San Francisco, Day 2

When last we spoke, I was writing my last post while Kathleen was having surgery on her elbow that she hurt on our first day in San Francisco. Today (four days later), I am starting this while she is in for her post-op check. She is doing better. The first day was fine, the block wore off, the pain kicked in on day two, and now things seem better. I hope whatever they do to her today doesn’t make her regress.

But back to our second day in the Bay area. Not much happened for us because Kathleen (with her arm in an ugly splint) slept most of the day. But I got up before dawn to take pics from the ship (all of them are in the gallery below), and then after getting her up, bathed and off to breakfast and then back to the stateroom for another nap, I went out to walk the Embarcadero in the opposite way we went yesterday. I wanted to walk from the ship at Pier 27 to whatever they call the ballpark where the San Francisco Giants play.

It was a beautiful, windy day, and I think I enjoyed my walk as much as Kathleen enjoyed her nap 😜. I shot a bunch of pics (again, see the gallery) and then headed back to the ship as we sailed at 4:30 in the afternoon to head out for another sea day and then a visit to Astoria, Oregon.

One of the best things about sailing into or out of San Francisco is sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, and this time (on a clear afternoon), I was on the top deck as we sailed out to sea. There are lots of photos from that in the gallery as well.

That about does it for San Francisco. We had a decent time, but if I had to do it all over again, I would have preferred that Kathleen not fall and that we do not have to spend more than six hours in an ER. But that’s what happened.

Below is my photo gallery from day two in San Francisco. The first few are from an early sunrise shoot from around the ship’s upper decks.

The second group is from my mid-day Photowalk.

The last few are from our sail out, which took us under the amazing Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco is really fun and liberal, and it’s my kind of politics. It’s like being Jewish in front of Jewish people.  —Elaine Boosler

Life is certainly interesting

As I write this, I am sitting in the waiting area for Proliance Surgeons as Kathleen is getting her elbow repaired. We are now fully moved into our new home (except for about 20 boxes we still need to empty), have sold our old one (escrow closes on the 16th), and things are indeed…”interesting.”

When Kathleen asked me what I was going to do while she was getting cut (surgery takes 90 minutes, but she is in pre-op for 2 hours and then post-op for two hours), I said it was about time I finished up the Pacific Coastal cruise report, so here we go.

San Francisco—I used to like this town.

Ok, I still do like this town, but I am also kind of ticked at the city. This is the city where Kathleen found a nice lip on a sidewalk and took the fall that led to the surgery she is having now. But you already knew that, so here’s what we did that day.

Our ship was in port for two days. I had hoped to get up early and be on deck when we sailed under the Golden Gate, but we were already docked when I woke up and looked outside at 4:30 am. I guess I could have taken pics of us coming in but they all would have been black scenics.

The ship was docked at Pier 27, about halfway between the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf, right on the Embarcadero. After breakfast, the four of us set off on a walk towards Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 and Boudin’s Sourdough Bakery. Lots of photos on the way you can see in the gallery below. We stopped for coffee at Boudin’s, and then Kathleen and I headed back to the ship via Uber while Jamie and Steve went exploring.

That afternoon we had scheduled another food tour with Local Tastes of the City Tours. We had chosen to do their North Beach/Little Italy tour. They also do a Chinatown tour, but we went that way since I love Italian food more than Asian. We took an Uber up from the ship to meet our guide smack dab in the middle of Little Italy. We four were part of a group of 14 who would take the tour, which started with us eating a cannoli on the street corner where we met up. They were delicious, but I sure would have liked to see the places where they came from. Our guide just brought them along with her from Stella Pastry about half a block away.

Then it was off to cross the street to Cavalli Cafe, where we tried Italian sodas (definitely the weakest link on this tour), but they did have a nice restroom. This was also one of the few stops where we got to go into someplace and sit down. The rest of the tour involved our guide (who was very good) going into the store/restaurant and bringing the food out to us to eat on the street. While all the food we had was excellent, this got a little annoying after a while—eating on a sidewalk with people walking by. But as I said before, life is certainly interesting.

After Italian sodas, we went on to a fun little Sicilian delicatessen about a block away to try arancini (rice balls full of meat and cheese). The food was fine, but the real attraction here was the owner, who came out on the street and pretty much put on a comedy show. As you can see from the photo, he is a pretty animated Sicilian who truly loves his store. A few days later, I have to say that we had arancini in Victoria, BC, which was a lot better.

I should also note that none of these places were more than about two blocks from another, so this was not a long tour by any stretch. As we walked, our guide Isabella told us all about the history of the neighborhoods we were walking through. She was genuinely well-versed in her San Francisco lore.

Our next stop was our favorite on the tour, San Francisco’s oldest Italian market, Molinari’s. Inside this place was AMAZING! If we had a place like this near home, I might ask for a job or spend a lot of money there regularly. I have some great photos of the inside of these places in the gallery below. BTW: This place had the best sandwiches I may ever have eaten. Don’t ask me why, but I think it’s because everything was just perfect, from the bread to the cold cuts and veggies inside. It was so good it would almost be worth a trip back to the city to eat there.

After we left Molinari’s, we walked a bit, and I climbed a high set of stairs to take pics with a few others from the tour (see the gallery), and we were headed to Z Cioccolato to get some of their amazing fudge. But sadly, we never got there. About 25 feet to the right of this photo is where Kathleen fell and broke her elbow. From there, we hailed an Uber and drove quickly back to the ship. We had hoped that she wasn’t hurt too badly, but by the time we got down to the ship, it was evident that we needed to get to a doctor or an ER.

At this point, I need to point out that we did have a little bit of good luck because the ship was in San Francisco overnight. If that had not been the case, and seeing that it was already after 3:00 pm, we would have been in real trouble as the ship would have sailed at 4:30 pm, leaving us behind to fly home on our own. That’s what happens with ships. That would have given us some real problems for so many reasons.

After we got back to the ship and dropped Steve and Jamie off, we grabbed another Uber and had them take us to the nearest Kaiser hospital (our HMO). It wasn’t too far away, but when you are driving bumpy streets with a broken elbow, it seems like 100 miles. We had high hopes that we would be out of there within a couple of hours and make it back for dinner. Unfortunately, that was not to be. We were in the ER for more than six hours from start to finish. And they were so crowded they wouldn’t let me in the building (not even a waiting room) due to COVID restrictions for the first three hours. I got so stand outside in the cold wind. This was not one of my most fun experiences.

Kathleen left with a fully wrapped arm in a splint (that had to be kept DRY), and we got back to the ship about 9:30. My brother had arranged for a wheelchair to get her back on board, and by that time, she needed it. So we got a very late room service dinner and went to bed.

One other thing I want to mention before I drop in the photos. The folks at Local Tastes Tours were awesome when this all happened. Our guide (after making sure we were doing OK) ran to the chocolate store and grabbed fudge for all of us to enjoy later. Then that evening, I got an e-mail from the tour company owner asking how Kathleen was and sending us a certificate for a free tour for four the next time we are in San Francisco. Of course, he did not need to do that, but this is the sign of a great company, and then our guide Isabella sent me a separate e-mail asking how she was doing. They were just wonderful. I can’t recommend them highly enough. Don’t forget, these pics look much better if you click on one and watch them as a slide show, either on a computer or a tablet.

That was about it for day one in the city by the bay. As if that wasn’t enough. As I am finishing this, we are back home after Kathleen’s surgery, and she is OK and doing well. Her elbow just needed some repairs but not a complete replacement. Thank heaven (or whoever) for that.

Nothing important has ever come out of San Francisco, Rice-a-Roni aside.
—Michael O’Donoghue

Sorry I disappeared

I hate that I haven’t finished the story of our cruise. I just wanted you to know that I will finish it as soon as possible. We are still in the midst of our move, Kathleen’s broken arm needs surgery and by the end of the day, when I usually write, I am beyond tired. Saturday morning is my no-workout, so I have a few minutes to leave this note.

I still have a lot to say about the cruise…A LOT. I promise to come back and say it. I have been writing notes; I just need to put them all together.

I kept a diary right after I was born. Day 1: Tired from the move. Day 2: Everyone thinks I’m an idiot.  —Steven Wright

26 miles across the sea…Santa Catalina is the place to be!

First, Kathleen is doing better. The arm doesn’t hurt as much as it is a giant plaster albatross attached to her arm. We are in Seattle as I write this with two more days to go on the cruise. On Friday we disembark in Vancouver and drive home. Our plan for today is to take a Lyft to Bellevue to sign our escrow papers.

As promised, here’s our report on Catalina. We had booked a tour with Catalina Tours called Bison Expeditions. There are approximately 150 wild bison on Catalina Island if you didn’t know. They were brought over years ago when Hollywood used the island to film many Westerns. They were left behind, and the herd grew. They thinned the pack a few years back and now have 150. But, like a whale watching tour, you aren’t given a 100% guarantee that you will see any bison…and we didn’t. But that was OK because our original intent was just to see the island’s interior and that we got to do in spades.

We got lucky when our jeep (see photo at right) pulled up, and our guide Halvorsen introduced himself. He turned out to be the highlight of the trip. And the tour turned into much more than we had expected. It became a combination of a wild ride (that would match anything at any Disney park), a historical lesson about Catalina, a nature talk about the flora and fauna and a floor show full of impressions of presidents. All that for a very low price; we would recommend this company very highly.

I did take some photos I liked, so they are in the gallery below. Remember, if you click on the first one, it becomes a slide show that you can scroll through.

26 miles across the sea…Santa Catalina is the place to be.   —1960’s Los Angeles television advertising jingle used to attract folks to Catalina Island.

I thought it was bad before

So if you follow my posts, you know I just did one about our day in Santa Barbara, and I promised the next one would be about Catalina Island. We had a great time, but I need to update you on something that happened yesterday in San Francisco that will change what I can write about and take photos of.

We were on a food tour in the North Beach/Little Italy section of San Francisco. I will report on it later because it was superb until about three-quarters of the way through. That’s when my wonderful bride Kathleen caught her foot on a metal piece in the old sidewalk, took a fall and wound up with a broken arm. After six+ hours in the hospital ER, we made it back to the ship around 10:00 pm. Not the most fun day of vacation we have ever had. But we are very happy it happened on a day when the ship was staying in port overnight, or we would have been in a hotel last night and flying home to Seattle today.

We will tough it out until at least Wednesday when we get to Seattle. If she is in a lot of pain or wants to get off, we will take an Uber/Lyft home.

I just wanted to keep you updated. Today, we planned to head to Sausalito on the ferry, but that isn’t going to happen. She is just not up for it. And I have been having painful problems with my back and legs, so it isn’t all her. We are just two old people getting older.

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.    —Mark Twain

Off the ship—Great! Onboard—not so much continues

This has been a really fun cruise when we aren’t on board the ship. So let’s be positive to start with and tell you all about the great food tour we took in Santa Barbara. 

Food tour!

We had booked all but one of our shore excursions with private companies. And strangely enough, we are doing Food Tours in four of the seven stops. Santa Barbara was the first where I found a fabulous food tour company called Eat This/Shoot That. The idea wasn’t that you had to kill your own dinner but that you would shoot pics and post them to Instagram or Facebook of all the amazing food you were eating on their tour. Of course, you were supposed to eat them after you shot them and in two cases I completely forgot to shoot first and by the time I remembered, there were just the remains.

I found this tour company in an online search. (When in doubt, Google) and they normally did not due tours on weekdays except in the summer. But I persuaded the manager (Kayla–who was awesome) to do a tour if I could find enough people off our Cruise Critic Roll Call. Since they only take eight people on their tours, I thought that would be easy and it was. In fact, so many people were interested they ended up booking another tour after hours off the ship as well. 

Santa Barbara is a tender port and that means waiting for the tender (in this case a little more than an hour) and then a 15-minute lifeboat/tender ride in and then we walked to where we were meeting the tour. 

Our tour guides Christine and Bella were fantastic. I could list all the restaurants for you but I think I will just caption the photos. So see the great food we got below.

Suffice it to say, I would do that food tour again in a second. My brother and his wife were so impressed with one of the places, they are already making plans to drive up to Santa Barbara. The other places were equally as good. Here’s the list of places we went. You can see their pics below (don’t forget that you can click on the first one and it will open and then use your arrow keys or swipe to see the rest):

  1. Santo Mezcal
  2. SB Bier Garten
  3. The Valley Project
  4. Mony’s Taqueria
  5. Lucky Penny
  6. Figueroa Mountain Brewery
  7. Cutler’s Artisan Distillery
  8. McConnell’s Ice Cream

Back on the ship, sad things continued…

First, I need to do a bit of a retraction. In my post on Wednesday, I mentioned that I thought that Celebrity had created a third (basic) level of the internet that they were giving away for free. After some discussion with one of their tech support people it turns out that is wrong. They have always had two internet offers: Surf and Stream. Surf got you e-mail, websites, texting, etc. Stream got you just that. You could stream movies, do FaceTime, etc. The tech support guy tells me that they just renamed Surf to Basic and Stream is now called something else but darned if I can remember what. Either way, they still have the same programs they had before.

So having been on my other Celebrity cruises with the “Surf” internet package, I can remember that it was NEVER this slow. His answer to me was that Celebrity began giving away their FREE basic package to everyone but what they did not do was increase their bandwidth. So now we have almost 1500 people with internet on all day long. And if someone opens a web page on their device that has ads (let’s say) and they leave it on that page and walk away (like in their stateroom) then that continues to take up bandwidth as ads are refreshed on that page.

So the real story here is not that they created a newer, slower level of the internet but that they gave everyone internet and didn’t increase what they were giving away. Not only that, when I told the tech support guy that I couldn’t do Docusign documents (because the connection would time out) he suggested I upgrade to Stream (or whatever they are calling it now—the fastest one). So I did. Here’s what I got:

If you look back at my last post you will see that my speed with the basic program was .04 for downloading a page and .02 for uploading (like I do with this blog). For comparison, today we are in San Francisco and I am using my T-Mobile iPhone as a personal hotspot and here is what I am getting right now:

Seriously, my cell phone brings down data at more than 30 Mbps and the best Celebrity can do with their top internet offer is 1.05? We know of a lot of people on board who are flying back to the USA from Vancouver. Many of them purchased an e-Med kit because there is a required COVID test before you can reenter the USA. Those are monitored tests that are performed in a video chat online. These people are expecting to use Celebrity WiFi to do that test. GOOD LUCK! Thank goodness we are driving home.

Let’s talk food. We are eating breakfasts and dinners in one of their restaurants called Blu. It is for people (like us) in Aqua class staterooms. We eat breakfast and dinner there pretty much every day. And while the food has been fine and the service excellent, we are supposed to be on what is called anytime dining. Yet when we got on the ship we were told that could we please plan on coming to Blu between 5:30 and 6:00. Others were asked to come after 7:00. So without knowing in advance, we were back in early/late seating.

The food in the other venues we have eaten in is just sad. Especially the buffet. Cold pizza, sad salads with strange dressings (the Italian dressing is bright orange???). One sad thing is that Thursday was Cinco de Mayo. Now, I know it’s not a real holiday in Mexico but I would have expected something in the buffet for lunch. There were: chips with cheese on them. And some fajitas. But don’t ask for salsa—they don’t have any. It was just sad.

And I have been a little under the weather so I skipped Blu on Thursday and went up to the buffet to get a salad and a couple of pieces of pizza. Again, salad was weird and the pizza was cold. And I was hoping one of the servers would come around and asked if I wanted a cocktail or a beer or some wine. But no, I was there for 40 minutes or so and not one person approached me. Before everyone had a drinks package you had to swat those people away like flies. You were constantly being asked if you wanted a drink. Now since everyone has “free” drinks, no one asks anymore. This was truly aggravating when I could see about six or seven of the staff standing in a corner talking. As I told someone yesterday afternoon, “This is not the Celebrity I remember.”

Lastly, some of my readers will remember the good old T-Pool. For those who don’t know, this is an indoor pool on the Millennium-class ships that is in the shape of a cross. It is not for swimming. It has two big benches you sit on and jets push water up from underneath them. It is total relaxation and we have always loved using these pools.

Well, no longer. No more bubbles and the water was hotter than hell. Hotter than the two hot tubs that sit alongside it. The temps used to be just above body temp so it was really wonderful to spend some time relaxing in the pool. Now that is not the case. Most people we saw could not stand the heat and, like us, were out in about 5 minutes. They also have big faucets that pour water down into the pool that our buddy Bob (hi Bob) used to love to stand under. I think if he did that today, he would be boiled in minutes. We asked a pool attendant about it and were told that he had no clue there were jets under the benches or that the pool could be at a different temperature. Again, it’s just sad.

The next day on the cruise we had a stop on Catalina Island and I will do my best to get that up soon.

There is no sincerer love than the love of food.
–George Bernard Shaw

 

Just as I was afraid of…

Well, we are onboard Celebrity Cruise Line’s Millennium and it is just as sad as I was afraid it would be. And I am just as mad as I was afraid I would be. Let me explain.

We have been sailing on Celebrity since 2004 when we did our first Panama Canal crossing. This will be (I would have to check to be sure) our 22nd Celebrity Cruise. And on any of their ships other than Flora in Galapagos, we are done with them. And today’s first few hours on the ship explain exactly why we are done with them.

Example #1–I can’t see forward

About 10 minutes ago (it’s 3:25 on May 3) I left our stateroom to go up on deck and take some photos of the San Diego skyline. Having been on this particular class of ship before (like 11 times) I knew (or at least I thought I knew) where everything is. But this ship is one of four in her class and she has been “Edgesized,” That means that they took the ship into dry dock and made a bunch of changes. Many people have raved about those changes. Having sailed on her sister ships and now having been aboard for a whole 5 hours, I can say that while the surface stuff is nice (better linens, better beds, etc.) the big stuff sucks.

I went up to the top deck to take photos. On this class of ships I have taken photos from the top deck of so many places. Our Panama Canal crossings (twice), Vancouver, BC, Alaskan glaciers and so much more. But now when I tried going to the front of the ship to take in the San Diego skyline, no luck. Every deck forward of a certain point at the front of the ship says, “Stop, Retreat Guests Only.” Which basically means rich people only. And the other place that we photo nuts knew about was in front of the gym. You could walk out on a large deck from the front side of the gym. Well, that is gone now as well. They closed it in to add more exercise machines. To me, that’s just saying to anyone besides the suite guests, “Ha Ha Ha, you should have bought a suite.”

I have no problem with anyone spending their money to get a suite or a larger stateroom. We ourselves like to sail in X’s Aqua class which gets us dinner in a different dining room with s0-called healthier food and a little nicer ambiance. And there are a lot of others things I don’t mind them doing to give those who spend more a little more. But when they cut off everyone but those rich folks from any place that they can go to the front of the ship to see the view or take a photo, they have gone too damn far.

Example #2–Don’t give me CRAP for “free”

One of the new “innovations” on Celebrity is the Always Included program. Now some things you would normally pay extra for are…Always Included. Things like a Classic Beverage package, included gratuities and free WiFi. Well, Celebrity—why bother giving me free WiFi when it is so horrid that I either can’t use it or if I really need to be able to get online, I will be forced to go and buy your faster package. The illustration shows what I got when I launched a speed test website today. Our download speed is 0.4 MPS (megabytes per second). At home, we get almost 250 MPS. So this isn’t just 4 MPS or .4 MPS, It’s .04 MPS. That means for a single web page to download and just show what’s on it it can often take more than 15 minutes just to bring my e-mails down. And there are fairly simple web pages that won’t download anything other than text. They call this “Basic” internet service and it’s what you get for free.

I am going to guess what you are thinking, “Hey Jim, it’s free. What’s the big deal?” The big deal is that in the past you could buy these items for (most of the time) less than what they increased the cruise fare by, to pay for them. And when you did buy them, you got a lot faster internet speeds than this. It’s just sad. And yes, I could go and upgrade my web speed and I have no problem doing that but don’t tell me I get internet service and then make it so bad that if I need to use it, it is worthless. Lastly, some of you are going to ask why I need internet on this trip—we are on vacation. Yes, we are, but we are also closing an escrow on a bridge loan to buy a new house when we get back and that means we need to be able to Docusign a bunch of stuff and doing it with this slow speed is a pain in the proverbial donkey. I also need to be able to get e-mail from my travel clients. Just this afternoon I had to cancel a cruise for two clients who came down with COVID.

Example #3–I am not a fan of beige.

Some cruise ships are downright gaudy. Circus-like almost. Celebrity never looked like that. They were nice, muted colors. Shades of blues, golds and other subtle colors. Well when they redid Millennium to “Edgeisize” her they just decided that they wanted the opposite of gaudy, they wanted blah.

I am sitting in a stateroom typing this where every single surface and linen are some shade of beige. The ship’s interior furnishings with a few notable exceptions were converted to beige. This is now the most blah ship I have ever been on and if they are going to do this to all the Celebrity ships, I am glad we won’t be back on any of their standard ships (we still plan on going to the Galapagos one more time on the amazing Flora).

OK, enough griping. Let me check in tomorrow about our day in Santa Barbara today.

 

Going again

I bet you thought I died…or worse. But we are still here. And tomorrow, we leave on a two-week vacation that will find me posting a whole bunch. First, we are headed to Southern California to spend the night with my brother and his family in San Juan Capistrano. Then Tuesday, we head further south to San Diego, where we board Celebrity Cruise Line’s Millennium for a cruise back up the coast to Vancouver, BC.

On the way, we have stops in Santa Barbara, on Catalina Island, two days in San Francisco, Astoria, Oregon, Seattle, Victoria and finally Vancouver. And of course, I will be writing all about it and posting photos, so watch for my daily posts. I am happy this cruise has a couple of sea days, so I will do some posting and photo processing on those days. Hope you enjoy coming along.

But the real reason I haven’t posted in more than a month is that we are moving. And so we have been doing all the things you do to get your house ready to sell and dealing with all the fun of buying a new one. So I hope you will excuse my absence, but now it’s time to travel again. See you soon.

Economy…Plus…Plus

Editor’s note: After I mistakenly pushed Publish on my last post before I had added photos, I am going to no longer have the entire post go out in an e-mail. You will get the headline and the first paragraph followed by a link to click to see the entire post online. Thanks for looking at it that way. 

Typical Domestic Economy Class

Winding up our discussion of flying classes/categories, let’s finish with the Premium Economy, international Economy and Economy. But first, let’s talk about domestic economy class because we all know that hell hole that we have all flown a lot of the time. We still fly it when we travel along the West Coast but we do our best to make the situation better with plane and airport choices. Here are some of the things we recommend for those flying domestic economy.

If you fly domestic economy and want to have as good an experience as possible here are some things we do to make it better.

  • Choose a better airplane if you can. When we book a flight I will often look (if multiple flights are going to that city) for a particular airplane to fly on. We have grown to love flying on Embraer jets. If you have never flown one, they are smaller planes (not too small—you can still stand up in them) and if you pick the correct economy row (the first one behind First Class) you have more legroom than those in FC. Also, the seat configuration is 2-2 so there is no chance you will ever get a middle seat. One drawback to these planes is that you can’t take a standard carry-on onboard the plane. There is just no room in the overhead compartments so I usually gate-check my carry-on bag.
  • Choose a better airport if you can. We have been blessed for the last few years that Alaska Air has started flying to most destinations on the West Coast from Paine Field in Everett (PAE). For us, it is about the same distance from our house to Everett as it is to Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA). PAE is much smaller (like about 5% the size of SEA) and the smaller the airport, the smaller the planes (Alaska only flies Embraer jets out of Everett). Small airports also mean that you don’t wait in security, boarding, or food lines at concessions for as long. The airport is one of the most stressful parts of flying and small airports make it better. When we fly from SEA, from the time we walk into the airport until we check our luggage, get through security, and take about 30-45 minutes to our gate. At PAE we can do all that in less than five minutes.
  • Choose the right seat. NEVER fly in a middle seat. Even when flying together in a jet with 3-3 seats we sit across the aisle from each other. I have never been a fan of window seats. I hate being closed in and having to get across two people to use the restroom. And the older I get the more that happens 😜. On a wide-body jet, you have another choice to make but that depends on the seating configuration. If you have never been there, allow me to introduce you to Seat Guru. You don’t need to check it for every flight but you do need to go there before you fly on a wide-body jet. That will show you the configuration of the seats. For instance, in this seating chart from a British Air 777, you can see that the top section (that starts with the green seats) is Premium Economy with 2-3-2 seating. The bottom section (they call it World Traveler) is their economy and it is 3-3-3. The best seats on this plane (outside of Business class) are the green bulkhead seats on either side of the plane. The 2 seats in the 2-3-2 configuration.
  • Another Seat Guru note is that as you can see, some seats are red, some green and some yellow. When you’re on the Seat Guru website and mouse over those, you get a pop-up that tells you that the reds are seats to stay away from and why the yellows are cautionary. The greens are considered very good for some reason. When you mouse over them, it tells you why or why not you should pick them. I do this with every flight we take unless I know the airplane well. All you will need to look up your plane is your airline, date of flight and flight number.
  • Choose your seats as early as you can. People who wind up in middle seats usually buy their tickets at the last minute. I can tell you that the last time I flew in a middle seat was when my Dad was sick and I bought a ticket using miles to get down to help my brother deal with a bad situation.

The differences between international and domestic economy

Typical International Economy cabin on an international flight. Note the 2-4-2 configuration.

When you fly international for the first time you will find that it is decidedly not like flying economy domestically. To start there is about a 90% chance you will get a meal. Especially on foreign carriers. And on the foreign carriers, it will be a warm meal. You also have some kind of entertainment system. There may be some other little perks you can get but this will vary by airline. Some include seat assignments for free, some include one checked bag. Pay attention when booking. Watch for anything that says, “info” and click it. The more you know about your flight the better. I am going to do another post (I just decided this one is too long) on how I book our airfare.

What do you get with Premium Economy and is it worth it?

Delta’s Premium Economy Seat

When you decide to pay the additional $$$ and move up to Premium Economy (PE) you get a few nice extras. One is the seat. Your PE seat will look much like the ones you walk by in First Class of a domestic flight. A little wider and a little more legroom. Unlike most domestic First Class, the seat may recline a little further and you may have a leg rest that pops out when you do. Kind of like your La-Z-Boy recliner at home. So it should be easier to fall asleep.

If you are flying with a partner or a spouse, do your best to get one of those two seats on the side of the plane in a 2-3-2 configuration that I mentioned above. That way if you have the window seat, the only person you need to bother when you need a restroom break is your partner.

Flying in PE may also get you expedited check-in, earlier boarding, a better meal, a free checked bag or an amenity kit. The area of the cabin you are sitting in will be smaller than the economy section. Usually a LOT smaller. And there will be one or two dedicated flight attendants for this section so you should get better service. It should also make the flight a little quieter. Since PE costs more than Economy, many families with kids won’t be flying in that section which will further help you get some sleep on the flight.

Is it worth the extra dollars?

The price difference between economy and premium economy will depend on the flight you are taking. For instance, here’s the price on our next flight to Europe, a non-stop going from Seattle to Amsterdam on Delta.

  • Business Class (Delta One) $2,680 per person
  • Premium Economy (Premium Select) $1842 per person
  • Economy (International Main Cabin) $1,135 per person

We are flying Business Class using a voucher we had from a canceled flight in December. If we were going to fly this flight and we weren’t going to be in Business, it would be worth it to us to pay the additional $707 to move up. Especially if I could snag one of those two seats in a 2-3-2 configuration. It would be worth it to me to get rid of the middle seat. Especially during COVID. I should add that some airlines (including Delta) now charge more for “Comfort Seats” with a little extra legroom. That might just be an exit row or a fully dedicated section. All of that will depend on the route and plane you will be flying. Again, check Seat Guru…and hope they don’t change your plane the day of the flight.

Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo. – Al Gore

 

Airplane classes: Today let’s look at Business

This is the Delta One Business Class seat I just booked for Kathleen and I to Amsterdam in August.

Now let’s get back to our original question (in the previous post); is it worth it to spend the extra money to fly Business Class when going overseas?

The biggest difference between flying coach and Business Class (BC) is this: if you are the kind of person who can sleep on an airplane and you are in BC on a plane with lie-down seats then it is truly worth it. You can arrive awake and already on the way to beating jet lag because you have kept to your current sleep schedule.

We live in a perfect place for that. Most of the flights to Europe from Seattle leave in the late afternoon or early evening. That means we have the entire day to get ready to go, we head to the airport before rush hour, spend a couple of hours in the Business Class lounge and then as soon as we are in the air, they serve dinner, it gets dark and we watch a movie and go to sleep. The flight attendants wake us up six hours later, serve us breakfast and we land in London or Amsterdam around lunch. It’s almost perfect.

For us that works most of the time. The older we get the less it works. Unlike the seats on our First Class flight mentioned yesterday, even though most BC seats lay flat, they are thin. Not a lot of padding. The older we get, the more padding we need but we still appreciate all the amenities you get when flying BC. Some people base their vacations by how much they spend per day. Flying in coach (at least for us on an international flight) means we lose either a half or whole day recovering from our flight. Sometimes the jet lag can slow us down for a few more days. So for us, the extra $$$ we pay for business are worth it. 

There are some caveats to flying Business Class. First, DO NOT BE FOOLED—all business class flights and seats are not alike. For instance, on most European and Asian carriers and many US carriers, international business class always has lie down seats. But some (like Icelandic Air) only have seats that are equivalent to US domestic first class seats. Those would be Premium Economy on an international flight with most airlines. 

Also, when booking with points or miles, beware of “Mixed Class” itineraries. For instance if I fly from Seattle to Athens and it says mixed class on the flight. That probably means that I will be flying at least one leg of the flight in coach. Usually the longest and most expensive leg. This happens a lot when you are paying with points or miles. Be careful of this when you book the flight.

If you have been in Business before but have not flown it within Europe, business class on flights between European cities is not what you expect. We flew “Business Class” from SEA to Edinburgh on British Air. The SEA/LHR part of the flight was in real (lie down seats, better meals, upstairs on a 747) business class and the LHR/Edinburgh flight was was listed as business as well. But business class once inside Europe usually means that you have a coach seat with the middle seat blocked off. No extra leg room, no better seat, no amenities and maybe a little better food (if you get food at all). On our last trips to Europe we have avoided this situation by flying nonstop to a city in Europe, staying a couple of days and then flying coach to where we are actually going on a much shorter flight. This saves money as you are only paying Business class rates on a shorter flight.

When people are considering flying in Business for the first time I get a lot of questions. They want to know what you get for the extra $$$. Here’s what you get extra when you fly International Business Class on a “good” airline :

  • A business class lounge where you get free food, free drinks (including specialty coffees and alcoholic beverages). Some of the lounges in Europe have showers and sleeping pods. As one person on Facebook said, “The vacation starts when you hit the Business Class Lounge!” We agree.
  • A much better seat. Usually a lot more leg room, it will be wider, the seat will lie flat, it will have a really nice built-in entertainment system and room/storage to spread out.
  • Great food. Most of the time you will have a choice of menu items, wine, beer, cocktails and more. Almost always three separate courses. It’s the equivalent of a very nice restaurant. It’s served with real utensils, real plates, placemats and the works. And you have a tray table big enough to hold it off. On some flight there will be an open snack bar where you can grab crackers, nuts, yogurt, soft drinks whenever you want.
  • An amenities kit. Nothing incredible but you will have a toothbrush, tooth paste, a eye mask so you can sleep, ear plugs, comb, hand lotion and more. Sometimes you get slippers so you can walk to the bathroom in the middle of the flight.
  • Less people. Since Business classes are smaller that coach there will be dedicated restrooms for BC and that means you will not have to wait as long to use them and they will be cleaner when you do. In many cases there will be a galley between business and economy so it is almost impossible for those in Economy to come to the front of the plane. There will usually be two or three flight attendants for less than 30 Business class seats.
  • Early boarding and early disembarking. You will get on first and get off first, sometimes by a separate door than coach (depends on the plane).
  • A separate check in line when you first arrive at the airport. You wait in a much shorter line. On some foreign airlines you are greeted by name from time you check in until you get off. We have actually had check-in personnel see us approach, come around from behind the counter and take our luggage to be checked. In some airport there may also be a First and Business class security line. It is usually faster than even TSA Pre-check because there are a lot less people in it.
  • Expedited luggage. On many airlines, your luggage will be the first off the plane (it is specially tagged) and that means it will the first on the carousel.

One last thing about Business class I just want to warn you about one last thing. Once you have flown Business class you will NOT want to go back to coach/economy. For us that happened the first time we flew in Business internationally to Auckland, NZ. For us it means that the vacation starts when we get to the airport. We know people who hate to fly. Not because they are afraid to fly but because airports and airplanes are a hassle. Business class (First Class domestically) take a lot of that hassle away. Enjoy Business class at your peril 😜.

In my next post I will conclude this treatise (WOW! I’m writing a treatise!) on air class by looking at Premium Economy and Economy classes and comparing some typical pricing.

What’s important is that a customer should get off the airplane feeling, ‘I didn’t just get from A to B. I had one of the most pleasant experiences I ever had, and I’ll be back for that reason.
– Herb Kelleher, founder Southwest Airlines