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Travel tips

I'm back and I'm jet-lagged, so in lieu of writing something challenging, let me give you some travel advice:

Do not leave your laptop at home when embarking on an 8-day business trip ...

Here's what happened: I travel often enough that I'm in the habit of getting my kit packed a day or two before departure. When I say "packed" I mean I have my checked bag loaded and sealed, and carry-on loaded and trailing a bunch of charger cables so I can just unplug it and go. (There are duplicate chargers with foreign plugs already stashed in the carry-on.) I especially do this when, due to the vagaries of airline timetables I need to be in a taxi at 4am ...

Reason for being in a taxi at 4am: the 0610 take-off time, which in turn means an 0540 boarding call. My local airport is only 15 km from my front door, but it's a half hour drive even at four in the morning because there's an entire city centre in the way — one that wasn't designed for automobiles. So the plan was: into taxi at 0400, into airport at 0430, through baggage drop, security and passport control by 0500, and time for a cup of coffee before boarding.

There's meta-reasons for all of this, of course. The meta-reason for the 0610 departure was that I needed to be on a flight leaving my regional hub — Paris Charles de Gaulle (cheaper and nicer than London's airports, and equidistant in flight time from home) — and due for boarding at 2pm local time. The 0610 flight arrives Paris CDG at 0930 local. The 1010 flight arrives around 1240. Experience shows that allowing less than two hours for a connection at any major intercontinental hub is asking for trouble — such as last summer, when I allowed a two hour transfer window and our feeder flight was two and a half hours late taking off due to a maintenance issue. We missed our long-haul connection and ended up arriving ten hours late. (Lesson learned: always allow extra time for connections — lots of it, not just one or two hours.)

((Meta-meta-reason for the trip: guest of honour slot at Boskone, followed by trip to New York and meetings with (a) my agent, (b) my editor and marketing people at Tor, and (c) my editor and marketing people at Ace. Not to mention (d) a public reading on top. In other words: it was primarily a business trip, not a vacation.))

I got out of bed at 3:15 in the morning and, in a zombie-like haze, pulled my laptop out of my luggage to sync with DropBox (which I'd forgotten to do before getting into that nice warm bed the night before). Then I went to help my spouse with her bags. She's a firm believer in the leave-everything-to-the-last-minute algorithm and was still installing some last-minute additions at 3:30.

You can see where this is going, right?

I have this thing about trying to travel light. For an eight day trip, I was trying to travel with less than 15Kg of combined checked and hand baggage (of which the bags contributed around 5Kg in their own right). Mostly this worked fine (the clothes, toiletries, medicines, and sundry extras side of it went without a hitch). But it was a business trip — and I was on a minimalism kick. I had an iPhone and a (new, third generation) Kindle, so why take an iPad as well? I had a laptop, so why take a folding bluetooth keyboard for the iPhone or (not taking it) iPad?

If I'd packed the iPad (weight: 660 grams) I'd have been fine — an iPad is a sufficiently powerful computer for email, web browsing, some light duty writing, and so on for a week long trip. If I'd packed the iGo keyboard (weight: 220 grams), I'd have been able to make a decent fist of spending eight days on the road using the iPhone 4 as a general purpose computer — the screen's small, but it's sufficiently powerful that it might have been workable. But I'd decided to save nearly 900 grams by leaving them both out of my carry-on. Lesson learned — lack of redundancy is a mistake. Next lesson learned: do not make last minute changes to your inventory during the "sleep" phase of your sleep cycle.

Anyway, I discovered the absence of my laptop (a Macbook Air) at the airport; it was so light that its absence didn't make a huge difference to the weight of my carry-on. By which time there was insufficient time to curse and do a round-trip home by taxi to grab it before departure.

The withdrawal symptoms were probably comical to bystanders, but got tiresome fast. However, I had sufficient time crossing the Atlantic to figure out a solution. My wife, being sensible, hadn't left her laptop at home; rather than arm-wrestle with her for it, I bought an entry-level iPad on a buy-it-now-and-eBay-it-later basis. (An entry-level iPad (16Gb, no 3G) currently costs around £100 (or US $160) less in the USA than back home in the UK.) Despite my minimalism crusade I hadn't left my laptop's backup hard drive behind: so I borrowed her machine and used the backup drive to provision the iPad. With DropBox and Gmail set up, I now had access to all my work files and to my email — now all I had to worry about is how to dispose of a spare iPad. (Note: it's not actually going to eBay — it's already earmarked for a relative.)

Lesson learned: any computer problem can be fixed if you can throw money at it and you still have access to your data. Oh, and carry a bluetooth keyboard everywhere, at all times.

More seriously, I've never been good at pulling all-night stretches, and I'm beginning to think that if I want a long connection window in future I'd do better to fly out to the hub the evening before, sleep overnight in an airport hotel, then make the long-haul connection rather than mess around with 6am departures.

Finally, on this trip I got to make an interesting comparison — we flew out on a Boeing 747-400 and back on a new Airbus A380 super-jumbo. Air France uses the upper deck of both types for economy seating, and we were in comparable seats on each flight. So how does the old jumbo stack up against the new one?

If you plan on flying intercontinental distances over the next couple of decades you'll probably end up aboard an A380 at some point. The significant difference from a 747, from the passenger perspective, is that the A380 has a full-sized upper deck. That upper deck is huge — it has about the same floor plan as an MD-11, with economy seats in 3-4-3 configuration, narrowing to 2-4-2 in the tail. In contrast, the 747-400 upper deck is a single aisle configuration, with 3-3 seating (like a Boeing 737). The giant Airbus is significantly quieter than the 747. Seats in the rear of any airliner are generally noisier as they get the engine noise, but despite being only 5 rows from the back of the A380 I had difficulty hearing the big blowers over the air conditioning. The upper-deck windows on the A380 are much better than on the 747 — they're full size, at head height, so you can actually see out of them without having to hunch down. Alas, I can't speak for ride comfort; we took off in a storm that threw the 540 ton giant around like a puddle jumper, then caught a sleepless jet stream ride that shaved nearly two hours off the flight at cost of having to spend most of the journey strapped down, but all things considered, the A380 should be an improvement over the 747 from a passenger comfort perspective. Unfortunately, there are one or two gotchas ...

If you want to see where you're flying you should not pick a seat on an exit row or right in front of an exit row, and you should always avoid the rearmost seat block on the upper deck. The emergency exits and slides (and the embarkation doors) on the A380 are huge, the better to evacuate up to a thousand passengers in 90 seconds. So the support structures in the hull mean that there are no windows immediately fore and aft of the doors. Less obviously, the rear block of seats have low-profile overhead luggage bins — presumably because the roofline of the fuselage drops towards the tail — these hold roughly half the volume of carry-on luggage as the overhead bins further forward. There are also stowage bins under the windows (as on the 747) but none in the exit rows, for obvious reasons. So if you pick the rear exit row seats, you get no view and nowhere nearby to stash your carry-on ...

It could be worse. At least we didn't get rained on when the plane landed, like on the last couple of MD-11 flights I took before the type was retired for pure freight duty. (Condensation from the air conditioning apparently builds up in the bins, trickles backward during cruise climb flight, and gives the back row a cold shower when the plane lands.)

So. What are your long-haul travel tribulations?

141 Comments

1:

Flying from Ireland to New Zealand a couple of years back, I managed to miss my connection at Los Angeles, and had to make a detour via Brisbane. I was informed on arrival in Auckland that I looked like 'forty miles of God help us'.

2:

The antipodal flights are truly ball-breaking, even in business class. (I have a simple rule: if a journey involves more than 12 hours sitting in an airline seat -- especially more than 9 hours in the same seat -- I'm not going unless I can fly premium economy or business. And because I don't have a garden wall made of gold bricks, this puts a sharp limit on how often I can visit places like Australia or Japan or the US west coast.)

That missed connection last summer was a three-sector flight from Edinburgh to Sydney (via Paris and Hong Kong); missing the Paris-Hong Kong flight added 10 hours to the journey, which ended up being something like 44 hours door to door.

Planning for jet-lag recovery is basically non-optional on such journeys. Unfortunately I'd planned our original flight itinerary to give us lay-flat beds on a 12 hour red-eye, the idea being to sleep en route and wake up on local time; sticking a 9 hour delay in the way completely screwed me for the next four days after arrival.

3:

After years of avoiding them for sartorial reasons I now will not fly unless wearing cargo pants (or at least trousers with those vital, large mid-thigh pockets). With travel wallet, documents and earphones on one side; phone, charger cable and toothbrush in the other. The iPad and (optional) printed book are carried by hand. Result is no more carry on luggage. Not yet considered a folding keyboard, but it's a thought. No great trick I grant you, but it does avoid back pocket wallet annoyance and overhead compartment angst.

4:

My equivalent of the cargo pants is a ScotteVest fleece, which is basically a bunch of microfibre and nylon pockets disguised as an article of clothing. (If I expect to leave the airport concourse in bad weather, substitute a ScotteVest waterproof layer. Ditto on the pockets, only waterproof/windproof -- very sweaty in an airport but very dry outside one.)

However, I still carry a carry-on. I need it for: documents, medication boxes[*], change of underwear and tee shirt in case of flight delays, and stuff I need on a long trip and don't trust to airline baggage handlers and/or the TSA (such as laptop or camera). I generally keep my carry-on to less than maximum size, though, unless I'm flying without a checked bag.

[*] I hate blister-packs -- they're bulky! -- but I'd also hate to have to explain the anonymous-looking tablets and capsules in my pocket pill-case to security goons without the prescription packaging to hand. This gets more important with age ...

5:

Not exactly an airline tribulation but a few years ago I was visiting a friend in Brussels. The day before I was due to leave via eurostar (nice quick 2 hour journey back to London followed by 30mins from the very same station to home) there was a fire in the tunnel.

I had to wait another day before leaving at 530 in the morning to get a tram to the train station, 3 trains across northern France, a coach to the port, a ferry back to Blighty, a taxi to the nearest train station, 2 trains (both terribly slow) to London, 2 tubes, a final train home before a desperate call to a friend to pick me up after my 13 hour journey.

Lessons learnt:
*never carry souvenirs
*pack lunches are your friends
*buying a book to read is vital (got through the forever war cover to cover before hitting london)
*the london underground hates tired travellers and will insist on charging them for a day pass so that they can struggle through its sardine service

6:

I have, somewhere, a folding keyboard for the Palm III. It's fantastic. It folds up in a sort of four-way zigzag into something about the same size as the device itself, and once unfolded it turns into a full-size, half travel, laptop keyboard that's really comfortable to type on. The Palm III clips into it on a little stand at just the right angle to see clearly.

Does it work on anything that wasn't made before 1940? No. Huzzah for primitive proprietary serial interfaces.

Regarding flying, work used to send me on regular trips to Beijing or Seoul; ten hours direct. Yarg. Especially since they won't spring for anything other than cattle-car for me. Once I got a free upgrade to pod person class with BA, sigh...

If you have a long-haul flight in mind, this site is your friend: http://www.seatguru.com/

7:

A few things I've learned on my rare jaunts to Europe that I need to apply more when going to Canada (when I tend to throw in the kitchen sink from packing at the last minute for travel in an auto vs a plane).

Possibly more applicable to far-ranging and at least week-and-a-half trips than airline.

1) Clothing/packing light: For summer travel quick dry / lightweight fabrics are king. Bring a laundry line. I've had more luck finding sinks than washing machines, especially in Finland where there are no fcking laundromats.

2) Not having Cu$toms gank your files: The XO may have a hateful keyboard, but its wonderfully strong wireless antennas can allow one to snarf free open wireless from supposedly remote Executive clubs, and unlike many other machines it can be hung from one's belt on a reasonably strong 'biner clip. Also, Cu$toms tends to look at it as a toy and not consider taking it to copy all your data off of it, which incidentally can be stuck on a removable flash stick. Sluggish but bearable, especially with Debian. My husband also did a not-inconsiderable amount of his thesis work on a Nintendo DS running Linux (another under-the-radar device) but sadly its wireless firmware is outdated to the extent that getting on networks is a PITA.

3) Sleep deprivation can be awesome: I tend to pack the night before trips (although I may make lists and revise them beforehand, which I need to do more to cull unnecessary crap) and stay up late so I can stagger through security (and if applicable customs) in a hazy and almost druggedly docile frame of mind, as well as reliably pass out on the plane and thus find the journey more bearable. Occasionally this has meant people having to tell me which exit to go through twice, but if I have to go through a wanding or patdown I'd rather be half-asleep so it bothers me less. I realize that this is a depressingly cynical approach.

8:

Travel tips for the post 9/11 world: don't travel.

Far less chance of having your data taken by customs, having all of your electronics seized for carrying 'too much' music on your laptop, or getting strip searched by security that way.

9:

I was in Dublin when snowpocalypse occured last NOvember, and I only realised things were bad when I got to the airport and my dad helpfully texted me to say that Edinburgh airport was under 2 feet of snow and shut. Thanks, but a bit late...
My netbook was not fully charged, so without spending exhorbitant sums of money, I managed to survive the wait for the alternative flight to Manchester thanks to buying a copy of "This is not a game" in a cheap bookshop in Dublin, added to the non-fiction book I was part way through.

So, need several books, and lots of power. Got home via Manchester and trains about 8 hours later than expected. Trousers which fit nicely around the crotch are really good to have when sitting down for long periods of time.

Hotels are also handy, I've been doing a lot of long distance driving in the last 2 or 3 years, and the most civilised thing to do is drive somewhere the day before and get a hotel/ b&B or hostel and then the next day isn't a frantically rushed or started at 4am.

Ryan #5 - Oyster cards are your friend. Of course, having lived in London for a year, I now have the smug feeling of knowing what I am doing and how to actually find my way around.

10:

Dude. This has got to be the first time I see 'nice' and 'Paris CDG' in the same sentence. :) It's my local hub too and... shall we say... it comes up on the news rather worrisomely often, as those things stand.

11:

Curmudgeon, I have never had any of those things happen to me. Post-9/11 US air travel security is barely up to the intrusiveness of British pre-9/11 travel, which was already high for good reason (mortar attacks on Heathrow airport being part of it -- Al Qaida didn't exactly invent terrorism).

That's not to say that the situation is ideal; endemic racism among low-level under-trained security staff means that effective security (read: profiling and personality analysis of passengers) can't easily be deployed (because you'd end up with a metric buttload of racial harassment lawsuits). The solution should be to professionalize the TSA or equivalent and screen the screeners for undesirable traits such as a predilection towards power trips. (Alas, it ain't going to happen -- not because it would cost lots of money, but because the money would be flowing the wrong way for the security industry lobbyists, i.e. not to the top of the pyramid but to the bottom.)

In the meantime, if you're American and don't want your data to be searched I'd advise you to find somewhere more than 200 miles from an airport or frontier to live. Because that's how far you've got to go to escape from Customs and Border Patrol's remit. Got an airport in the next county? So sorry ...

12:

Two Christmases ago, my brother and I went to Paris for the holiday. Our flight to and from Paris went through London Heathrow Airport. (You can commence shuddering now.)

Our departure was delayed for four hours due to the giant storm system that shut down so much of Europe's travelling, meaning our flight left at 3 AM instead of 11 PM. For added fun, when we boarded the plane, British Airways wasn't sure what flight we'd be getting on to Paris, so our luggage wasn't routed with us and didn't catch up for three days. This was especially problematic since I, being new to long-distance travel to cold places, had foolishly packed my heavy coat with my checked bags. Fortunately my brother had an extra, or those would have been some cold days.

And then to add insult to injury, our flight home took place a day after the Nigerian underwear bomb attempt, and so TSA was insisting that everybody getting on a US-bound flight had to be individually searched and their bags checked. It takes about four hours for three security people to personally pat down and check the bags for everybody getting on a Boeing 747.

It was a great trip aside from that, but I'm avoiding London Heathrow in the future.

13:

S., Paris CDG isn't bad compared to the London hubs, which I refuse to fly through any more. (If I'm doing London, I'll fly to and from LCY. Heathrow and Gatwick can fuck right off: they're over-priced shopping malls with no seats and intrusive security and the highest departure tax in Europe. As for Luton and Stanstead, you can add another 1-2 hours and £20 each way on your budget for getting to London if you use them.)

14:

I too live in London now and know the benefits of an Oyster. At the time I lived elsewhere and rarely visited London so having an oyster was pointless. It was only when I arrived at Victoria (after 11 hours travelling) that I realised I had to buy a day card, even though I only wanted to get to St Pancras. On top of that I had to walk for an age to find a cash point so I could get some pounds to replace my Euro filled wallet! Nightmare trip

15:

My only long haul travel tribulation resulted in this advice:

If your new wife suggests that it would be romantic to take the head table flower arrangement on the honeymoon, check with customs at the destination.

I had those damn flowers on my lap for three legs of a sixteen hour trip, including on a 24 seater prop job and a panicked run through Dallas/Ft Worth airport only to have St. Lucia customs confiscate them at the end.

16:

Flew from Gatwick to San Francisco on an ex-military Boeing 707. Toilets so inadequate they overflowed and flooded the aisle. Ran out of water and other drinks before halfway. Spent entire holiday dreading the return journey. The airline is no longer in existence, neither can you get a transatlantic flight for £99.

17:

Well, I nearly got away with doing a week at MWC with a microfibre jacket, a rollerboard, and a suit carrier (the better of the two suits, the other lashed into the bag), with my usual protocol of putting the case with the laptop in the bag.

But I got given a shiny by Intel and didn't have enough space on the return trip, so I had to check in a bag. I had a quick-ish connection at Milan/Linate.

I made it in good time, was waiting to take off when there was an announcement about a delay waiting for four bags. Eventually, I see out of the window that a ULD has been delivered and handlers have removed several bags, and they're obviously about to load the ULD and retain the bags. One of them is mine. Ooh fuck. They start arguing over a list. I call a flight attendant over. He walks to the tail of the aircraft and I hear a door opened and people shouting. Eventually they were satisfied I was really on the plane and just loaded the whole ULD with the bags in it.

Alitalia calls the service other airlines call "transfers" or "connections" "Coincidenze" in Italian. I do not think this is a coincidence.

18:

I have yet to travel by airplane (apparently this is a fairly uncommon situation, but it's not out of avoiding it -- I just haven't been in a situation wherein I've been called upon to do so), and I've only heard horror stories about air travel (not so much in the airplanes as getting on and off, which seems extremely confusing taken out of context), so I'm not terribly keen on doing so. Is there anything actually fairly consistently enjoyable about air travel, or should I invest instead in a telepresence rig that I can air-mail to destinations in place of my body (or wait for the post-geographical society that was supposed to come sometime around 1989)?

19:

Yes, air travel can be enjoyable; all you need is money. If you can afford to fly intercontinental in business class you get priority queues for check-in and security, so you're behind at most half a dozen folks instead of two hundred. (Less waiting, in other words.) You have a nice comfy lounge with free drinks and finger food and wifi and a shower if you need it, while you wait for priority boarding on your flight. When you get on board you have a comfortable, wide reclining armchair with a TV screen and video-on-demand and a bag full of toiletries, including toothpaste and moisturizer to replace the ones in your checked bag (to avoid the security theater). That reclining armchair is usually equipped to give you a shiatsu massage; these days it also goes flat for sleeping on if it's an overnight flight. (Pillows and blankets and pyjamas are available from the cabin crew.) The drinks are free and of good quality, and the food is excellent, often memorably so.

It still involves sitting in an armchair for hours on end, but it's not nearly so horrible as sitting in a much narrower chair (think long-haul coaches for comparison) with much less leg room and worse food.

At the high end, first class appears to involve even shorter queues, more obsequious service, more leg room, and a shower of luxuries to keep the passenger distracted. Not to mention the current trend which seems to be not only lie-flat beds, but miniature hotel rooms (partitions around the seats that can be raised for privacy once the plane is airborn). The top end first class option on A380s involves what Virgin euphemistically call a "honeymoon suite" and Singapore sniffily describe as a double bed (honeymoon activities strictly forbidden) -- two reclining seats with a removable divider between them, partitioned off on all sides. And the first-class bathroom on an A380 is an actual bathroom, complete with (cramped) shower.

First class seems to be dying as the passengers who can afford it switch to NetJets and other timeshare business jets. (BJs have the huge advantage that they don't go via the general passenger terminal, so they bypass all the security theatre: I gather if you're paying for a bizjet they typically send a limo which takes you straight to the aircraft steps.)

Caveat: I have never flown first class (or on a bizjet). I'm torn between wanting to, to see what it's like, and wanting to avoid it, because I am not in a line of work that would support it as even an occasional habit.

So -- yes -- air travel is like eating a shit sandwich: the more dough you've got, the less shit you have to swallow.

20:

"An entry-level iPad (16Gb, no 3G) currently costs around £100 (or US $160) less in the USA than back home in the UK.)"

Where are you getting an iPad for that price?? Entry-level iPads list for $500!

21:

If you wear contact lenses, and are not a typical size found in common stores (2M tall does not fall in the category of "one size fits all"), there are a few things to consider regarding the risk of lost luggage:

1) Carry all your bags on the way out. Lower risk on the way back, you've got spares of most things at home.
2) Even if you check bags, spread things out so at least one change of clothes, spare lenses, case and solutions in the carry on or at least your companion's bag.
3) Don't travel to the EU on Sunday. It's a lot harder to find an open pharmacist in Vienna than a Walgreens in New Jersey.
4) Flying direct reduces the risks of checked luggage. Not always a choice.

I learned these lessons when BA left my bag in London when my wife's bag, also on the same ORD->LHR->VIE run made it fine. I got the bag back at midnight, but I was panicked for a while.

22:

Entry-level iPads list for $500!

Over here, they list for £439, which is $707.

(Welcome to Rip-Off Britain.)

((In general, we seem to be returning to the era of the 1:1 £:$ conversion ratio for electronics, thanks to fluctuating exchange rates and 20% VAT.))

23:

ENKI-2

I think the thing to remember is that it's the horror stories that make the news (and the blogs) whereas the typical journey which involves minimal hassle tends to get lost in the noise.

Having said that, here's my take on the matter of air travel.

1 - shorter is better. Sitting in an uncomfortable chair surrounded by strangers invading your personal space and breathing recycled air is a doddle if it only lasts two hours. Twenty hours, not so much.

2 - as mentioned above, money buys comfort and convenience. Fork out the readies for business class and you'll wonder why more people don't fly. Catch a budget flight from some nameless port at 3am just so you can do it for £9.99 (minus tax) and you'll wonder why anyone would fly voluntarily.

3 - remind yourself, once airborne, of just how incredible the act of mechanical flight is. You're sitting in a vehicle that weighs more than your house and yet is capable of traversing half the globe at a little less than the speed of sound.

4 - free peanuts and beer, so long as you choose the right airline and ask nicely! :-)

24:

As I get older I've more and more often stayed at hotels the night before travelling out and also on return (especially with return transatlantic flights). At Heathrow and Gatwick I've found that it's well worth paying the extra for a hotel actually at the terminal rather than relying on shuttles.

Coming back from the last Denver Worldcon we were delayed by storms, missed a connection and ended up arriving six hours late. It was a great relief to be able to drag our trolleys down a tunnel and collapse into bed without any more stages to our journey.

25:

MD-11s are still in passenger service -- KLM for one.

RNA

26:

A couple of years ago my wide and I were returning to the US (San Francisco) from London. We needed to get to Heathrow from Stratford. The tube had broken somewhere near Piccadilly, and the authorities kept saying that the train would leave shortly, but never did. We decided to take the surface rail to Euston and catch a different underground track from there. We eventually got to Heathrow and checked in to Virgin Atlantic, only to find we had missed the check in cutoff by 2 minutes. Virgin staff were intransigent that they were not bending the rules and insisted on us missing that flight. In the event we paid for a flight that day to LA. We passed security with so much time to spare, we could have boarded the SFO flight in plenty of time, had the staff allowed us to check in. We were able to book a local flight from LA to SFO via my iPhone before boarding so we arrived only a few hours later than planned.

This crappy attitude by Virgin was heaped on top of the crappy flight to the UK where we had no in flight entertainment because 20 of the seats were broken. Virgin provided no compensation at all. Virgin is normally preferable to other airlines, especially US ones, flying the Atlantic, but this occasion soured me on them permanently.

27:

Huh? I thought they'd retired them all to cargo.

28:

Aaaah, air travel. I greatly prefer doing air travel with children and dogs, preferably simultaneously and intercontinentally. Also, if at all possible, multiple forms of ground transport to get to the airports in question. My last such trip was Budapest to Zurich in a non-air-conditioned train, driving to Geneva in a rented van after that, an overnight in Geneva during which we left the bag of chocolates in the refrigerator (I hope the janitorial staff enjoyed them), then the flight to JFK, followed by picking up the van at the airport and driving back to Indiana. I'm pretty sure there was an overnight stay somewhere between JFK and Indiana - probably in Pennsylvania somewhere.

Did I mention doing all that with a Jack Russell terrier? That's what made it special. We don't have toddlers any more, unfortunately; our youngest is 11 now - hardly any challenge at all.

Making our travel as grueling as possible is the only way we can force ourselves not to travel continually until we run out of money.

29:

Yeah, same here. CDG is at the top of my no fly list... LHR is significantly better than it used to be IF you're flying BA and all your flights are through T5. My other half had a dream transfer from Seattle to France a couple of weeks back even though we only had sub 2 hours.

30:

Things that have helped me. Stick with the one airline and get a status card, so you can have the perks of Biz Class even if you don't have the seats. The pre-boarding, separate check-in and potential to skip security are worth a fortune.

Long haul biz class is generally lovely, BA really have one of the best products in the industry, the beds are fractionally too short for me, but I can still sleep comfortably and as Charlie says the food, booze and extras make it worthwhile.

I got upgraded to long haul first out of Hong Kong once and it was amazing.

But I don't routinely have the money for that sort of thing.

To be honest I'm more an happy I don't have to routinely fly 300,000 miles a year anymore.

31:

Well, I don't know which plane it was, but I once flew between Prague and Bratislava and almost froze because the plain door -- next to which I was seated -- did not close properly. That was the only draughty plane I experienced although, on the return flight, I got to the airport two hours before the flight and was let into the airport (the building, not some waiting lounge or something) by a kindly cleaning lady who saw me freezing out there. She then disappeared and came back a few minutes later with the waitress from the airport bar, who opened up just so I could get coffee.

At the time, Bratislava's only airplane connection was to Prague; maybe things have changed in the meantime. However, I've learned that it's faster, more comfortable and -- surprisingly -- cheaper to fly to Vienna and then take a taxi to Bratislava.

32:

Worked for Transco Engineering where everyone flew 1st class. The CEO, CFO & 5 very needed staff got bumped & missed a deadline to contract. This drove home the point that money was meant to be spent on vitals to the company, like staff. I guess losing a 100 million pound contract increased the collective intelligence.

33:

I travel a fairly hideous amount for work (coming up in March, Netherlands, New Orleans, Vienna - in that order). My rules are:

Avoid Chicago O'Hare wherever possible. You think Heathrow is bad?

Travelling light isn't worth it if you end up spending the whole time in the same clothes. Equally, taking a load of stuff doesn't mean breaching the weight limit - pack sensible (though apparently it's cheaper for marketing to get me to carry their crap than to post it, so I've paid excess baggage fees several times)

Extra/spare adaptors are useful to have

Assume there'll be some sort of hideous fuckup. Allow an extra half-hour over and above of what you think would allow an easy transfer, and take double of whatever medication you're on

Switch to your destination time as far ahead as possible in order to ease yourself into the time-zone change. Getting off the plane and cold-turkeying 8 hours is not a recepie for fun.

Take an extra book. Possibly even an extra-extra book.

Double-check a week before that they've got your food reservation, and (where possible), buy a sandwich as well anyway, since they'll invariably give your vegetarian meal to someone else.

Sleep through it. I can (and have) fallen asleep on the back of a motorbike, but a sleeping tablet is better than 8 hours of cattle class.

I got stuck in the Volcano fun last year - my flight got turned around over Canada and sent back to Chicago. I ended up being delayed a week. While the BA staff were lovely, the queueing and waiting (in the world's least comfortable seats, in the world's dullest airport) at O'Hare knocked me for six - I occasionally have to walk with a cane, but that ended up with me needing to be wheeled onto the damn plane.

BA did upgrade me for the flight back though, and god I wish I had the travel budget for business class more often.

34:

Back when SCO was a UNIX company rather than a brain-eating zombie, travel policy was simple:

Everyone flew economy class, from the CEO down, unless:

a) The flight time exceeded 10 hours

or

b) $EMPLOYEE was 2 metres tall or higher (six feet and six inches in old money) or had other special medical needs.

(The distance between the two furthest flung major development hubs was 9 hours -- from SFO to LHR -- so this kept a lid on travel expenses while making allowances for special cases.)

35:

And one of the engineers involved was 6'10".

36:

I've flown Business and 1st with BA, cattle with a fair few airlines. Past decade has been mostly between London and New York.

One thing I learned was that the technology leap-frogs; one year I flew cattle on Virgin and the seat-back system was better than the BA Business class I did 5 months earlier (same route). Similarly BA business had better technology than the BA 1st I did a year later (BA were in the middle of upgrading their fleet).

BA business class lie-flat chairs aren't long enough if you're 6'2"; I can't lie flat in them. 1st class is long enough. I can't sleep in either, though.

The biggest difference between 1st and business on BA is that when your seat is flat you don't have someone climbing over you (or you having to climb over someone else) to get from the aise to the window. That's an unexpected bonus.

BA business is pretty survivable. I detest cattle class. However it's not enough to make me want to pay for the extra; Christmas 2008 I flew home with my girlfriend; $1700 for the two of us, return flights. I looked at business class; would have taken the cost up to $4500. Business is nice, but not that nice. I suffered in cattle. But if the company makes me travel then I'll make sure they pay for business.

I've been told that BA business is as good as American 1st; I've not traveled the latter so I don't have direct experience.

Different airlines have different booze policies; BA had free unlimited spirits in cattle class - at least I drank as much Bacardi and Coke as I wanted - whereas Continental and American both charged for anything other than beer or wine. Dunno what the current policies are!

LHR4 cattle class didn't annoy me too much; I could always find a seat. However LHR5 is really bloody annoying. Unfortunately that's where BA international flights go through, now :-( I think I've only done LGW once, and it wasn't _too_ bad. I'll happily suffer either of those than have to do a transfer, though. Going via CDG is not my optimal plan.

Next month I get to experience US domestic flights (Florida with JetBlue), and then in July I go to Vegas with Continental. Both cattle class. Joy; paying money to check bags. Ugh.

37:

Yeah, I have a special box (it wasn't made for that, this is just coincidence) that holds all my meds in their bottles. Since we're allowed to carry liquid meds, I always have to tell the TSA magnetic person that I have liquids (inhalers) and a prescription skin cream. Some don't care, some are unhappy.

38:

Most of my flying has been domestic (I'm Australian, my family is in WA, and for eight years I was living in Canberra - flying wins out because it's cheaper time-wise than driving), although I've done one long-haul international trip (to the UK via LA). My basic rules are as follows:

* No matter where you fly and no matter who you fly with, there will always be at least one small child (infant, toddler, anything up to four years old) who will not cope well with the air pressure changes involved in ascent and descent, and will therefore be screaming or crying. Accept this as part of the inevitable cost of air travel, and rest up well the night before your flight.
* All long-distance travel is best done when you have plenty of mental and physical resources to cope with it. No matter how well the trip itself goes, the process of travelling itself is stressful.
* The people who work security in airports are just doing a job. Nine times out of ten, they're not being malicious or evil, they're just doing their godsdamned job, and if you think it's intrusive, chances are they probably do too. Be polite to them, and accept they're as bound by the rules as you are.
* Accept you're going to be inconvenienced. Murphy is the governing deity of airlines, air travel and airports, and he will not quit until you've had something banjax your day. If you go into the whole thing expecting everything to go wrong, when things go right, you're ahead of the game.
* Remember, you chose to travel this way. There are always alternative means of getting to your destination, but this is the one you chose because it was the most optimal in terms of time, money or effort. If you don't like it, you can change the way you travel next time.

I will admit to being a confirmed cynic, and a chronic pessimist. I find it helps - at least that way the little surprises I get along the way tend to be happy ones.

39:

I realised I had to buy a day card, even though I only wanted to get to St Pancras.

Huh? I've never had any problem buying single tube tickets when I needed them.

My travel tip: Don't arrive at one London airport and depart from another on the same day. It's doable as long as you know the rail and tube system well, but it's still gonna suck.

40:

I had really good flights when I consulted (1980-83) and had to have everything first class to impress clients. I haven't have many problems with other civilian flights, but a Navy C-5 is truly awful, and not just for the noise.

The only problem I've had on land is one year at Minicon, which is usually very cold at Easter. This year it was very warm and I hadn't brought cool enough clothes. After that, I brought clothes I could layer.

41:

"if I want a long connection window in future I'd do better to fly out to the hub the evening before, sleep overnight in an airport hotel, then make the long-haul connection rather than mess around with 6am departures"

This. Simple, effective, a little more expensive, but there is nothing like waking up, taking a leisurely shower, having a (hopefully) half decent breakfast, popping onto the shuttle bus to the airport, and strolling through from there.

I always do this. It's just easier on every level. I also find I have a much more relaxed attitude to the flight. I hate flying.

42:

Worst travel experience?

Has to be flying NorthWest to the US. Until only about 4 years ago they still used DC10s on the Gatwick - Minneapolis route. These planes were antiques so forget seatback entertainment screens, these had the pull-down projection screens on the bulkheads.

Because I'm tall I'd booked bulkhead seats, so I was right in front of the screen. On the way to the US, the in-flight movie was 'RV' with Robin Williams, one of his feel good family, movies - a film so horrifying I'm sure it breaches several international conventions. Try as I might, I couldn't escape from Robin Williams trying to be funny as mainstream hilarity ensued. Or rather didn't.

After a week in the US I joined another DC10 eastbound, same row, same seat. And because it was a new calendar month, they'd put a new lot of movies on to Europe-bound flights; including 'RV'. Let me remind you, this movie is so bad I was looking for the exit about 36000ft over Greenland.

On approach to Gatwick we were stacked for more than an hour before the plane was considered to be so low on fuel we couldn't remain in the Gatwick stack, so we were diverted to - Cardiff. Two hours on the ground with no food, no water and no air conditioning on the one day a year where South Wales has a heatwave. Then back to Gatwick where all the NorthWest staff had buggered off and left us to book our own onward connections.

Hateful airline. By comparison, my being dumped in Dallas by BA or nearly freezing to death in an Icelandic summer blizzard are mere trifles.

43:

The clue here is "BA" and LHR".

44:

Alas, LHR has compulsory rapescanners, even though the rest of the EU has decreed them to be contrary to EU law (the airports that have them on the continent (i.e. AMS) do not have an explicit image nor are they compulsory, because they consulted their lawyers first).

BA is on the shit list because they are not good at the "on time" thing, but are good at losing luggage. A German friend of mine who visited suffered them losing his luggage both ways. They only got his luggage to us a day before he returned to Germany. And that is just one of many examples. Also they are in the same alliance as AA, who once fed me a small green salad sandwich and an apple as a vegan meal three sectors running. I do not want to risk being on AA via a codeshare.

45:

Ahhh, my favorite US Customs story was in 1996 when I flew from Hong Kong via Narita (Japan) to Hawaii, to meet my then girlfriend in Hawaii for a vacation. I didn't get much sleep on the HK to Narita leg, and I had a 12 hour stopover in Narita (and at which I probably imbibed too much at United's Akibono Lounge). Note to self: alcohol will not help you sleep airplanes. So I didn't get any sleep on the Narita to Hawaii leg of the flight, either.

Now it's important for the plot of my story that I tell you the following...

On the second leg of the flight, I had a little "accident" -- something I ate at the Akibono had given me a case of the trots and I didn't quite make it to the toilet in time. Luckily, I had carry-on luggage, so I was able to change into clean pair of underwear and stash my soiled underwear in plastic bag in my suitcase. I always carry a couple of sturdy plastic bags (the kind that airport stores give you) when I travel, for just such emergencies.

Upon my arrival in Hawaii, I probably looked pretty disreputable. I'm sure I was doing my best imitation of a zombie at that point. I encountered a prissy female customs agent (with an anachronistic bouffant hairdo and long one-inch nails). She took my passport and asked where I had been the 6 months before my last visit to the States. I mumbled off a few countries (China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Australia). She then asked me what dates I had been in these countries. I said I didn't remember, but, if she would hand my passport back to me, I could probably figure out the dates. "Why can't you remember the dates you were in these countries, sir?!" I explained that, even if I wasn't sleep-deprived for 48-hours, and even if I didn't have an absurdly high blood alcohol level from drinking like a fish, I *still* wouldn't have been able to give her my travel dates. They're just not things I tend to remember. I asked her if she would be able remember the exact dates of a vacation took six months back. That was the WRONG thing to say. I could see her flush in anger. "Sir, I'm going to have to INSPECT your luggage."

She started tearing through my clothes, dumping them out on a table. Searching pockets, searching the bag for hidden compartments. Then she reached the plastic bag that held my soiled underwear. I swear to you that a little devil actually appeared on my left shoulder and said "do it!" ;-). As she reached for the bag, I said: "Oh, I wouldn't touch that if I were you..." I'm sure visions of heroin and afghani hash danced in her head. She actually looked triumphant as she reached into the bag. At which I point I said: "...because my underwear are stained with diarrhea poop." She shrieked in disgust, and she ran off towards the rest rooms. As she ran away, I asked quite politely if she wanted me to wait for her to return. "Just get out!" was her response. That was one of my most enjoyable customs encounters. They wear gloves nowadays, so I won't be so lucky next time...

46:

One final indignity if you are forced to book a flight to book a flight to visit a dying relative, the airlines charge you the lowest price available, rather than a bereavement fare like they used to. I had to shell out $3,700 to book a return flight across the Atlantic last year and I am still better about it. I'm lucky enough to have been able to afford it but that's nasty.

47:

I'm never packing Christmas presents in my checked baggage again.

We got caught in the snow chaos flying Lufthansa from Japan to England last December, and ended up spending three nights in Frankfurt hotels before finally getting the last seats on the last flight to London to make it out of Frankfurt before the runways were closed again on the fourth day (and to get those I had to roust the kids out of bed at 4 a.m. in order to be within a couple of hours of the front of the queue for when the airport desks opened at 5). We arrived in London City on December 21, but our four checked bags apparently didn't make it to the UK until some time after Christmas. One was delivered on New Year's Day, one the day before we left to go back to Japan on January 5, one was sent back to Japan a couple of days after us, and a courier company tried to deliver the final one to my parents' home in mid-January, after which it took another week for it finally to get sent back to Osaka. Of course, that was the one that had the entire family's Christmas presents in it.

I hung on until the morning of Christmas Eve in the hopes that Santa might make it with the bags in time, but ended up having to park the kids with relatives and spend a horrendous day in packed shopping centers, finding alternative presents and stocking fillers for everyone. Next time we fly home for Christmas, all presents are going to be small enough to fit in a single carry-on, along with a basic change of clothes for the kids at least. (Ever tried persuading two very bored, very active boys NOT to play in the snow for three whole days, because they've got nothing to change into once they get wet?)

48:

Two flying horror stories/words of warning:

The first was a business trip, round the world, visiting various different locales for a day or a two at a time. Lesson learnt is that even with business class, your brain takes a walk eventually (for me somewhere between Sydney and Adelaide). Mislaid things and I hate to think what I said in the meetings. Forget normal jetlag, the feeling of compounded jetlag is worse.

The other is flying back into what was supposed to be LHR. However the airport was closed due to fog/ice and we ended up at s*dding Newcastle, where the pilot ran out of hours waiting for it to clear. So we ended up being given a ticket to go by train down to the south east - and to cap it, they had lost the luggage so I was stuck with the light-weight clothing I had been wearing, the whole way down.

Whenever I hear of someone losing it at an airport, I have sympathy for the passenger, not the airline staff that call in police bullyboys for someone who probably has every reason for being p*ssed off.

49:

I'll be flying back to the UK from Canada later this year and, right now, I am planning on doing whatever I can to avoid London. Probably fly into Manchester as I have family in that area and will be flying back from Amsterdam after visiting friends there. I cannot agree with you more about Heathrow & Gatwick. They have become increasingly execrable each and every time I've had to use them. If Manchester doesn't work out I'll probably fly into Paris, stay the night and then train or fly to LCY as well. Not that the experience of departing from Canadian airports is that wonderful. Fees for everything and then a bit more. I might well be better off throwing myself into the welcoming arms of the TSA and flying from Seattle.

50:

I had my best and then my potentially worst (and fatal) trip to Europe and back in 1991. I flew out and sort of flew back to Montreal on a now defunct airline called Nationair.

The nice thing about Nationair is that they had upgraded seat sales at the last minute before boarding. If a passenger hadn't shown up for their first class or their "imperial" class or if no customer had been found for the seats you could get them for a few hundred dollars more, if you were on the spot, right near the counter. That's how I flew in the upper deck "imperial" class of a relatively new 747 from my flight from Montreal to Paris that year.

Ever since Nationair folded I've been looking for airlines which hold such last minute "on the spot" upgrade sales but to no avail.

They folded because they were too lax on regular maintenance. My return trip from Paris was on a very old DC-8 and it was a good example of the results of poor maintenance. About midway across the Atlantic we lost one of the four engines and we had to land at Gander, Newfoundland, which is an out of the way island spot as you could dream up, except for some of the small strips up in our Arctic regions. We didn't physically lose the engine though. It simply stopped working and would not start again.

The really funny thing here is that when the pilot announced we would have to land at Gander everyone was mad as hell for this big delay. I wasn't mad, I was scared! I knew that if one engine failed there was a good chance another one could on an old clunker like this one and that if it failed on the same wing we might not make it to Gander.

When we landed at Gander everyone was still mad, grumbling at being late. I was as happy as I'd never been any time before in my life. Saved! When we were taxiing to the terminal I could see a big Aeroflot jet on the tamac, one of those that made the regular Moscow-Havana trip with refueling at Gander. Standing right in front of the plane there was this fellow who looked like a pilot. When we rolled close enough to him he turned towards our cockpit area, lifted his arms, crossed them and made a sort of victory sign. Nice work guys!

Anyway, do any of you know about last-minute or last-second first/business/imperial class sales practices? Preferably on airlines that don't lose their engines.

51:

@ 7, 10
"Data Search"?
Uh?
Explain, please.

@ 17
Well, I had never flown AT ALL, until 6 years back.
Even now, I only do it once a year, and then because the high-speed network doesn't do through to either Köln or Amsterdam services yet.
Generally, as charlie says in #18 - unless you are rich
DON'T FLY.
As for "security" - the tiny metal tags on my trouser-zips set the scanners off EVERY TIME.
Sigh.

@ 37
Disagree about "security"
Yes, they are "just doing their job"
So were: "Ich war nur meinem Befehlen zu folgen" ...
AND they are working for idiots who hire them, and do it on the cheap, and they tend to be ignorant bullies.
Which is why we can't have proper profililng, like Charlie says.
... #44 - precisely!

@ 49
Gander is like Shannon
It's there from the days when the RANGE of planes isn't what it is now, so you crossed the Atlantic in shorter hops.

52:

Weirdly, my experiences of the TSA in Seattle and Portland have been uniformly good. Probably because they recruit locally and the local organization culture has a huge impact on the attitude of the employees -- at some hubs they're pocket Gestapo, while at others (notably the Pacific North-West) they're actively helpful and friendly. At least in my direction, for whatever reason ...

53:

The folding keyboard you're remembering is the Think Outside one -- a bluetooth version exists as well. It's the predecessor to the iGo Stowaway (the same people designed it) and aside from being a bit rattly and needing a level surface beneath it, it's a brilliant piece of kit. I own two ...

Seatguru are the people who recommended the aisle seats in the tail of the A380. That's a big black mark against them in my book.

54:

OK, so I'll put a few of my favourite tips. I travel a huge amount, used to be mostly intercontinental, nowadays only shorter hops in Europe. It's all glamour and babes.

Money. Charlie is right, spend the money. If you fly, don't just go for the £10 ticket on Easyjet/Ryanair etc. They are horrible experiences and deeply unpleasant, even if you are in no rush and happy to sit anywhere. Just been knocked over on the way to the gate by an over-eager idiot and having ripped trousers and a bleeding knee takes all the fun out of the flight. Or perhaps you would prefer catching animal fleas from an Easyjet flight back from Berlin? (I was covered with infected bites from ankles to knees) Or on another flight, being locked by the staff into a waiting room (along with 200 other passengers) because the flight was late, we were already processed and they had other flights to deal with. In the end we had to get the German federal police to get the doors open - desperate people were urinating in the corner.

Time. Give yourself a huge amount of time. See the journey as a day trip at the very least. You need to be at the airport a good long time before check-in closes. From painful experience, I make sure I'm at security *two hours* beforehand. Sounds really slow, but I have missed flights (and critical meetings) because I've cut it just too late. Remember, security is a cost to the airport owners or authorities - they don't invest in equipment and so it breaks down regularly.

Luggage. Don't try to take liquids (i.e. your washbag) in your hand luggage. Check it all in. You can put all your normal bathroom products in the bag, no 100ml limits. At the arrival, I never seem to wait more than 15 minutes for the checked-in bag. That said, I've lost my luggage twice in the last couple of years (I seem to be lucky but I make sure I retrieve my luggage at each sector, so I am only gambling on each single flight and not follow-on transfers). Also, put a shirt and underwear in your carry-on. Everything else is easy to maintain for a day or two while you hunt down emergency replacements.

Lounges. Best advice I was ever given - get a Diner's Club card. I don't know of anywhere you can use it to buy things anymore, but for the card's annual fee you get half price entry to airport lounges just about everywhere. Pays for itself if you travel more than once a year. On the days you get there early and have a huge wait - you can really relax in the quiet (and it's the noise that actually stresses you out in an airport - peace and calm is really worth paying for).

Peace and Quiet: find it. There are bars, shops, restaurants and other spaces in every airport that are much quieter than the main concourses. If you don't get into an executive lounge, you can still find somewhere you can pause and take a deep breath. You'll be less stressed when you do have to put up with the crap.

Blood sugar. Do maintain it. Many people find themselves getting stressed when their blood sugar gets low. You know the kind of thing, you are tired, exhausted and cranky. Eliminate the cranky with some tactically eaten boiled sweets or mints. :-)

Jet Lag. Do not nap. Have a single looooong day, or a short day and a full sleep. Then stay awake to the proper bedtime. You'll struggle - but you move your body clock around much faster than any other method (I've tried everything). In the end, nothing really works, including drugs, just forcing the clock around quickly.

That's the short form. I have more if you like?

55:

There's a reason why, in the bits of stories I've written (not fanfics, but you could put them at that literary level), the airline my characters use treats getting things right as a religious duty. Why take a chance on pissing off the Thunderbird?

56:

I can relate to the waiting room. Was at Charles de Gaulle in Paris late last year when snowvember hit. Our 10pm flight kept being displayed as "On Time" right up until the point we were processed and put in the waiting "room" (an area surrounding the gate fenced by floor to ceiling plastic screens) when suddenly it was delayed by an hour. This happened 3 times in all, there were 200 or so people stuck in this cramped area with about 50 seats and one coffee machine. French airport personal couldnt give a flying f***. One guy literally had to threaten that his child would wee on the gate unless they let them out to use a toilet.

Horrible experience, airports are so obsessed by security and procedure that all passengers are treated like potentially dangerous cargo.

57:

I agree with Charlie's point about the US border goons. The last time I went to the US, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Immigration & Customs Enforcement people were less authoritarian and officious than ours. I'd mentally prepared to be insulted, harassed, obstructed and possibly refused entry, having read all the horror stories, but no. It may be that a lot of complaining about them is down to overentitled whining about having to fill in the fucking form like an immigrant rather than a perfect individual snowflake.

Of course, the British version of this is the now-traditional Celebrity Gets Drunk On Flight, Freaks Out At Immigration Control story where someone chucks a Madonna when they discover that being an American, or just famous, doesn't exempt you from filling out the yellow landing card, and that laying hands on the cops will reliably put you in Twickenham magistrates' court the next day.

But you can't really complain about people taking offence when you put enormous UK BORDER signs everywhere. The new ones in Heathrow 4 are even BLACK because apparently the original police blue wasn't sinister enough or something. The US equivalent says "Welcome to the United States". They also (at MCO) run a video by the queue detailing precisely what questions will be asked and what documents required, a practice I'd strongly recommend elsewhere. I'm off to San Francisco in a few weeks, so I'll no doubt find out whether the team at MCO are unusually sensible...

58:

In 1990 I flew (as passenger) into Romania, diverted away from Tarom to a smaller airfield, we almost hit a couple of dogs on the runway, taxied along past the burned-out wreckage of a passenger aircraft, and were deplaned into an empty hangar to wait for a bus to Otopi. I was spotted smoking(*) a hand-rolled cigarette, detained and searched by increasingly sympathetic and friendly guards (they'd mistaken my cigarette for something else) who eventually fed me, filled me up with wine and loaded me up with packs of local cigarettes. We tried to play chess but I "play like a child"- as one noted. I had a whale of a time and made some instant friends there - I think the whole country was light-headed about the sudden change of government but never have I been so well-treated and made to feel at home as when I was arrested by Romanian commandos!

(*)I know, it's a filthy habit, it'll kill me and might kill someone else. I know.

In Scotland, Campbeltown is a cool place to fly to - tiny Twin Otter over Arran from Glasgow, to one of the smallest airports with one of the largest runways. In good weather there's stunning views on the way, and in bad weather you'll probably be okay if you're not in a Chinook.

Met by fire tender, the crew of which then all swap jackets, unload your plane, then put on yet another set of jackets and process the passengers. Then for all I know they all clock off and re-appear as cabdrivers outside.

59:

minor correction`1st sentence - "diverted away by Tarom" not "from" ..

60:

It seems that sticking to the expensive carriers will not guarantee freedom from extra passengers.

In my own experience, I will gladly fly easyJet but not Ryanair. The former comes across as "cheap and cheerful", and the staff seem pretty happy in their work which leads to a better experience for the passenger. Ryanair on the other hand leave you with an impression that they are "cheap and nasty". They seem to want to make the customers miserable.

The other European budget carriers I've used (Germanwings, Norwegian and FlyBe) were excellent, as were Southwest in the US (but I haven't used them for over a decade).

61:

Nothing recent, but I remember one time in the security queue at Thiefrow, "security" decides he'd better do some shoe x-rays. I was wearing thin-heeled trainers (this effectively gives you an extra inch of legroom, which helps a lot in veal-crate class at my height). The 2 passengers ahead of me were a woman wearing 4" wedge-heels and a guy wearing expensive hand-made Italian loafers. So "security" (now you'll see why I'm using quotation marks) asks to x-ray my trainers and the loafers, and ignores the wedges that there's actually space to put bomb-makings and/or a plastic/ceramic gun in!

62:

#57 Paras 2 and 3 - If you can find a reason, try a trip to Barra. Same TwOtter type, but it lands and takes off from a beach, with vast clouds of spray if it goes through one of the depressions that hasn't drained out fully. Oh yes and flight departure times are variable due to the tide.

#59 - Comparing the attitudes of easyJet and RyanAir's MDs, I'm not surprised. I'd suggest it's a cultural systemic that's led from the top. About the one route I'd consider travelling RyanAir on is Prestwick-Shannon, and that's because any other flight central Scotland - Shannon involves a change at Dublin, and at least a 2 hour wait.

63:

I've done Australia - Europe more times than I care to remember unless you really need to be there directly its always worth taking a day or two wherever the plane puts down on the way, a couple of shorter flights with a good night's sleep to break them up is far more comfortable. IMO the Asian airlines (Singapore, Thai) have much better service than European and I avoid the American carriers unless there's no other option.

I don't have any horror stories myself but my farther did some work for the Council of Europe advising the Albanians when they were putting their new constitution together in the 90's. I'm told they've since built a new airport but at the time they couldn't handle the larger aircraft so everyone would fly into Rome, transfer to a smaller plane and on to Tirana where the terminal wasn't much more than a shed and a couple of guys would walk down the runway after the plane landed to sweep off the concrete broken up by the landing. On the occasion they lost his luggage he found out the only means of communication they had with the outside world was a single fax machine - understandably it took them longer than the week he was there to find his luggage - he didn't see it again until he'd been home a fortnight.

64:

CDG... Better than Heathrow? What?

Now, I spend many hours at CDG. At least once a month I usually spend a couple of hours there, sometimes more often. T2B is a glorified bus station, with all the amenities of a bus station. T2E, is all shiny and new, and has all those glitzy upmarket designer shops... But have you tried to eat there?

Considering they are the self confessed gastronomic capital of the local spiral arm, T2E is a disgrace. A cafeteria style eatery serving microwave reheated mush. Awful. No other word for it.

And don't get me started on the sullen passport control staff (usually only 2 on duty in a bank of 15 mostly empty booths, just as two planeloads of people from Ivory Coast arrive all needing long examination of their passports)

Compare what is available in Heathrow T5. Lots of eating and drinking options places to sit, and passport control that actually works reasonably efficiently. (OK I grant you T3 could be improved immensely by a 7.2 richter earthquake)

Though my favourite European hub right now is Schiphol, which has many eating options, free wifi somewhere comfortable to sit and use it, and efficient security and border people.

But CDG? Armpit of the universe.

65:

This is clearly a different Terminal 2E at CDG than the one I was in on Saturday.

Even a vegan like me had two options: the place on the main floor next to the lifts which go up to the food court and down to the lounge, does restaurant food including clearly marked vegetarian and gluten-free options. One of the vegetarian main courses was clearly vegan, too.

The other option is new. There's a branch of the Belgian chain Exki near gate 41. Now, this is a cafeteria style operation, with pre-prepared food, but the emphasis is on freshness. Their salads are beautiful. This branch doesn't have the thorough labelling of their shops in Belgium, but I still had a choice of things to eat. I have never been in the food court upstairs, as the downstairs options are so good. And there are usually suitable sandwiches in the lounge, too.

Compare to Heathrow, where there are currently next to no vegan options to be had at all seeing as Pret a Manger's veggie sushi currently contains egg. There's the Caffe Nero pasta, but that is basically a (good) microwaveable ready meal. There's the same choice for me at London City, minus the compulsory rapescan.

There is absolutely nothing at AMS since Starbucks stopped doing the hummous sandwich and the sushi place added pointless egg to the veggie sushi (and even that was not available last time I was there in November).

66:

We generally use T2E at CDG because we're using it as a hub for connecting us to other continents. My wife finds it has better eating than most terminals (she's vegan: at lots of other airports she's SOL). We have lounge access (being Sky Team frequent flyers) and mostly ignore the overpriced shops. Your point about passport control is taken, but is basically an organizational/staffing issue that should be fixable.

T5, last time I saw it, had no vegan eating options, no non-lounge seating (they want you to shop 'til you drop: seats get in the way of storefronts and therefore reduce profits), and security checkpoints with the intrusive pervert scanners. (Which I am worried about because we have been systematically lied to about the epidermal X-ray dose they're subjecting us to.)

Schiphol is indeed excellent except for the Food Fail. The one problem is that KLM are a lot worse than Air France at catering for people with special dietary needs (cheese is apparently okay for vegans) and worse, KLM code-shares with NorthWest, which means on trans-Atlantic routes you end up flying on an American airline, which means the service and quality invariably suck (compared to a full-service European flag-carrier, which is what we're paying for).

67:

There are regular express coach services that run between Gatwick and Heathrow and Stansted, a lot better option than going through Central London on regular public transport.

68:

BTDT.

All it takes is one traffic accident on the M25 and your three hour transfer suddenly turns into a missed connection.

69:

I always travel with a lot of reading and a sense of humor. (The iPad helps with the former.)

And I prefer the east bound daytime flights across the atlantic, so I have a wretched 3:45 AM wake up for a 6:10 flight to IAD for United 922 to LHR. Why not Newark? United has the legroom I require in economy plus. I hope the merger doesn't kill this.

I still love to look out the window, and seatguru is quite good for spotting the window seats that work.

That jet stream has been a bitch. It took over eight hours to fly LHR to IAD about four weeks ago, and about 6.5 hours EWR to SFO. The return trip was nice.

70:

I have a piece of advice that I am willing to bet you will not take.

Get a good business suit and use it for travelling.

First, you get treated much better. It's astounding, in fact, even if you're flying coach on an airline where you have no perks. But it isn't just at the airport; people treat you better everywhere; they just assume that you are a Serious Person, even without a necktie.

Second, if you get a good one, you can get all sorts of pocket space for pretty much everything save a laptop. The coat pockets work better than cargo pants --- and I speak as someone who used to wear BDUs.

Third, also assuming you've gotten a good wool suit, with a high thread count, the things are remarkably resistant to dirt or being rolled up and scrunched into the bottom of a small backpack.

Finally, and here is where an astoundingly large portion of the Western world simply refuses to believe me: as long as you can lose the tie, suits really are as comfortable as casual clothes, except when the outside temperature rises above 25 degrees C. (Unless humidity levels are low, in which case that number rises to 30.)

In fact, if you can splurge on a superlightweight summer suit you can get ones that are bearable up to 35 degrees. Best is that new Zegna material that they call "nanotech" but really isn't. The Zegnas are amazing --- I've worn 'em on oil rigs in Oklahoma, the Afghan-Pakistan border, and along pipelines in Colombia. They resist mud, wrinkling, and the tropical sun. Better living through chemistry!

In the name of disclosure, there is one downside, which is that you look a silly wearing sneakers with them. Still, it is increasingly done, and I regularly wear them with my last two pairs of old-style black-leather Army-issue combat boots.

So ... confort, convenience, and style ... with style meaning that you get treated better in the most non-subjective way. What's not to like?

And there you have the latest installment in Advice People Are Not Going to Take. In my defense, you did ask.

71:

A good point - I once had a circa 1 hour drive from Thiefrow to my hotel turn into a 3 hour drive due to a broken down bus in lane 1 about half a mile after I joined the M25. The 1st/2nd gear crawl had made it down almost to the airport roads.

72:

Bah. We had something like that on our way back from Glasgow, passing through O'Hare. We'd not allowed for enough time between landing and our connecting flight's takeoff time, and so we were forced to wait in the airport for three hours (missing a dinner date with my in-laws).

Our original connecting flight was delayed at the gate anyway, by 45 minutes (it's O'Hare. Nothing gets done on time there), meaning we could have easily made it if the assholes running American Airlines' desk had let us in.

Funny how AA's online reservation system didn't warn us that we needed more time beforehand, so we could have planned better.

73:

@ A380s - I've flown them LHR-Singapore en route to NZ a few times now, the best cheap seats are the front of the upstairs economy area, quiet because only business class in front, and your own galley & toilets at the back. OTOH, the back of that section is horrible, people walking past at all times and no storage as said by OGH. On the bright side, the screaming kids tend to be downstairs in cattle, and you get to use the executive boarding area as all the 1st & 2nd class is upstairs with you.
Also, Changi airport is one of the nicest places I've ever been, with proper food available cheaply, and some really good garden areas to just sit and recover by.

@27 Peanuts are hard to come by now, too big a chance of someone with a nut allergy suing the airlines so its all that asian multicoloured birdfood instead.
On one United flight I had a steward ask me not to eat the snacks I had packed as one contained peanuts and they couldn't take the risk.

Oh, top tip, many airlines these days let you specify meal choices as part of booking your ticket.
Singapore for example has something like 23 different choices, all the way down to raw food vegan which is fantastic if you have particular preferences.

74:

Say, Charlie, what sends posts to moderation? A screed on behalf of the leisure suit seemed about as anodyne as could be.

75:

Just remembered: that connecting flight (MD-80) which we got bumped to had a malfunctioning auxiliary power unit. So the engines couldn't start, and we were sitting at the terminal for half an hour in 100-degree heat until someone finally got over there with an engine-start truck.

Did the stews pass out water? Hell no. Did they let us back into the terminal so we wouldn't pass out from the heat? Hell no.

The trip from ORD to GLA was also hellish. 'Twas a red-eye, going against the jetstream, so the flight was about 15 hours. Couldn't sleep a wink because of this jerk who kept ringing the stew-attention buzzer, and because one of the stews kept getting into the overhead compartment above my seat. Naturally, (hail Eris) customs decided to give us a hard time once we'd landed because we had the temerity to not plan on staying in one place for the entire two weeks; the idea was go where the wind took us. Alas, HM Customs has no time for romantic ideas.

76:

I can't place ORD off-hand. On the assumption that it's in the USA, flights to Glasgow are normally with jetstream or neutral (amongst other people, I work with air traffic controllers, so I actually do know this).

77:

ORD is Chicago O'Hare.

You're correct, the jetstream is going towards GLA from my direction. So reassign that part of the rant to the homecoming portion, with the unnecessary 3-hour layover at ORD. :)

78:

ORD -> O'Hare International, in Chicago.

One of the largest airports in the world.

When we passed through on the way back from Memphis (lo, this 14 years ago), the Duty Free in the international departures terminal was a kiosk - literally, you asked the server for whatever it was you wanted, paid, and they'd have it delivered to the plane.

We were gob-smacked.

79:

I'm still naive enough to enjoy flying in any kind of aircraft, despite not having sinuses worthy of the name (so I spend the climb and descent making chewing motions to relive the pressure).
However, I have discovered two things:
If you *have to* keep some kind of tool on you at all times, then a utilikey will pass security (of course, if it is noticed you'll probably never be allowed to fly again). Also, if you do leave it on your keyring by mistake, don't announce loudly "oh sht I brought a knife on the plane".

An ebook reader will significantly cut down on your luggage if like me you get through a book every couple of days on holiday.

80:

We had a bad spam attack last week, just as I set off on my travels. So I tweaked the dial on the automatic filters to hold anything with more than one URL or anything remotely suspicious. Once I've added another moderator or two I'll cut the filtering severity back down a notch (humans are better than robots at detecting spammers).

Also, there's a regexp I need to prune (it nails one particular spammer but may cause collateral damage).

81:

It doesn't even take a suit: a reasonable sports jacket works, worn over jeans and a tee-shirt.

Got me bumped to business class once.

Alas, it doesn't work so well when you're travelling light and going somewhere that requires layerable clothing because the temperature is going to vary by +/- 25 degrees celsius during your trip.

82:

coach services[...]better option

I don't do buses if I can avoid it. I'd rather be standing on the Piccadilly line. Also what Charlie said about road accidents and traffic jams.

(The bad disconnection I did was between Stansted and London City - avoiding central London was not an option.)

The problem with plane disconnections at different airports isn't really the suckiness of the transport options, but the "oh god will I get there on time".

83:

Charlie @ 66
I couldn't care less about the "rapescanners" (if they are what I think they are) PROVIDED it means that I can just walk striaght through "security" without all the fucking hassle I get EVERY TIME - in spite of always wearing a really nice tweed jacket.
BUT
I'm bothered about your claim of peripheral surface x-rays or similar.
Radiation damage isn't a nice idea.
Any more solid information on that, please?

@ 79"Utilikey" - maybe.
Obvious place to put it is keyring, actually, because there is so much other metal there.
Mind you, I once had to explain my carriage-key to one airport security moron......
I ALWAYS (except when I'm flying) carry a big Swiss Army knife.
Not having it on a plane - because it's in hold baggage - makes me twitchy.

84:

I've had to fly a lot in the last 3 years, to the US and Europe, mostly for work and a ridiculously long-distance relationship when my girlfriend lived in the midwest. This was all mostly with BA and Lufthansa, and whatever US regional carrier happened to be going in the right direction.

The thing is, I've had no real horror stories. The volcano, the snow hiccup, bad fog at LHR, snow at ORD, and something unexplained but apparently meteorological at Albuquerque have all disrupted flights, but I find it hard to blame the airlines for that. American officialdom has been on the whole ok, except for one CBP official who demanded to know how I could sustain a relationship over 6 timezones, and a business trip where I got "randomly" selected for an extra pat-down on every single flight over a 2-week period.

Furthermore, I even like LHR T5. Hate the rest of LHR with a passion, but T5 is easy to get to - coming in from the M40 or M4, anyway - and actually reasonably efficient and well-planned (in my experience - I just wish the last flight home would end at a stand rather than a bus). I'm also a little baffled by some of the comments because there's a lot of non-lounge seating in the main terminal and satellite terminal B, both in the middle -ok, surrounded by a million shops you don't wish to visit- and at the actual gates. I flew out just under a fortnight ago and just had the usual tedious x-ray and metal-detector, is there a laptop in here sir, check, but no porn-scan.

My long-distance survival tactics usually amounted to wearing a suit, or decent jacket at least, because that resulted in at least two upgrades and provides lots of pockets, an ipod touch, and getting up, walking to the galley and looking out of the window at least a couple of times during the flight, especially over Greenland. That part was enjoyable, at least.

85:

iGo Stowaway® Ultra-Slim Bluetooth® Keyboard
Note: This product has been discontinued. For product support, please click somewhere or other.

86:

The key thing about the express coaches serving the London orbital airports is that they go airport to airport, from Gatwick North to Heathrow Coach station next to T1 to Stansted. No dragging wheelie bags from train platforms down into the Tube on escalators and then back up again, no multiple changes and tickets and general faffing about, just sit back, fire up the free Wifi and zone out until the bus stops at your destination.

87:

About your desire for longer connections times....
I think that at one point there were overnight trains from Edinburgh to London... I'm wondering (as a Canadian, where everything is far away from everything, and the trains have mostly died) if it was even theoretically possible to get to ParisCDG on an overnight train via the Chunnel?
If you are going to give up an extra 12 hours of travel time, why not give up an entire airplane flight (and resulting CO2).

Okay, I understand all the stupid parts: single hop tickets are always more expensive than indirect tickets, the train schedules don't work like that, the airlines haven't figured out how to do the baggage scan and ticketing on the trains (when you have nothing else to do), etc.

I'm asking if the distance/travel time would have permitted it.

(me, travelling YUL->PRG, then train to Milano/Firenze/Roma, then home in a month, bringing 5 year-old, wife and mother-in-law...)

88:

'Zackly.

It left an enormous gap in the market. Don't talk to me about the fold-in-half "Freedom" keyboard and relatives -- they're grotesquely inferior: Think Outside made a superior product with proper keyswitches, and they're now worth more than they were when they were new. Hens' teeth.

I gather a new folding bluetooth keyboard is in the works for Q2 this year, but whether it lives up to the previous ...

89:

The ScotRail sleeper service is indeed still available; trains depart Edinburgh Waverley at 2230 and arrive at Euston around 0710 the next morning. A sleeper berth in a two-person cabin costs around £25 more than a second class ticket; for £40-50 on top of the regular rail fare you can have a cabin to yourself.

I made extensive use of them some years ago, but when Railtrack PLC decided to siphon their maintenance budget off to the shareholders (in the run-up to the Potter's Bar disaster) the ride quality went to hell in a handbasket and I stopped doing that -- this coincided with competition on the EDI-LCY route, which was cheaper and faster.

It should be possible to do EDI-Paris by train. Sleeper to Euston, then a 300-metre stroll to St Pancras for the EuroStar.

Alas, the combined cost of a ScotRail Sleeper and a Eurostar ticket, second class return, is on the close order of a full-up trans-Atlantic airline ride. And if you add the 3 hour Eurostar ride on top of the sleeper, you'll be lucky to do the trip in less than 18 hours one-way.

East Coast Main Line rail service (running at up to 140mph between station) plus Eurostar would still take four and a half hours EDI-LON -- the intermediate station stops soak up most of an hour -- then three and a half hours LON-Paris. Again, this is not a win compared to two hours for check-in at an airport then 90 minutes in the air.

And I've seen figures suggesting that the CO2 emissions saving from using high speed rail over going by airliner is approximately zero. Those trains weigh a lot more than flimsy aircraft.

90:

Talking about missed connections, there was someone once who was well in time for their flight, only to realise that they'd driven to the wrong London airport...

91:

that jet lag tip.. thats what I do when changing shfts from days to nights

92:

You had, as I recall, a Green Car JR pass the first time you wet to Japan. JR East's new 300km/hr Hayabusa service from Tokyo up to Aomori is topping that with something they're calling Gran Class, a step up from Green Car service.

http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/aomori/granclass.html

The ticket price is an eye-watering 26,000 yen or a bit over 200 quid one way for a 670km journey.

93:

I tend to do transatlantic flights every year for Ubuntu summits in the US and I think all of my travel experience could boil down to two general factors:

1) Preparation
2) Attitude

It never ceases to amaze me that people so frequently fall far outside these, from simple things like arriving at the airport metal detector without having emptied any of their pockets or apparently even slightly considered what metal they might have about their person, to people who *explode* at airport/airline staff when anything goes wrong with their plans.
If you keep your cool and arrive at every stage of your journey fully prepared for it, your journeys will be smoother and happier.

In terms of specifics, the tech gear I keep in my carry-on luggage:

* laptop (I hate the idea of it going in the hold, and I'm bringing it for work)
* iPad (a recent addition which absolutely destroys the laptop as an in-flight entertainment/work device)
* active noise cancelling headphones (an utter delight on any flight, I keep them on even if I'm not
watching a movie or listening to music)

my passport, wallet, address I'm staying at and my iPhone stay inside the zipped pockets of my shorts/trousers. These days I grab the iPad and headphones from my bag as I'm boarding the plane, then stash the bag in an overhead bin. The iPad slips into the seat-back pocket and I get all the legroom. I used to keep the bag down there so I could get my laptop out without disturbing people next to me (I always try for a window seat because I don't need the loo very much and dislike being disturbed).

Not sold on the bluetooth keyboard plan - with my iPad in the official case I can have it in the nearly-flat configuration and type pretty quickly. The viewing angle on the screen isn't great if I'm leaning back in my seat, but I can read what's on screen sufficiently.

94:

Different airlines have different booze policies; BA had free unlimited spirits in cattle class - at least I drank as much Bacardi and Coke as I wanted

One of my worst flights was a (short) hop on Air Canada business class. The guy behind was loading up on the free booze — "rum and coke, hold the coke" at least half a dozen times — and got belligerently pissed. Any attempt to recline the seat got answered with a massive shove back to vertical, and much violent swearing.

So I'm a bit leery of unlimited booze (leaving aside it being a 'free' benefit I'd be paying for with my ticket, like the mass of the guy that weighs double what I do and still gets the same suitcase allowance).

95:

The aggressive drunk thing is a sign of the cabin crew not doing their job quite right -- not only are they allowed to say "no more booze", they're pretty much required to (it's actually a criminal offence to be drunk on board an airliner). Normally the plan is to use it -- along with the meal -- as a sedative, then turn the heat up a little and encourage the well-fed and irrigated passengers to snooze.

96:

Charlie: "And I've seen figures suggesting that the CO2 emissions saving from using high speed rail over going by airliner is approximately zero. Those trains weigh a lot more than flimsy aircraft."

Not in France, where nuclear is the main power source and hydroelectric does much of the rest. Even when compared in megaJoules/passenger-km the TGV is about ten times better than aircraft, at 0.15 MJ/psgr-km vs 1.4 MJ/psgr-km for typical passenger jets, so trains win even when powered by fossil-fueled electric plants:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_efficiency_in_transportation

Granted, TGVs weigh more than 747s, but aerodynamic losses are an order of magnitude lower and steel wheels are _quite_ efficient.

97:

Oh, I had something like that when I was consulting. I had two clients simultaneously in Milwaukee and rented a short-term apartment instead of taking hotel rooms. I went there every week for six months and got to know the airplane staff. One morning, very early, I was at Dulles and got on a plane. It was only after I was on and couldn't get off that I realized I was going to Milwaukee instead of Atlanta. The attendants didn't notice, either, because I'd been there the same time for so many weeks. When we got to Milwaukee, I got a hotel room and called my Atlanta client to let him know I'd be a day late. At least he laughed.

And speaking of local airports today, a plane from National had a bird fly in the engine while it took off, damaging the engine. They made a safe landing at Dulles.

98:

I didn't have a scan at LHR T5 last week, it was all standard metal detectors. Although I have opted for them when they were trialling them because it meant a pass through the serpentine security lines there.

While BA have lost my bags and been late, I've had bags lost by Alaskan, United and AA, so I can't get upset with that. As for on time, heh, likewise I've been late with most of the Us carriers and several of the flag carriers including SAS, Lufthansa and Quantas... So again, none of the airlines really appeal.

I ended up rather tied to them because a) I lived 25 minutes drive from LHR and b) they're the only direct flight to Seattle and when you're doing 12+ trips a year, the 14 hours door to door versus nearly 20 with a change makes a HUGE difference. I've finally spent all my accolades miles and rumor has it Virgin are starting a London -Seattle run, although their Economy Class sucks too.

I think, on balance, the moral of this story is flying sucks, long haul economy sucks even more and the only sane why to travel, under which all airports are nice (Hong Kong especially so) is to fly Biz Class...

99:

Likewise my experience of Immigration and Customs at SeaTac has been excellent, probably, as Charlie says because they have two 800lb gorillas in the local economy and the staff know where the regional bread is buttered.

I'm fairly stoic about TSA nonsense because, well, there isn't much else to be. I did 5 consecutive internal flights on a Business trip with the XXXX of colossal aggravation on my boarding card. By full search #4 we were all joking about it.

100:

#76 & 77 - Thanks guys; I'll probably know that one for evermore as well now! And bad luck about fighting the jet stream West; Atlantic House normally try and route West-bound flights out of it.

#81 et seq ref "dress code" - Normally, I travel for business, and go one way in tee-shirt and cargo pants, and the other in a dress shirt and slacks. It seems to make no real difference to how I'm treated at GLA and LHR. OTOH I know one couple who got upgraded on Miami - LHR when she was wearing a tee-shirt with a full chest print that read "1 tequila, 2 tequila, 3 tequila, floor!"

101:

If you're flying on Quantas/Emirates/Singapore - another useful comparison between the 747 and A380 is that 747s only tend to have an AC power outlet in Business/Club class where as A380s have individual AC outlets on all economy seats.

Very handy if you plan on working/watching/reading/playing rather than sleeping.

Air France, for some reason, don't have AC outlets on all seats on their A380.

102:

The nuclear picture changes the carbon emissions for high speed rail quite significantly, yes. And airliners aren't really amenable to nuclear propulsion, the planned upgrade for the Saunders-Roe Princess notwithstanding.

(But it only works if you've already invested in the nuclear infrastructure. As British governments since 1986 have only taken an interest in nuclear power when faced with an oil crisis, this is annoyingly unlikely to work in the UK in the near term. Much more likely is a buttload of erratic wind farms, using millions of parked plug-in hybrids as batteries to smooth out the spikes in the base load.)

103:

In the end, the best use of the erratic (but over a sufficient period, reliable) windfarm might be to provide the input to produce synthetic liquid hydrocarbons for the airliners.

I'd be tempted to see what one could get out of a system of algae tanks with high intensity lighting powered by local wind. It shouldn't matter too much that there would be periods, sometimes of days, when the site would go dark.

I was slightly bemused to discover that Iceland's major export is cheap electricity (both geothermal and hydroelectric). It isn't obvious because they don't have enormously long power cables connecting them to Norway or Greenland or Scotland, all of which are far too far away. But what you will see if you drive along one of the coastal roads is a great factory with large numbers of pylons running to it. And on the sea side, a wharf. They ship in bauxite, they use electricity to separate out the aluminium metal, and they ship the material back out. The land side needs only a small access road for the staff.

(One of the plants at Reyðarfjörður required tripling the country's electricity production.)

(Hmm, I didn't realise Bauxite was so named for one of my favourite French villages - Les Baux.)

104:

By "compulsory" I mean, if they decide you are having it, you are having it. No alternative. No going anywhere if you object to being raped in this way or to the radiation dose.

The rest of the EU knows this is against European human rights legislation, which is why the Dutch machines do not create any actual image - they just indicate on a general human outline any areas of concern. They also offer the alternative of a pat-down. As Dutch women tend to be incredibly attractive, I go for the latter.

105:

One way to make sure that the airline doesn't lose your bags is to travel with firearms :) although a long, awkward rifle case with a dayglo orange "FIREARMS" label does get you strange looks. At least Germans are tolerant (shooting has a participation rate in Germany equivalent to golf in the UK), having once been asked to uncase it at the Munich airport check-in desk. The two lads from the Bundesgrenschutz were just curious, I think...

My worst journey was antipodean. For vacation reasons (not being a professional sportsman) I was travelling apart from the bulk of the team. On reaching Heathrow, a helpful BA staff member was worried that my lack of a Singaporean transit firearms certificate would mean that my rifle went no further, regardless of the fact that it would never leave the aircraft - so I got rerouted via Bangkok to Sydney instead of going direct to Melbourne (Note 1: Quantas use Boeing 747s for domestic short-haul! Note 2, the rest of the team had no such issues in Singapore).

On the return journey, I arrived two and a half hours ahead of departure (firearms can cause delay) to find Melbourne airport in chaos - the conveyor belts at check-in had broken down. Everything was being having to be hand-carried, the queues were 100m long and climbing. Eventually, they solved the problem by throwing everyone on the first plane heading the right way, regardless of carrier, even if I was now looking at getting to Sydney with only an hour to transfer instead of five. Next note - transferring between terminals in a hurry while carrying 55kg of baggage (45kg of which was my sports equipment) is never fun.

A couple of hours into the flight, the intercom asked "whether there was a Doctor on board". Some poor soul had been taken ill. We landed at a closed-for-the-night airport in the northwest of Australia, to unload the unfortunately-now-deceased, his daughter, and their bags, and waited for a while to find someone to give us more fuel. Off to Bangkok, land late, refuel, take off again.

A couple of hours into the flight, the intercom asked "whether there was a Doctor on board". Again. Some poor unfortunate was taken ill, but this time the medic thankfully decided that they'd survive until London - the alternative was a diversion to Delhi.

The end result was that a 26-hour journey turned into a 38-hour journey, by the time I arrived back in Edinburgh.

Advice? Always carry a travel shaver, change of underwear, and a fresh pair of socks in your hand luggage. Oh, and a packet of wet-wipes. Nothing like fresh socks onto clean feet after 24 hours on a plane :)

106:

Dutch women attractive?

We were in Munich for a wedding some years ago, not too long before an Olympic games. Munich having a number of Olympic facilities still in place from when they held them, a number of teams were in the city for pre-games training.

One team was staying at the same hotel as us (the Hotel am Schlosspark), and came in when we were using the swimming pool.

I long ago warned my wife that in the presence of tall blondes with exotic (i.e. non-English) accents, she will need to exert extra control of me. So when the Dutch Women's Olympic Basketball team appeared - all tall, all athletic, and (so far as I recall) all blondes, in swimming costumes - oh dear goodness.

107:

Let us not forget the joys of air travel from New Zealand to Europe via the LAX where everyone that isn't a US citizen gets the joy of being finger-printed like the criminal they probably are!

Last time I went (2007) the finger-print scanners weren't very good and took repeated tries to get a decent image. Perhaps they are better now.

If you fly to this side of the world from the EU you really need to go EAST, not WEST.

108:

Dutch Women's Olympic Basketball

(Could have been netball - I've never quite worked out the difference.)

109:

Some useful hints in the article about the Saunders-Roe Princess. It used turbo-prop engines, engine design starting in 1944 while the airframe contract was issued in 1946. Since we're talking about trans-atlantic commercial air travel, we can infer that US and UK engineers had cracked the basic problem of turbine life that afflicted wartime jet engines (especially German).

Wearing my AH dieselpunk hat, I can imagine flights of 'planes similar to the Tu-95 over the Pacific, possibly launching pulse-jet powered anti-shipping missiles. Though it's only around 1000HP better than a late-model Wright R-3350.

110:

I think they now want iris scans as well. I'm not sure, though, as I gave up going to the US about the time that they started wanting fingerprints.

Having seen the increasing ease with which I can cross European borders - I'm pretty sure at least one government is totally unaware I've actually visited their country - seeing the clampdown on US entry and transit fills me with sadness.

As for EU to NZ via the US, that's always seemed a little odd, even if it's not all that much further going that way.

111:

Question for Charlie and Feorag.

As I've said, I really, really don't care if the customs/immigration people of either sex get a look at my bollocks - that's THEIR problem.

I would prefer it, since it is QUICKER, and I won't have to deal with terminally thick, aggressive little morons, who still want me to remove my woven nylon belt (Uh? WTF?) - I can just walk through, knowing I'm "clean".

BUT
How serious, really is the radiation hazard supposed to be?
Is there any reliable on-line documentation about this?
AND
If it is really contrary to EUHCR Huminge rights laws/rules, then why is it being done?
Because anyone who objects NEVER gets to fly again?
Except you can elect for a pat-down, can't you? Or can you?
Erm .....

112:

Japanese shinkansens usually have a single power point per row of seats in the regular cars (what in airplanespeak would be called Economy class). I've occasionally seen a row of salarymen hunched over their laptops each fed from a power splitter plugged into the single socket. Wifi is not yet standard though.

113:

This is possibly a side note, but I'll be traveling a bit this July and am curious as to folks' experiences with these airlines, all of which are involved (multi-country trip).

Cross-atlantic flight 1: Swiss
Short-haul flight 1: Wizz (no, I didn't misspell that)
Short-haul flight 2: Norwegian
Cross-atlantic flight 2: Iceland Express

And if it is painfully obvious that I am doing this on the cheap . . . why yes.

114:

@4

If one can't afford a ScotteVest ($100 is a good winter coat in my budget), does anyone know of a good brand of photographer's vest?

115:

The finger (hand) print scanners at LAX do now work and the guy in immigration did seem nicer than one I had at SFO (he sent me to the back of the line because I had failed to tick one box on the back of the card).

I also took the option of a pat down at LAX rather than go through the radiation machine - although this was before they decided that the pat downs should be equivalent to sexual assault.

My tips for avoiding jet lag are:
. Don't drink alcohol before or during the flight
. Drink plenty of water during the flight (also helps prevent DVT)
. Try to arrive in the late afternoon or early evening so you can get a good night's sleep.

I've also had the rear exit row seats on a Singapore Air A380. I quite liked the extra leg room although my wife, in the window seat, felt cramped by the curve of the fuselage. She also didn't like missing out on the window and the extra storage.

I also have a great deal of trouble sleeping on planes. However, my last international flight the return leg was LAX to Sydney in Qantas Premium Economy. They provide noise cancelling head phones and they were brilliant. I think I'll buy myself a set for my next coach class trip. I would recommend them to anyone.

116:

I have a policy of avoiding KLM where possible. Out of six flights only two have gone without a hitch. I've had problems ranging from them booking in my carry on luggage (one laptop bag) because there was "no space in the cabin" on my first flight on the way to a job interview, through overbooking the flight, to losing my luggage, which was not fun as Vienna was considerably warmer than Schiphol had been and all the shops shut on Sundays. That was when I learned to pack as much as possible in my daysack.

I got caught out by the volcano. I'm from the UK, although I'm based in the Netherlands and I was at a physics conference in Manchester. My presentation was in the last session- just after I found out that my flight was cancelled. Thank goodness I could stay at various relatives' houses.
That and the snow the previous year when my Eurostar trip was cancelled highlighted the importance of having an escape plan (in my case the ferry from Hoek van Holland) if you travel a lot. I don't have much luck with long distance travel although usually I have more trouble with domestic trains (you know the bit in the Fuller Memorandum when Bob goes to Cosford- it's THAT line although even Arriva Trains Wales has ditched the slam doors). I've never been totally stranded though as I know where to look for alternatives (in Europe at least).

Anyway... I noticed that people were discussing the radiation risk of the scanners. My boyfriend is a reactor physicist and he got to go to Chernobyl. One of the party measured the dose they received on the flight... It was higher than the dose that they received in Prypiat.

117:

I have absolutely no qualms with nudity - I object to the sneaky nature of the machines. But if I were to just take my clothes off and show them what they want to see, I'd be arrested because that would be indecent, yet somehow the machines aren't?

Insisting on naturist flying would be both cheaper, and get rid of the religious bampots who are causing all the trouble. Until we get Neopaganist terrorists, of course...

There is no pat-down option at UK airports that have the machines (currently Heathrow and Manchester). If selected for the scan, you must do it, Or Else. No alternative. Unfortunately, the European Court seems more concerned with the wallets of boy racers at the moment.

118:

As to the radiationthingy of the cattlescanners: http://compilerbitch.livejournal.com/218216.html

Reminds me of this scene http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWIHv7a6luY in Total Recall

119:

I'm wondering if its a payroll thing, or a "type of perceived threat" thing, or a contractor profiteering thing, or something else, or some combination of all the things I mentioned. I mean, I've been wanded in Germany, patted down in Finland (shudder), and gone through the machine here. And while I'm glad that enough people protested at my present home airport that they don't make the naked/extra rad scanners mandatory anymore, and even a normal patdown left me ill for ten minutes, I wonder what happened to wands. In Germany they just wanded everyone. And wore actual gloves when digging through one's bags. Jeez.

Hm, another travel tip - don't buy new shoes soon before your trip if you expect to walk a lot. Even comfortable sensible walking shoes like Eccos. At the Montreal Worldcon I ended up in ACE bandages after doing that because my knee and ankle resigned in protest.

120:

Short-haul flight 2: Norwegian

They're cheap but not nasty, and they just bought a whole bunch of new 737s.

The one time I've used them the only issue was not their fault - I was going out of Oslo on Sunday night after the cup final...

121:

Even without nuclear, though, trains consume one-tenth the MegaJoules/passenger-kilometer. That assumes power plants are about as efficient as aircraft engines, not a far guess with new generating capacity and jets at close to the Carnot limit.

As a rough comparison, a 545 passenger TGV has a 12 MW powerset [1], compared with peak power of 90 MW for a laden 747 with fewer passengers, so given a comparable Carnot cycle at the generating station the 10:1 efficiency ratio is not far from correct.

[1] Given the careful nature of the SNCF, it rarely runs at the full 12 MW.

I don't know who told you high speed rail is not much more efficient than aircraft, but their numbers are suspect.

122:

A 747 or any modern jet spends most of its flight time at cruise altitude and speed using engine power settings well under maximum. The only time max power is likely to be applied is to get the fully-laden bird off the runway before the tarmac turns into grass. The button-counters want that aircraft to be up in thin air as soon as possible to cut down on air resistance which goes up as the cube of the speed but falls linearly with air density. At 39,000 feet (approx 12km in real money) the air pressure is about 20kPa or 20% of the pressure at sea level which trains have to blast their way through using brute power.

Trains do have the advantage of not requiring draggy wings or having to carry tonnes of liquid fuel and they can be longer and thinner than aircraft fuselages but air resistance is going to be a major limiting factor for any terrestrial vehicle -- doubling a train's speed will require eight times the motive power and cramming fifty MW or more of motors into a train is not going to be a simple matter.

123:

Your comparative power figures seem to have omitted one thing - that the 747 is going about 3 times the speed of the TGV. Which means that that 90MW peak power is equivalent to 30MW for the trainset, in terms of energy per kilometer.

(I do prefer the view in the TGV, and shall be doing a few rides in the next fortnight.)

124:

Another method the Icelanders use to export their energy is in the form of tropical hardwoods. They import fresh-cut timber and kiln-dry it for six months or more using geothermal heat. Since the processing takes that long they are regarded as exporters of the wood products when the finished timber arrives in Europe and America which is a bit disconcerting given the general scarceness of forests of any sort on the island.

125:

Going back to the original "Do not leave your laptop at home when embarking on an 8-day business trip" quote in the post brings me to the inevitable "What is the best laptop to take on a trip?" question. I'm going to be in Scotland, England, France Holland & Denmark for around six weeks and plan on carrying everything in a backpack. I'm not a Mac person so an iPad is not an option. Besides I need a 'real operating system (tm)' with applications as close as I can get to that which I use already on my Windoze machines. I've looked at the ASUS eee Slate (possibly too fragile and let's not mention battery life) and various and sundry netbooks. Given that our gracious host is a MAC person I feel somewhat uneasy asking advice from him and his commemtors but he does have more experience then me on the subject. If I'm out of order my apologies.

126:

Worst travel tribulation: leaving my passport on the airplane during the first leg of my ZRH-LHR-JFK trip. What a mess that created. I ended up having to talk my way into the UK without a passport, as they wouldn't let my stay in the terminal overnight. I did get it back the next day, so not a massive inconvenience (compared to the prospect of visiting the embassy in London and getting a new one), but it did make for quite an hectic 18 hours.

The BA staff were as helpful as they could be about it, though (at least the ones in London were - the ones in JFK were far less so when it came to dealing with my bags, which didn't arrive until two weeks after I did, but unfortunately that's par for the course at New York airports). I like connecting through LHR, especially if T5 is involved. AMS and FRA were fine, too. CDG wasn't great, though those experiences are all before the new 2E opened up, so maybe things have changed.

127:

The plane may go 3x faster, but the power ratio is about 10x. Advantage to rail - even without considering non-carbon electricity.

128:

Never have I witnessed an example of "modern first-worlder problem" quite as grand as this set of comments.

Today, WE are able to travel halfway around the world in less than a day for a price affordable to the middle-class. Sure, you get a tiny little seat and some of the rules were made by assholes, but isn't this still one of the best deals on the planet? What wimps have we rapidly become that we cannot tolerate a little suffering for such an amazing journey?

If you're tall, pay the extra for two seats or for business. You pay a lot more, but it's still less than your parents would have paid when they were your age.

If you're sensitive, get in-ear sealed headphones, take ambien or equivalent, bring an ipad for entertainment. With these three conveniences airport travel is easier and more luxurious than it has ever been. And bring your own food! Once you have these items, engine noise, baby noise, bad food, rough flights, cramped quarters, and poor in-flight entertainment are no longer a factor.

IF you care about global warming, suffer in economy for a few hours and spend the money you would've spent for business class on carbon offsets or a donation to your favorite advocacy org. You'll do a lot better for the environment than arguing whether a plane or train gives off more carbon.

Don't blame the airlines for cancelled/delayed flights on days with bad weather; their pilots are following rules that are very carefully constructed for safety but not in excess.

Travel the world, ignore the shit, enjoy earth.

129:

Having read the linked post about backscatter X rays, as far as I can see the entire argument is actually "does the TSA's PR agency represent the insignificantly low radiation exposure using a form of words that accord with my aesthetic/literary preferences?" as by any conceivable reckoning you're getting several hundred times that by flying. Also, playing with the definition of the word "safe". As for passive millimetre-wave radar, hint's in the name.

And I'm struggling to see that it's more of a civil liberties issue to pass through the scanner than be physically groped by the securigorillas.

Also, can we stop talking about "safe" levels of X when we mean "levels where it is absolutely certain that there is NO chance anything might ever happen to you"? We need a different word for this - it's like the mythical security the security people claim to provide. Call it fnordsafe. It doesn't exist. What I mean by safe is "not statistically riskier than the actuarial baseline for my demographic". We have endless go-rounds of this on essentially every scientific issue. So-and-so says "Is it safe?" "Well, the chances of anything bad happening are statistically indistinguishable from zero." "But there's a chance! Can you guarantee it's safe?" and on, and on, and on. Let's abandon the damn word.

130:

AIUI the lifing problems that afflicted the Jumo turbo-jets were mostly caused by some very subtle sabotage by the forced workers who made the blades and assembled the turbine discs. Now the interior of a jet engine is very hot (less so then than now, where the combustion chamber and early stages of the turbine can have a working fluid in them that's hotter than the nominal melting point of the alloys they're made from; this is done by using the bypass air to cool the chamber walls and blades, but that's a whole other story), easily hot enough to cause hot gas erosion of the blade roots and their seats, so all it needed was a file stroke or near invisible chip in the right (wrong?) place to cause enough gas erosion to reduce the turbine life to about 12 hours before a blade would depart (almost certainly through the case wall).

Original source "Gas Turbine and Jet Design" by Bill Gunston, any errors or omissions are my own.

131:

I'm not sure if you're a troll, or have just missed the point.

I think the general view of airport "security" can be summed up by Feorag's comments about "rape scanners" and the associated failure of everyone to call me on placing the word security in quotation marks, a sure sign that no-one actually believes that it is achieving what it claims to.

As for terminal design, all we're asking for is the operators to remember that these places are supposed to be places where people wait for aeroplanes, not shopping malls.

Ref aircraft delays and lost baggage - $hit happens sure; most of the discussion is about how airline and terminal ground staff attitudes affect the resultant aggrevation, and about strategies for minimising said aggro.

132:

If money is no object, why not buy a Macbook Air 11.6" and use Boot Camp to install Windows 7 on it? It's the size of a large netbook, feels like a solid lump of machined aluminium, runs off an SSD, and should run Windows 7 at least as well as the much more expensive ultralightweight high-end Sony Vaios. (And if you're feeling adventurous you can experiment with the Mac world later.) Main thing is, it's not only very rugged for something that weighs around 1Kg -- it's also very well-designed.

133:

I find the trend to label anyone with an honest "against the grain" opinion a troll very unfortunate, and wish for an equivalent to Godwin's law for it.

Except that real trolls do exist, of course, but make no mistake, this sort of thing is a default victory for them.

Andrew's right of course, I'm reminded of that clip of Louis C.K. "Everything is amazing and nobody is happy" where he talks about this kind of thing.

But at the same time, I like to think that our cognitive bias in favour of being always dissatisfied is valuable in that it drives progress - we always want more, we always think things could be improved, so they do.

I try to keep both yardsticks in mind, one part of me is "Oooo I'm flying I bet Isaac Newton would really dig this" while at the same time being conscious of how this particular flight compares to previous experiences in the same category.

134:

This seems fairly clever. As someone who wears BDUs exclusively and buys clothing based primarily on the amount that can be put in the pockets without appearing bulky, I might want to look into this. (Given that business suits are fairly expensive, I'll probably try to get a second opinion first.)

135:

Air travel is now a mass market business; in the recent past it was solely for a moneyed elite who would and could pay for personal service much as long-distance trains were a hundred years ago with the dining cars, porters to carry your bags etc. and a railway ticket from London to Edinburgh cost a month's wages for a working man.

Making air travel luxurious and low-stress is easy; as Charlie mentioned there is Netjet and other bizjet services available to turn flying from economy-class SLF (Self Loading Freight) into a magic carpet ride. All it takes is money, gobs and gobs of it. On the other hand air travel today is affordable for nearly everyone if you forswear the personal assistance and accept your SLF status because the airlines can get you to your destination and still make a profit by trimming the "fat" wherever they can such as cutting ten bucks off the ticket price if you give up your hold baggage allowance so they can salami-sell the space and weight to Fedex for some Priority parcels. Your choice, your call, your wallet.

Me, I'm flying cattle-car class to Japan later this year for as little as possible, depending on what sort of deal I can cut on-line. It might be Air France but I've used Alitalia (who lost my bags for a day) previously and I've seen good deals from Aeroflot and Air China which might be the cheapest when I actually book.

136:

Greg,

Here is a press release with a link to a letter sent by some biophysicists at UC San Francisco to the White House
with their concerns about the safety of these X-Ray machines.

http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2010/11/5810/ucsf-scientists-speak-out-against-airport-full-body-scans

Broca

Charlie, just sent you an email with those links you requested.

137:

Did you miss the "I'm not sure if you're a troll, or have just missed the point" bit? If I was sure that Andrew was a troll, I'd either have ignored him or moved "I spy trolls" if he'd been offensive.

138:

well I'd say a Lenovo Thinkpad X201s .. not a Mac, thin, light, bulletproof (more or less). And it has The Correct Color[tm].
And, and this is the one reason I could NEVER use a Mac, no matter how great the hardware might be, a Trackpoint. I _hate_ touchpads. Trackpoints are much better ..

139:

My worst travel experience? I did a six week tour through Canada (the Rockies; Vancouver; Victoria; Toronto; Niagara Falls; Winnipeg; Churchill) back in 2002. Had a fantastic time. Then I flew home.

Toronto. To Vancouver. To Honolulu. To Sydney. To Melbourne.

Not counting the 2-3 hour stopovers in most of those cities, I was inside the damn metal tubes for 24 hours.

If I'm ever fool enough to travel that far again (Africa is still fairly high on my "want to do" list, probably not all that long after I splurge on the new Canon 200-400mm f/4 L IS lens), I'll be breaking up the flights - a couple of days here, a couple of days there.

Then there's the notorious "redeye" flights from Perth. I've never done them. Basically, they leave Perth airport at around 10pm (local time), arriving in Sydney or Melbourne at around 5am (local time). Four hour flight (give or take). You lose the night, basically. The reason for the nickname should be obvious. I left Perth at 3:30pm, got into Sydney around 10:30pm - that was bad enough, thank you very much; I was stuck in one of the middle seats (group of four) in an A330. Urgh.

140:

My worst flight? Driving down from Klamath Falls the night before to catch an early-morning flight out of San Francisco to Hawaii. With husband and two smallish children. Once on the plane (after drinking a LOT of coffee), we took a quick commuter to Los Angeles and changed over to the other plane (hoping to God our luggage followed). I sat in the exact middle of a pretty large middle row of seats (it was some kind of wide-body plane) while husband snoozed and aformentioned two smallish children lay in my lap from either side. This made it rather difficult for me to sleep on the flight. The day passed in somewhat of a haze, and once in Hawaii, the husband (who had slept) took over the brainwork part, like finding luggage, etc., and finding taxi to hotel, etc., while I hazily made sure two smallish children did not wander off. I still remember the bathroom trip I was finally able to take, though...(ok, _you_ make it to an airline bathroom from the middle of a wide row--did I mention the two smallish chidren? Oh, yes, I did). I think there was one trip with at least one of the smallish children, but it's all kind of a blur at this date.

But Hawaii was really pretty. And since then, we've driven down the day _before_, slept that night in a nice motel, and then boarded the plane. Plus, the last trip was just Mike and me and the laptop.

141:

It was the first time I could remember taking a plane, it was a short flight from Malaysia to Singapore, an 8 hour transit wait, a flight from there to Goldcoast, Australia, a 3 hour transit wait, then to Auckland, wait another 45 minutes, then onwards to Wellington which is the end of the trip. All in all total: 25 hrs.

Being completely unused to the idea of sleeping on the plan + the excitement of being at an airport (and ooh, ps2 stations @ Singapore), i literally spent 30 minutes asleep on the last connection. Being a early 20-male falling asleep on a lady's shoulders..... whom was quite kind enough not to wake me up but instead giggle and chattered with her friend about how cute that a boy had fallen asleep on her shoulders... i was subsequently groggily awakened by my folks(who were on another row and extremely pissed....) and subsequently extremely embarrassed when we arrived.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on February 27, 2011 1:38 PM.

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