Near Yellow Mountain

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

That's the Ticket

I am in the process of taking the “long way around” from the US to Tokyo – through Europe.  As I wait to board a Singapore Airlines A380 in Zurich, I am looking at the snow capped mountains of Switzerland.  I decided a long time ago to try to enjoy getting from point A to point B as much as possible. Despite declining service on airlines, particularly US based carriers, and the impact of 9/11 on air travel I still try to smell the proverbial roses as much as possible on long trips.
Anyone who has traveled internationally or has any sense of geography probably knows that the fastest way to Japan from the US is across the Pacific.  So why, make a long trip longer?  Actually there are a lot of reasons but the main one is the flexibility and cost of the “Around the World” ticket.  I have been using RTWs as they called since 1995. RTWs are easy to change with minimal fees and if you learn the detailed rules and are creative - you can get thousands of extra dollars in flights before closing out the ticket..
Back in the good old days, I convinced our division controller that it made more sense for me to spend $5,500 for a first class RTW than spend $6,500 for a round trip business class ticket to Tokyo.  I had to ask for permission because most companies limit first class travel to a very small number of people and at that time I was pretty far down the corporate food chain but a frequent traveler to Japan. “Don’t they have a business class RTW” asked the controller? “Yes they do I responded but don’t be greedy, you are saving money and first class is my compensation for spending the extra time in the air”.  He bought it but the soul less cost cutters we have now insist on business class. Fortunately the RTW is upgradable but getting upgraded is dependent with your “relationship” with each carrier. I use Star Alliance now and maintain top level status on United and Singapore Airlines.  These two airlines can get me most places I want to go and high level status is critical to getting upgrades.
Although it does take more time to go through Europe, I prefer leaving the US in the late afternoon or evening (easier to sleep) and arriving in Japan in the morning (two days later due to the time change). I always seem to have less jet lag when I arrive in the morning, go for a run and have some meetings. By night time, it is easy to sleep.
I started using RTWs before Star Alliance and One World existed. The first combination of airlines I used was Singapore Airlines, SwissAir and Delta. Singapore and SwissAir had great seats and entertainment, excellent in-flight service and the food was pretty good too. Delta was, well, Delta and I only used them for domestic connections. Getting off a Hong Kong to San Francisco Singapore Airlines flight and transferring to San Francisco to Atlanta on Delta was the ultimate in contrasts – from an airline that couldn’t do enough for you to the “cattle car” environment of Delta.
Of course you can do a RTW in the opposite direction, fly over the Pacific to Japan but that means flying against the wind adding hours to an entire RTW journey. It is also much more difficult to fly from Asia to Europe and make a connection to the US without a long layover. I have done trips in this direction but usually wonder why when I spent several hours in a lounge between two flights of more than 10 hours each.
As I finish writing this I am on the train from Narita airport in Tokyo to Tokyo station staring out at cherry blossoms just past full bloom. Over 30 hours of travel but I feel fine because I was able to get in first class and have a seat you can really sleep in. I watched 5 movies – including the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which I only watched because I had seen most of the other new releases. Pleasant surprise – I really enjoyed it as I did “Seven Days in Utopia”. In keeping with my long standing tradition, I only worked on layovers – preferring to enjoy the time when I can’t be reached by email or phone. Yes, I am aware that my airlines have Wi-Fi now but I won’t be using it. Not because I am a Luddite but because certain traditions should be left alone.