Monday, September 17, 2007

The Isolated American

Yesterday, I realized how insulated we are in America. I was looking for a metric tape measure – I knew I had one around as I use it for bike/ski work, but couldn’t find it anywhere. I did, though, find 4 other tape measures and 3 rulers – none of which had a metric scale.
Which, of course, got me wondering how many Americans speak another language (not counting Spanish spoken by new immigrants), how many of us have a clue how many kilometers are in a mile, how few of us can begin to convert Centigrade (Celsius) into Fahrenheit, even how few Americans have passports (at least until the new travel initiatives requiring passports between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Less Boredom in the Air with Air France

If you’re like us, flying is boring. We can only watch so many mindless movies, read so many mindless magazines, and listen to so much crappy music. Never mind trying to concentrate enough to “work.” Sometimes we numb out and watch the little plane flying over the little map of the “flight maps” on our little seatback screens. Or we actually listen to the cockpit conversations when that’s offered.

But now along comes something really fun.

Air France is rolling out a new satellite photo view system. It shows satellite photos (not real-time) of areas the plane is flying over. So far, it’s available on several Air France’s Paris-to-India and Paris-to-Singapore routes, and the airlines says it will eventually expand the service to other routes.

Here’s an image of Mumbai from the European Space Agency, one of the satellite services which provides photos to Air France.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The End of ATM Fees?

We’ve written several times about ways to reduce or avoid foreign ATM fees, since ATMs are far and away the best way to get cash internationally. We don’t know if it could be a harbinger of things to come, but Charles Schwab Bank is touting a new High Yield Investor Checking Account. The account claims (currently) 4.25% APY interest, 1-cent minimum balance, and “all ATM fees automatically refunded, worldwide,” at any Visa ATM machine. If this sets a new precedent for on-line checking accounts, could it really be the death of ATM fees? We’re signing up today. Now, if some more credit card companies would begin killing their onerous foreign-exchange fees....

Saturday, September 08, 2007

More Delta

After just complaining about Delta, we guess we owe them at least one thumb up. The airline is scheduled to begin non-stop Salt Lake City-to-Paris flights in June 2008. There are currently limited Rocky Mountain-region-to-Europe flights (from cities such as Denver and Phoenix) so any addition from that part of the U.S. is appreciated.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Between 2 Worlds: Driving Across China

Having previously lived in Asia, we always felt that China had one foot in the 21st century and the other in, oh, the 14th. In a Wall St. Journal article of August 25, writer Gordon Fairclough buys a Chinese Chery car (we don’t even want to go there with the name) and drives across much of western China. It’s a fascinating read about how China is driving (sorry) toward being a global presence, and a Westernized one.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Alaska Air

We’ve moved to a region where Alaska Airlines is the dominant carrier at the nearest airports, and have thus been fooling with Alaska’s website. We really like the matrix-style price/schedule system that Alaska now offers for booking flights. We’ve already made one reservation for upcoming travel, and were very pleased with the process, fare, and website ease-of-use.

Delta's Silliness

Delta has joined the niche marketing game. The airline has a new “contest” going, where viewers can watch 5 videos and obtain Delta frequent flyer points by voting for their favorites. The niche marketing comes in with the selection of the travelers that Delta chose to feature. There is the gay couple, the elderly couple, the black couple, the young couple, and the too-cool brothers. But despite several attempts, our log-in to vote failed, after sitting through all 5 annoying presentations. Nice try Delta – maybe next time just give us better air service.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Pondering Amtrak

We’re not sure what to make of Amtrak. The U.S. “national” rail system has been getting higher marks from passengers, some politicians, and even airlines. Considering the crowded, delayed mess that is air travel today, trains make great sense. Amtrak’s biggest successes have been in the crowded Northeast, with runs such as Boston-New York-Washington often more convenient and shorter than commuter air service. While the vast distances between destinations in the central and western states mean that train travel will never be quicker than air for cross-country travel, we could imagine some shorter routes (Los Angeles-San Francisco?) becoming viable. Ultimately, it would require more high-speed lines and system upgrades. But as Gordon Bethune, the ex-CEO of Continental Airlines told the Wall Street Journal, “If the French can do it, why can’t we?”