Monthly Archives: February 2013

A Layover too Long in LAX

LAX kind of sucks for a layover. I’ve dealt with long layovers before but this seems to be worse. My first thought was ‘Wow this place is crowded.’ There are so many people around. But the biggest problem for layovers is how disconnected the terminals are. After disembarking in a domestic terminal you have to go outside and enter the international terminal through the regular departure area. More security screenings!

I’m not worried about getting through security (I’m actually waiting in the airport right now) since my layover is so long. But I can easily imagine how that might be a problem for some people, especially since I need to get a boarding pass from the China Southern desk, American wasn’t able to print them all out for me in DC. The problem is that China Southern only flies one flight a day from here at 10 PM. The counter opens at 6:20 PM. I still have two hours to wait before I can even get my boarding pass. Until them I’m stuck in a mall food court.

That’s the easiest way to explain the waiting area. There’s a handful of fast food places and scattered seating. McDonalds and Panda Express are the two big ones. I that doesn’t scream mall food I don’t know what does. There actually is a single sit down restaurant, but they want $15 for a hamburger. All the places are way overpriced. I was forced to get something from McDonalds since American Airlines doesn’t offer food service on their flights and because it was the cheapest by far but still way more than it was worth.

There is free wifi that’s decent aside from having to reconnect every hour or so.  But it doesn’t work well with mobile devices. For some reason i cant check my email on my phone. It blows my mind that a large and international airport like LAX can’t provide wifi that works with mobiles.

This, coupled with the American Airlines disappointment is creating a pretty poor trip so far.

American Airlines

Nickel and dining seems to be the new way for airlines to make money. I don’t know how widespread the practice is, flying from DC to my LA layover was my first ever domestic flight. Maybe all the national airlines do it.

First is the overhead compartments. The pilot mentioned repeatedly that it was a full flight so we were required to keep our winter jackets with us. Like airline seats aren’t cramped enough. Next time get planes that have bin space for every seat in the house.

The in flight entertainment was some move I really wasn’t interested in. That’s common enough. What also is common is have a guide of what movies are going to be shown. We were told there that information was available I in the sear backs, but my row didn’t have anything but safety cards and a few rough looking magazines. But that all wouldn’t bother me so much if AA didn’t want to charge for the headphones. I’ve never been on a flight where you need to pay for the headphones. At least they had the sense to try and spin it that passengers are given the option to use their own headphones. I had that option when you weren’t shaking folks down for a few bucks.

Even after the movie that I didn’t want to watch the entertainment didn’t get much better. The showed NBC shows like The Office, complete with commercials. I have to deal with commercials at home and now on a flight? Also why couldn’t they play 30 Rock? That’s the best show NBC has had in years.

They plane has wifi! That’s pretty awesome right? Well I thought the same until I saw how much it cost. What is this, the year 2000? If you offer wifi you offer free wifi. It should be against the law not to
Speaking of six hours, I figured that a 11 AM flight would offer something in the way of lunch. Seriously, it’s a six hour flight. I could have gotten a bite at the airport for a fraction of the cost of the food on the plane. That’s right, I said ‘the cost of the food on the plane.’ Everyone else I’ve flown on had included something to eat. LOT hooked us up with cookies for an hour hop. But not AA. If you want a tasteless looking sandwich and a bag of chips be ready to shell out $10. For that price I could have gotten a gargantuan burger and fries at Five Guys before leaving. And that would be enjoyable. Of course I’m no rich guy so I passed on lunch. But at least there was complimentary soda or juice. You know, the bare minimum of service.

I really wouldn’t mind this sort if stuff from Southwest or RyanAir. But AA is behaving like a budget airline without passing savings in to customers or even admitting they’re not top tier anymore.
I’m lucky because I bought my ticket through a website. My second leg from LA to China is on China Southern and they give two free checked bags. AA is forced to comply with that although with a sign at the gate boasting ‘First checked bag free!’ I feel like they wish they didn’t have too.

I know it’s hard for the airlines these days. Maybe this is the new normal. Between trimming back freebies, cutting flight attendants pay to when the planes are only actually flying, to overbooking flights, American carriers just aren’t that nice anymore.
If it wasn’t for the mileage rewards no one would willing fly these legacy carriers and now I see why.

The view was awesome though.

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Washington Dulles International Airport

One good thing about arriving early for flights and long layovers is that it gives you plenty of time to sit around. So I’ll try to be productive and live blog my experiences flying from Washington DC to Los Angeles to Guangzhou to Wuxi. Also arrive early allows you to find the power outlets before they all get taken.

If there’s anywhere I can consider a home base, Dulles airport probably is it. I’m here often enough.

Up front the airport doesn’t look like much. If you have friends or family waiting with you a bit, you’re going to be bored. The main building for arrivals and departures is full of check in counters, a few benches, and a single restaurant. That’s right. If you want to have lunch with others before you leave, you don’t get a choice.

Once you get through security the whole place changes. After security you’ll board an underground train to head to the gates. At the terminals you’ll find all sorts of places to sit and eat. A personal favorite of mine since my college days is Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Not for someone trying to watch their weight, Five Guys burgers are a smorgasbord of greasy goodness. With the regular burger clocking in at two patties and whatever toppings you’d like, the junior burger might be a better fit for many people. The fries are also oversized, a regular serving is enough to feed two people with a bit left over. And the best part about it is the prices are not sky high just because it’s an airport.

Actually until I landed in LAX I never realized how nice Dulles actually is. It’s heads and shoulders above other airports. Decent and inexpensive food, lots of space, easy to find outlets, and wifi that actually works. It’s impressive.

It’s a travel truth that the earlier you arrive before your flight the quicker you’ll go through security. The day you arrive three hours early is the day it takes five minutes to get through. The day you arrive an hour early it takes fifty-five minutes to get through. Either you’re waiting or sprinting, never any middle ground.   So here I am waiting.

Visa in 30 Minutes or it’s Free

Well it’s not free but getting a Chinese visa has been one of the easiest things I’ve done recently. Actually getting to the office is another story.

The first thing to know is that the visa office is not in the Chinese Embassy proper. It’s in a small office complex near Georgetown in Washington DC. There are two problems with this. The first is that the building is completely unmarked in any way. 2201 Wisconsin Avenue is a gray building, no flags or signs or anything. If you didn’t write the address down you’re going to have trouble. The second issue is that the office is located in one of the few areas of the city not served by a metro stop. The two closes stops are each about two miles away, not too far but not close either.

One of the sights close to the visa office is the US Naval Observatory, the home of the national president. Using my amazing powers of planning and Google Maps I decided on taking the slightly more complicated walk from the Woodley Park/Zoo metro stop to the office since that would lead me right past the Observatory complex. Why not? Get my paperwork done and do a little sightseeing. My other option was to get off at the Tenleytown stop and follow Wisconsin straight to the office. The safe but boring option.

Making my way to the office from the Woodley Park stop was an exercise in futility to say the least. Google Maps makes it look like there’s a nice circular road that surrounds the Observatory. Right before that road is a small park with some foot trails to hike though. It didn’t help a whole lot that it rained the previous day, lots of mud and wet leaves to manage.

But I was getting close to the road. I had a map on my phone and was tracking my progress through the park. I finally got to where I would be able to reach the road….. and there was a big ole fence. Sometimes I don’t let things like fences stop me often going over or try to slip through. However the vice president’s abode is not one of those times. I can be daring, but I’m not dumb. I don’t want any Secret Service attention.

So I followed the fence and using my map I slowly worked my way out of the park and got on to a proper road. The Observatory complex actually forced me to go about a mile out of my way so I spent an extra thirty minutes trying to make it to my destination.

I finally got to the office at 9:35. The office opens at 9:30. I felt pretty good that I made it so early even after getting lost and battling some messy trails in my nice shoes. I walked into the office, got a ticket with my number, and noticed there were fifteen people ahead of me.

I settled in for a long wait. It is the government after all. They never can work quickly. I pulled out my Kindle and listened to numbers be called. They were actually going through all the numbers quite quickly. People who didn’t respond within thirty seconds of their number being called were just skipped, on to the next person. The visa officers were not there to waste time. Far sooner than I expected my number was called.

I made it a point to have all my paperwork organized before I left the house, the information about what is needed is easy to find on the embassy’s website. I passed over all my papers, the lady helped me fill in some parts of the application I wasn’t sure on and then I was done. Unfortunately they weren’t able to rush job the visa so I could get it the same day. I was required to return in two days to receive my passport and visa, so I made plans to come back into the city. I gathered my belongings and walked out the door. As I left I checked my watch. 10:05

Exact Change

This is my first post from the WordPress mobile app, so I will make it short to see if its tolerable.

There was a time in Tarija, Bolivia when I was out with another Peace Corps volunteer. Since it was hit we wanted some ice cream; ice cream all over the country was amazing.

We get our cones and for the pair of us it came our to 10.5 bolivianos. I decided to pay since I had exact change. Normally not having exact change doesn’t bother me but at this time Bolivia was experiencing a metal shortage, so coins were good to keep. So paid with a tenner note and a fifty centavos piece.

The lady behind the counter asked me for change. It threw me off for a moment, I paid exactly what it cost. Then I put it all together. Exact chance wasn’t good enough. Well she wasn’t going to get any of my coins just because I was a gringo. I shot down her pleas and she gave me the stink eye. So my friend and I left and because of the evacuation we never got a chance to go back.

Well that wasn’t to terrible but it wasn’t fun either. I have stupid fingers so its hard for me to type on a touchscreen quickly. And the autocorrect can be kind of funky sometime. Trying to place a cursor somewhere specific had always been one of my major battles with my iPhone. I think I’ll just stick with a mouse and keyboard.