I’m strapped for cash in a major way these days. The tax man is knock, knock, knocking on my door, and I’ve overspent on a few mini-trips here and there. But I’m itching for more adventure and, like Timbaland, ain’t got no money. What is a high flying bird to do in this situation? Well one thing you can do is travel (har har) to your local public library and read about the places you would like to visit. I’m currently reading Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation by Michael Zielenziger which is a fascinating study of the “hikikomori”. The hikikormori are a group of more than one million Japanese men who have completely withdrawn from society. They refuse to go to school or work and completely isolate themselves in their bedrooms, usually in their parents’ tiny apartments. It’s a unique look at Japanese culture. I’ve just started the book, but so far it is fascinating. And it feels like a mini-trip to Japan whenever I pick the book up. All without spending a penny! No matter what your financial situation is, you can always travel through reading. Okay this is starting to sound like a public service announcement so I'm shutting up now.
-- Haiku Hannah

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Want a Seat Assignment on AA?

American Airlines announced this morning that it is adding a new, “customer-friendly” aspect to its price structure. A customer-friendly AA? Here at High Flying Bird, we look at all of AA’s actions with well-deserved skepticism and find this one particularly disingenuous.

Passengers on AA will now have a new economy fare from which to choose. To keep up with the Southwests of the industry, AA is offering an option with no seat assignment. Those passengers will board in Group 7, 10 minutes before departure, and will be welcome to take any open seat. Passengers with seat assignments who arrive late may find their seat already taken, in keeping with the current 10-minute rule. According to an American spokesman, “This gives our customers the best of both worlds, while allowing us to compete more fairly with other airlines offering deeply discounted fares.”

High Flying Bird’s take? This is just another way for American to charge passengers for services that used to be included with the price of a ticket, such as meals, snacks and headphones, and now seat assignments. What do other High Flying Birds think? Will you pay what will now be extra for a seat assignment? Will this move by AA ultimately be seen as genius, or a foolish mistake?

-- The Commish