Travel

Roswell

USA road-trip in detail

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USA ROAD TRIP 2012

My last post was a quick one on driving in the US.  This one is much more detailed, and contains a full list of where I went, along with the highlights of each day.

Firstly, here is a map of our trip. I’ve indicated below which cities we stayed at overnight, as well as those we stopped at on the way thru during the day.

I should also mention we stayed at 3 star type accommodation most of the time.  Easy to find in the US, and super cheap – often $40 US a night inducing wifi and breakfast (for 2).  TripAdvisor helped heaps here!  So not an expensive trip compared to hotels in many other places.  Petrol (gas) is also crazy cheap – especially when you are driving a hybrid using less than 5l/100km (50mpg+).


View US Road Trip in a larger map

(more…)

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dallas interchange

Driving in the US of A

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I have recently (like 3 days ago), finished a road-trip through the US southern states.  We drove from Los Angeles California (which is on the west coast), to Florida (the east cost in case you didn’t know) and back again in around 3 weeks.   That’s like 10,000km+ (or 6,000 miles+ if you’re from the US).  If you’re from Texas, it means we drove more than Texas :-)

Anyway, I’ll have LOTS of updates on this soon, with lots of good blog topics from the trip, but wanted to touch on one thing first: Driving in the US, and US drivers.

The black and white version of driving in the US:

  • Interstates rock!  You can actually get the signposted speed 99% of the time (in fact mostly much more, see below)
  • Almost everyone speeds, like 10-20 miles over the limit.  If you go on the limit EVERYONE including trucks passes you
  • US drivers tailgate on interstates and state highways.  Like 1m behind you @ 70miles and hour (100km/hr+).
  • Less than 5% of the drivers indicate.  Especially noticeable for lane changes.

As an aside, interstates and highways are pretty easy to navigate, and are very well signposted.

Anyone in New Zealand will know about spaghetti junction in Auckland.  Well the photo for this post is for the Dallas/Fort Worth interchange.  I think that must be the spaghetti factory there!  And yes, I did drive it!

Black and White Version: Driving in the US was surprisingly easy.  Interstates are fast and easy, and drivers are (mainly) good – but they sure do tailgate, and don’t indicate.

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SAA_Logo

South Africian Airways – Review

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In line with my Black and White philosophy of this site, here is my Black and White review of South African Airways (based on 4 flights – two long haul (Perth – Jo’Burg) , 2 short haul (Jo’Burg to Capetown).

A reminder SAA is a members of the Star Alliance network (which AirNZ is also a part of).

Long Haul: Entertainment on their A340′s is CRAP.  One screen in economy class, and only playing one movie on take off and one on landing on a 9 hour flight is what I got in the 90s!  I didn’t think any airlines did this anymore, but apparently I was wrong.  At the VERY least these days I expect an individual entertainment system with on demand movies and TV on any flights over 5 hours.  It’s just not good enough to have such an antiquated (and sub standard) system on such long flights.   If I had known this I would have loaded up my iPad with movies (like I did in the old days by bringing on a portable DVD player) Food and service was fine.   Lounge was nice and clean, and plenty of food/drink etc.

Short Haul: Overall fine, except that the row in front of the exit row had seats that didn’t recline.  Most airlines just give extra room in the exit row to ensure there is enough room in an emergency to get out, but SAA do the cheaper version and just disable reclining in the row in front of it so they can fit more rows in.  Annoying especially when you have just come off a long haul flight and want to try to rest.

Other:

  • What was surprising was that SAA gave a full meal and drinks service on a 2 hour flight (Jo’Burg to Capetown).  Not complaining, but this is very usual these days.
  • I was moved from my seat in row 45 to row 60 for no reason by Qantas staff on my 1st Long Haul journey.  As a result my FF points didn’t show up for this flight, and SAA is the only airlines on Star Alliance that doesn’t allow online adding of this – I need to send in my boarding pass with a cover letter explaining this- a pain in the ass!
  • SAA also doesn’t allow others on the Star Alliance network to use point to upgrade flights to Business Class (I never pay for BC, but like flying it)

It’s clear SAA do some things on the cheap (entertainment and exit rows) but overall they offer an acceptable service and nice clean lounges.

Black and White Version: South African Airways needs major improvements – especially in long haul entertainment systems.

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More cool stuff, and oh, I am back!

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I have just got back from a 2 week trip to the US, so I have plenty to blog about in the next week or so, including:

  • A hands on pre-review of the iPad 2 (the cut to the chase black and white version)
  • What’s good (and bad) about the US of A (including tipping!)
  • AirNZ economy service on the new 777-300, and why I think they have missed an opportunity
  • Boeing factory tour in Seattle
  • Why I love San Fran (the black and white)

But before I do that, here are two cool videos that are either going, or are already, viral:

1) Firstly, AirNZ.  They are making up for the (removal of) the gay kiss that wasn’t I think!

 

2) Here’s an awesome video that will bring a tear to your eye.

Black and White Version: There is some very cool stuff out there on the interweb.

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cellphone yelling

AirNZ – cell phone on flights. AHHHHHHHH!

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Oh dear.  Oh very dear.

AirNZ announced today that through Vodafone they will allow calls and texts (and data) on a trial basis on domestic flights (well on one AirBus 320 aircraft).

There are a few things wrong with this, IMHO:

  • I like the idea of data, and to a lesser degree texts (if the phone is on silent), on a plane, but calls are just a pain in the arse (think how bad it is with people yelling into phones at the moment at places like cafes).  Cellphoneitis is rampant!
  • As Lance Wiggs points out the price is WAY WAY out of line.
  • I realise its only a trial, but having it on domestic flights (max length 1:40 in New Zealand) isn’t long enough a flight time.     Trans-tasman (3-4 hour flights) would be a good place to trial it.

AirNZ actually understand the whole talking is difference from texts issue, as they announced several months ago about allowing texts on their new 777 services, but not calls. So why on earth did they go and allow calls on this service?  Is it money?

I will be the first to say SHUT UP (plus some other expletives if need be) if they guy next to me yells into his phone on a plane.

This also proves that cell phones are NOT unsafe on a plane, so forcing a user to go through the airlines connection is, well just a monopoly pushing a product.

Ironically it was announced back in May other airlines have done a deal with Telecom (XT) for similar services on international flights, it was implied that AirNZ had customer feedback that it wasn’t liked.

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

Here’s an interesting claim from the 2nd article on calls on planes:

However, mobiles are still banned when planes are flying under 6000 metres.

This means the first 10 minutes or so, and the last 15 or a flight might (will?) have no service.  So on a flight Christchurch to Wellington, the actual usage time of the new AirNZ service could be as low as 5 minutes (flight time is after all 30 minutes).

Will be interesting to see how this develops.  But I stand by my claim – calls are a BAD idea!

Black and White Version: Tech can be cool, but has to be thought out.  Both the price (way to high) AND the product is wrong here (calls should be banned!).

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Thai Airways – black and white review

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I hadn’t flown on Thai Airways (Thai Airways International) for a while, and recently flew them twice – one a 5 hour flight and one an 11 hour flight back to NZ.  Like AirNZ they are a member of star alliance network.

Here’s my cut to the chase, black and white review on them:

Thai Airways Review

Overall Rating Four stars (out of five)
Seat pitch in economy class Better than most (I think there is an two inches compared to most – were were on a 777-ER – check this site out for full details of leg room in economy here).
Food Good.  Tasty, good options.
Service Very good – friendly and accessible
Entertainment Good – par for the course these days with a few dozen movies, a few dozen TV shows of various genres and all on demand (you can start and stop it when you like).
Lounge Good.  Not as good as Koru in NZ – but few are.  Enuf food and drinks (and variety of)  Very clean and open and light.

Overall one of the better airlines I have flown on.  The extra inch or two in economy class makes all the difference when you are flying for 11 hours on a flight.

Black and White Version: Thai Airlines gets the tick.  I’d fly with them again.

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taj mahal

Visa on Arrival in India for New Zealanders – DON’T DO IT!

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Ok .. a quick post which will be of interest to only a very limited audience, but I think VERY useful for those that it’s relevant to.

In a nutshell, almost all visitors to India need a visa.  Unlike many Western countries that have visa waver programs in place with NZ, India requires a visa to be obtained in 99% of cases, prior to your arrival in India.  This means filling out a form, sending it in to the nearest Indian embassy, with your passport, and the $60 US equivalent and then waiting a few weeks for it to be sent back.

Luckily (or so I thought) New Zealander’s get a special exemption, being one of five countries that are allowed to obtain Visa on Arrival.  Cool I thought – I will just do that.

Ummm, no, not quite.  In a nutshell: DON’T DO IT and here’s why:

  • It may be a visa on arrival, but its not an INSTANT via on arrival.  It took 3 hours (and this was at 2am when only one other person was applying)
  • Its quite a new thing from what I can tell.  Signs are so limited at Immigration, and few staff know about it in India, so you end up queuing 3 times before you even get to the right place
  • You still need two colour photos, proof of address etc, all the things you need for a normal visa – so all you are doing is putting off what you COULD have done prior to arrival, but are now doing them when you arrive – and anyone who has been to India will know they work at their own pace.
  • Most visas are more of an admin thing – but this is a full on interview (by 3 diff people), and then 5 diff staff filling our forms (by hand) while you wait .. and wait.
  • Did I mention it takes ages?

So yes, it works, but no, don’t do it. Be organised and apply for a visa to India before you go. (full info on Indian visas on this page) The only exception would be if you want to pop over to India on short notice – I guess it’s handy being a Kiwi then!

Black and White Version: Visa on Arrival for Kiwis entering India does work, but is so slow you are FAR better off applying for a visa the normal way.

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thai-logo

It’s been a while .. and here’s why

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Hi Honey, I’m home!

It’s been a while since I have posted here, since I have been a wee tour of the world.  Well not quite the whole world, a holiday through 4 countries: Canada, Germany, India and Bangkok Thailand (thanks Glen – Bangkok isn’t a country!).   The emphasis was on Canada and India time wise.

But while I haven’t been blogging (I prefer to holiday first and blog after the fact), I have a whole range of post ideas coming up, including:

  • Why Kiwis should NOT get the so called “Visa on Arrival” in India (Now posted)
  • The black and white travel low-down for India
  • The black and white travel low-down for Canada
  • The black and white travel low down on how to bargain in places like China, India and Thailand (although they all do differ)
  • Why I think coffee is crap in certain countries
  • A review of Thai airways (completed – found here)
  • An update on Lufthansa (and it’s way better than it used to be!)
  • Why taxi drivers in Bangkok are so annoying (a bitch post)

Oh, one more post will follow too – the updated review of the Golf-R, since I get mine in 2 days! (only a 6 month delay!).  So I might be doing a wee test drive – for the whole weekend :-)   Update: Updated owner’s review of the Golf-R here.

Black and White Version: I have been away, but back.  Posts to follow.

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GayKiss

AirNZ Gay Kiss (that wasn’t) now banned

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When I first saw this video I thought that it was very cool how once again AirNZ was being innovative in their marketing, while also acknowledging (albeit in a subtle away) that gay flight attendants are a fact of life, and hey, even All Blacks are OK with that (just not OK with kissing a guy).

So here’s that video:

Media are now reporting that Air NZ cuts gay kiss from in-flight safety film (NZ Herald) and All Black gay kiss-off cut from Air NZ video (Stuff.co.nz) because of complaints.

Here’s my issues with this decision:

1) The trivial bit:

It’s NOT a gay kiss!  The headlines are all wrong.  There never was a kiss.  It was a ‘no thanks’ to an offer of a peck on the check.  There is actual no proper kiss in the whole video, there is only an air-kiss between a female flight attendant, and an All Black.

2) The main issue

The scene was cut due to complaints from members of the gay community. So what?  I am gay and think it’s great!  Will (the flight attendant ) is gay and thinks it’s great too.  So yeah, let’s ignore those other silly gay folk shall we?

But wait, it was also reported that:

The complaints included a suggestion that the scene could lead to gay male suicides, The Dominion Post reported.

So they SUGGEST that it could lead to gay male suicide.  Well I for one think it’s AWESOME to show an out and proud gay man interacting with an All Black (flirting with him even) and saying ‘Hey we think this is just a part of NZ life, so we will show it on our safety video’.

Kiwiblog got the headline right with: Political Correct Wins again. CRAZY!

I don’t really blame AirNZ for this, although I would love it if they would stick up for their rights (and mine) on this one and challenge the gay complainants to prove their claims, or even better have a public debate about it, and agree to honour the outcome/decision.  I’d be in to argue for the affirmative team (ie the kiss does more good than bad).  The people who should feel ashamed here are the anonymous complainants – well done guys, you have now removed a positive gay model from the eyes of young gay men.  Home goal me thinks.

Black and White Version: AirNZ is coo,l, their marketing is cool.  Being gay is cool.  Showing gay people in their video is cool.  Turning down a kiss is cool too (if done respectfully) but complaining about it is NOT cool.

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plane

AirNZ – the black and the white

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AirNZ  is one of those companies I blog about a fair bit.  Most of the time it’s very positive, but today it’s a mixture.

Today I want to give the black and white version (or the good and the bad, or the bouquet and the brickbat if you prefer) on AirNZ.

The Black (bad bad AirNZ)

  • The new fees for using credit cards etc as payment methods online. I agree with DPF on Kiwiblog and Lance Wiggs. I don’t mind if you add a few $ to all tickets, but object to extra “fees” for everything all the time
  • They STILL haven’t fixed the automatic adding of travel insurance for online bookings (i.e. you have to opt out).  VERY annoying, and I personally think it’s as close to deceptive as you can get without crossing the line
  • Having taxes and landing fees as extras. I know a lot of airlines do this, but it’s quite simply wrong (IMHO).  Extras should be things I can choose to have or not.  I can’t choose to not pay a landing tax or a security fee, so as far as I am concerned, as a customer, it’s just a cost of doing business for the airline, so it should be added it into the ticket price and be done with it.*   The same applies to fuel surcharges of the early 2000′s.  What next a cabin crew wages surcharge because he crew got a pay rise last week?   Stop all the rubbish and just have ONE fee for your basic get me there service and any extras must be OPTIONAL add ons, not compulsory items.  I think this should be regulated by the Commerce Comission so that businesses can’t have extras charges for things that are really just part of the core product (IMHO, it’s like renting a car, and having an extra fee to rent the steering wheel!)

* There is actually one major reason they won’t want to do this.  Those using air-points to pay for tickets are required to pay for these extra fees with cash on top of their air-points payment.  This can be $100 or so for a return trip to OZ, or a few hundred for a return trip to the US, so it would add up to tens of thousands of dollars (possibly a hundred thousand+) for the airline – not something they would want to give up in a hurry.

Update: Here is the link for AirNZ’s new fees for Credit Cards etc.

The Good

AirNZ listen.  Today I received a letter telling me they are returning space+ (or a version of it) to the reconfigured one class Trans Tasman A320 planes.

I see a few online rants about the removal of space plus (which btw I thought was a simple and very good idea when they introduced it on their domestic and short haul international).

But I take my hat of to AirNZ for listening.  As quoted in the letter:

Last week I invited feedback from travelers who experienced the first Seats to Suit Services. The vast majority of the feedback related to the value of additional legroom on an A320 …

… we’ll be making a change to the seating configuration on our A320 to provide a larger zone of seats with significantly increased legroom.”

Well done AirNZ.  You changed something, got feedback and responded with a positive and customer friendly solution.  And I happen to agree – it’s a small thing, but that extra 2-3′ makes all the difference!

Black and White Version: AirNZ’s product gets better by the day.  Their online practices continue to get worse.

Hat tip: My friend Ben M who told me about the AirNZ surcharge well before anyone else blogged about it, well done Ben!

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