Category Archives: Airlines

Morning in Devon, long drive to London via (Dorset) West Bay, Netherbury and Beaminster/Dorset — goodbye (for now) England 


Devon Airbnb

(a week ago…although it seems much longer…)

We hung around at the Devon farm Airbnb longer than usual, in part, because I needed wifi in order to checkin to my British Air flight 24 hours in advance and change my seat assignment, which as I suspected was a middle seat. (One of the annoying things I discovered about BA is that you can’t pick your own seat without paying $38, more than 24 hours before departing — a bit obnoxious for a round trip flight that cost over $1000…or in my case lots of credit card miles.) But I was happy to kick back, enjoy the lovely breakfast hamper that our host Sarah delivered to our cottage door with fresh homemade granary bread, multi-colored eggs from her chickens, raspberries and strawberries from the garden.

The Airbnb was deep in the countryside, north of Launceton, after a right turn at the pub in St. Giles on the Heath and a drive to the hamlet of Virginstow along another high-hedged, essentially one-lane, winding road that at times made me feel slightly claustrophobic. I generally love country lanes but the ones en this neck of the woods — literally the really wooded ones that form a tunnel, as opposed to the ones through open fields that you generally can’t see due to the hedges — were sometimes spooky, especially at night. (Maybe it’s a good thing I put off reading Daphne De Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn”, a spooky book set near where we stayed in Cornwall, although now I am more interested in finishing it.)

Dirck and I wandered around the farm, past the sheep and “rescue chickens,” the fruit, veg and flowers in the garden, the wood fence and beyond, a bucolic valley of fields stretching far into the distance.

In the church cemetery across the road from our Airbnb, we found a 19th century headstone for a “Betsy,” which was surprising since I rarely see my name anywhere, let alone in England. I also had a nice chat with our 34-year-old host who recently quit city life and a city job i to buy the old farm, fix it up and start the Airbnb (which despite its remote location gets guests from Europe, South America and us Yanks).

The three Airbnbs we’ve stayed at in England were excellent! Part of it may be that I am getting pretty good at picking and I don’t go for the dirt cheap ones (if they even exist) but beyond that, the English hosts seem to be particularly good at hosting and providing a good approximation of the English country life admired by anglophiles like me.

Our drive home was longer than expected, in part because we got waylaid for an hour (argh) in and around Exeter when the nice big A motorway we were on suddenly became a town center traffic jam. We ended up getting out of it by taking another smaller A road in the wrong direction and then having to take a series of tiny no-letter/no-number/high-hedged lanes that often seemed to lead nowhere useful but eventually did. We were amazed at the variety of  roads we traveled on during a short drive and how close they were to each other, from a multi-lane motorway, to a two-lane  (barely) road to a high-hedged lane.

In Dorset, we drove in and out of West Bay, where the TV show Broadchurch is filmed, long enough to see the back of the big sandy beach cliff where some dramatic scenes were shot. Way too many tourists. Fortunately my friend Marion had mentioned a lovely little Dorset village  nearby where she stays, Netherbury, so we sought refuge there. If only it had a pub. By the time we got to the larger town of Beaminster nearby, the pubs weren’t serving lunch any more so we ended up a a little bakery cafe for a few savory tarts.

To get back to our friends’ house in Mortlake, we pulled out the “Sat Nav” which was a big help. (Most of the time I relied on an AZ book of road maps Francine kindly lent us.) Driving in residential southwest London is not easy. The windy streets are narrow and confusing but with the help of “Tracy” (our friends’ name for the Sat Nav voice) we made it to the Mortlake house and even found  a parking spot (several actually) in time to have dinner one last dinner with Una.

This morning, without Tracy’s help, we gave ourselves extra time to drive the rental car to Heathrow  and even though I’d made several screenshots of the google map to Heathrow, we still made a few wrong turns. Fortunately a woman walking her dog at 7:45 a.m on a Sunday morning helped us and we were soon out of the tangle of neighborhood streets and onto the M4, heading to sprawling Heathrow, where we eventually found rental car return signs (near terminal 4 and 5 for future reference) and gladly returned our car.

Heathrow was packed thanks to the start of the school holidays so I was glad to have 2.5 hours of time. BA flight attendants were on strike, which affected our service  (no second meal although the first one included a surprisingly edible Chicken Tikka, scant ice for the drinks, a non-functioning computer map and iffy movie reception).  A few nice touches — free newspapers available before stepping onto the plane so I loaded up on the Times and the Mail (The Observer wasn’t offered but fortunately I’d already bought one.) Goodbye England. I’ll be back.

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Filed under Airlines, b&b, England and U.K., LODGING

How I (unexpectedly) got a new bag from American Airlines


In the “it pays to ask” department: After returning home late two Sundays ago  from Florida, I realized that the purple suitcase I’d checked (at the request of American Airlines, although it would have easily fit in overhead) had several prominent rips. At first, I thought “Oh well,” but later it dawned on me that I probably wouldn’t be able to use the bag any more, especially if I need to appear somewhat respectable (or ever have another business trip…).

When I looked up online the particulars for what to do about a damaged bag, I learned I was supposed to show the bag to an American Airlines person at the airport within 24 hours of my return. But the morning after I returned was not only Spring Break. A major storm on the East Coast had led to many cancelled flights, meaning the airport would be even more mobbed. The last thing I wanted to do was go to the airport and kvetch about my ripped bag.

I explained all this to the AA baggage person the following Thursday night when I happened to be picking someone up at the airport and to my surprise, she looked at my bag, and said that even though I was past the 24-hour period, she’d give me a new bag “as a courtesy.” She left for a few minutes and returned with a brand new bag and was quick to point out the features including four wheels and a 10-year warranty. I thanked her profusely and went on my merry way.


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Filed under airfare, Florida

A first and last (for awhile) no-connection flight on southwest back from DC to dsm

imageWell this is weird and kind of nice but it won’t be happening for some time. My southwest flight from DC was almost direct to dsm. the plane stopped at Chicago’s midway airport but is the same plane going to dsm. Never done that before. And sadly won’t again because Southwest is replacing its Des Moines-Chicago flights with dsm-st. Louis flights. Oh well. I will miss the affordable flights to Chicago and to midway (goodbye Manny’s corned beef too) but one good thing: it appears that there will be Sunday flights to DC from dsm via St. Louis (there weren’t any via Chicag0.)

Two more good meals in DC, last night at graffiato, the top chef personality mike Isabella’s inventive Italian small plates and pizza joint near gallery Place. And tonight superb crab cakes at legal seafood in Reagan national airport. Plane is filling up again so signing off.

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Filed under airfare, Washington D.C.

On flying Air Canada and international/to Portugal via Toronto


Betsy in Evora

We never really got clear information information from United about what was involved in flying their airline for two of our three flights to get to Lisbon from Des Moines and flying Air Canada the last leg, between Toronto and Lisbon.

They were fine with selling us the pricey plane tickets that included the Air Canada flight but seemed to know little about the particulars. (We even had to call Air Canada to book seats for the Toronto-Lisbon-Toronto flights. United wouldn’t do it.) So when we couldn’t get a clear answer about whether our bags could be checked straight through to Lisbon (or if we would have to pick them up in Toronto and transfer them to Air Canada,) we opted to carry on our luggage. (And had to surrender our Swiss Army knife in the process.)


Dirck at Coimbra restaurant where guests post receipts on the wall

We were glad to have our bags when our planned two-hour layover in Toronto outbound evaporated as we were sat on the runway at Chicago’s O’Hare. At one point it looked like we would have to wait two hours to fly to Toronto (we didn’t find out until later that a storm had shut down the airport) but fortunately our delay ended up being one hour. We ran through the airport, went through some sort of expedited Canadian customs and easily made our 10 p.m. connecting flight. (Phew! If we had missed that flight we would have had to stay overnight in Toronto and wait until 4:30 pm for a flight to Newark and then get an 8 pm flight to Lisbon.)


Porto church


It was Canadian travelers whom we met in Toronto outbound who told us that on our return trip we would be able to go through U.S. Customs in Toronto, before catching out next flight to Houston. This was a relief since we had a two-hour layover in Toronto but only an hour layover in Houston (which means we would probably miss our flight to Des Moines if we had to go through customs there). I couldn’t get anyone to confirm this from the airlines but it is in fact what happened. Phew!

meanwhile the air canada planes there and back were old and cramped with NO movie screens. The only option was to use our laptops (or rent one) and get movies via an airline app. Huh?

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Filed under airfare, airline fees, Portugal

Maggie Daley park, Hubbard street dance, Acanto, Neocon, Riverwalk — Chicago

imageMy stay in Chicago has unexpectedly been prolonged, thanks to intense rain that led my 10:15 p.m southwest flight home from midway to be delayed two hours. At which point I was able to reschedule my flight at no cost to tomorrow at noon. Thank you Southwest. (Apparently this is possible after your flight is delayed more than an hour.)

Meanwhile, we had a good day in Chicago yesterday starting with a great performance by Hubbard street dance at the Harris Theatre. After the matinee, my sister and I walked around the new parts of Millenium Park/grant Park including

At Maggie Daley park

At Maggie Daley park

the lovely prairie gardens of Lurie Park and the cool kids playgrounds and  snaking ice rink at Maggie Daley park, although I gather locals were not pleased that old live trees were cut down to  make way for the playgrounds, which oddly feature bizarre dead trees.  We had an excellent dinner outside overlooking Michigan avenue at Acanto, a new restaurant owned by the same person in charge of The Gage, next door, (try the chicken piccata and the Bellini desert- a scoop of peach sorbet in a pool of prosecco.)

Today I went with my sister–in -law, a designer, to NeoCon, the enormous commercial  interior design show at the Merchandise Mart; then I walked along the new Riverwalk east to Michigan avenue. Chicago, looking good. Now if only it would stop raining.image


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Filed under airline fees, Chicago

ben’s chili bowl, rosa Mexicana : Washington, D.C.

IMG_1121Didn’t have much time to be a tourist this trip but I did go to a reception at Rosa Mexicana, which had good -you guessed it – Mexican food — near the gallery metro stop (and hotel Monaco, where my work meetings were). I also had a bowl of chili at the Reagan national airport outpost of the famous Ben’s chili bowl. Didn’t bowl me over. But it obviously lacked the more urban atmosphere of the original Ben’s.
I had hoped to go to the ramen noodle place, daikaya izakaya, my sister highly recommended, also near the gallery metro but ran out of time. Next trip.
Last night I made my requisite pilgrimage to Politics and Prose, a longtime favorite bookstore on Connecticut. Always have to buy a book there, every DC trip!

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Filed under Agritourism, Airlines, Washington D.C.

High Line and Nutty end of day thanks to delta airlines

New High Line sectionSo by midday I had already received a text from delta that my 7:30 pm flight to Des Moines from LaGuardia was delayed til 8:00. By 1:26 or so it was now leaving at 9:30 pm so I leisurely sauntered along the new section of the High Line down to Chelsea Market at 15th street, ready to eat a leisurely late lunch. But no, another text at 4:19 pm had arrived. I figured it was another delay or even a cancellation. But no, the flight was now leaving at 7:35 again. at first I thought I’d read a previous text but I called to check with delta and sure enough, the flight was back on time. And I was late. I rushed out of the market, hustled over to the subway and made it back to 108 th and riverside drive  at 5:15, grabbed my bag, skipped my plan to take the m60 bus to the airport and jumped in a cab.

highlinephoto 3 (1)

Just my luck I had a newbie driver who took me to the wrong terminal but eventually I made it with time to spare and we will see if this does in fact leave on time.  This appears to be a new or revamped terminal, with much improved food, New LaGuardia 2fress iPads for use everywhere and lots of plugs to recharge all our gizmos. Now if they could just get the flight notification process under control. And the flights to leave on time. At 7:15 came a development that does not surprise me at all. our flight is now delayed until 8:15. We have a plane but no pilots. Post Script: we finally left the gate around 8:30 and the tarmac about 9 p.m.


The new LaGuardia

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Filed under airfare, New York City

Joys of the Burbank Airport

Terminal building at Bob Hope Airport

A week ago we were wending our way home from green and sunny Los Angeles (now we’ve got snow again in Iowa grrrr) and appreciating the ease of traveling through the Burbank “Bob Hope” Airport. It cost considerably more to fly home from Burbank rather than LAX but man was it worth it – considering that we had a 3 p.m. flight (rather than the early morning flights available from LAX) and the airport is about 10 minutes from my brother’s house in Burbank. It’s a surprisingly tiny, pokey place – reminds me of Des Moines’ airport before it got bigger and busier. (Oddly our plane from Burbank to Denver was much smaller than the plane from Denver to Des Moines. )

One other tip: it pays to ask when you’re dealing with a tight connection in Denver. We chanced a 35-40 minute connection between United flights in Denver and even though our flight left almost on time from Burbank (10 minutes late technically), making our connecting flight was touch-and-go. The connecting flight was in the same Terminal B but about 60 gates away. I ended up asking an airport employee standing behind a desk with a disabled sign on it how long it would take to get to that far-away gate and without batting an eyelash, he offered to drive us in his cart – which saved the day. We got to the gate as people were boarding. (He did accept a tip – we weren’t sure of the protocol.)

Boarding from Terminal B


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Filed under airfare, California, Colorado, Los Angeles

Wow and Norwegian airlines flights to london – cheaper?

This from airfarewatchdog on cheaper flight options to london:

How to Save: The big trick that will help in 2014 is finding affordable airfare; other than accommodations, this is going to be your largest expense. With new low-cost transatlantic airlines like Norwegian and WOW promising to undercut major carriers’ prices in the coming year, it will likely be easier to pick up an affordable plane ticket to the British capital this spring and summer.

WOW Air, the new Icelandic low-fare airline, announced it would start flying between Boston and London/Gatwick this spring. Similar to Icelandair’s long-term flying pattern, flights will be via Reykjavik: leaving Boston in the evening and arriving in London the following morning, with the morning departure, afternoon arrival reverse pattern.

So far, WOW hasn’t announced anything about Iceland stopovers, but I’ll be very surprised if the line doesn’t offer stopover packages.



Flights will be in A320s, at a slightly below-average 30- to 31-inch pitch but average or better width. Although the airline is single class, you can reserve the extra-room exit-row seats and even guarantee an empty middle seat by paying extra.

Fares aren’t available yet, but the fare pattern will almost surely continue the carrier’s policy of offering very low fares to early buyers on at least some dates. Currently, for example, fares from London to Reykjavik are as low as £98 each way (about $157), including the onerous British passenger duty and a £6 “payment fee.” The only surprise is a very stiff charge of £19 for one checked bag.

Whether WOW flights will appeal to U.S. and Canadian travelers depends on one main factor: Will the fares be low enough to offset the increased flight time (compared to nonstops) and the hassle of an overnight stop? Back in the regulated days, low fares on Loftledir, the precursor to Icelandic, got a lot of budget travelers to accept those conditions, and many of them opted for a quick Iceland stopover. WOW seems to be hoping to replicate that formula.

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Filed under airline fees, England and U.K.

NYLO NYC a real find

NYLO Hotels - 4300 Marsh Ridge Road, Suite 110 Carrollton, TX 75010I knew the NYLO hotel on NYC’s Upper West Side passed muster when I got a thumbs up email from my brother, who also decided to stay there and had arrived at his room before we did. The hotel turned out to be a real find, especially for $120 a night ($151 with tax). The room was small, as expected, but well appointed, huge bed, comfortable linens, edgy but not  too edgy furniture, art, light fixtures, clean and streamlined bathroom. Not too noisy at night even though we ended up with a room overlooking Broadway when I had asked for a presumably quieter interior room (my brother’s room got no traffic noise). I found out NYLO stands for New York Loft and the Texas-based hotel chain has outposts in Texas, Warwick (near Providence) (RI) and soon Nyack (NY). Good to know!


Remarkably, the restaurant my uncle had chosen for dinner turned out to be connected to the hotel. It’s called Serefina and it had good affordable Italian food (I had good bolognese, pizza etc). Monday morning we went for coffee and pastries to Irving Farm, a little basement cafe on 79th just south of Broadway (there are several other Manhattan locations). After a quick visit to Zabars for bagels to take home to Iowa (I still miss H&H bagels) we walked across the park to meet my aunt at PJ Bernstein, a good deli on third ave near 71st street (that’s their cheese/meat plate above).

Our flight home from Newark went well despite a few stressful moments when we inadvertently left the subway station at 34th street and had to figure out where Penn Station was – above ground – and drag our suitcases through throngs of people at 5 p.m. At the airport, we somehow ended up again in the TSA pre-screened category but it didn’t make much difference this time around. We still had to stand in the same long line and take out our stuff and even take off our shoes (hrrummphhh). A guy in line ahead of me said that TSA pre-screened only really produces perks at Newark if you’re passing through  Terminal C (we were in Terminal A). Whatever…I was just happy we made it to Newark with ample time to catch our flight – and it left on time and we got home on time! Love that direct flight!

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Filed under air security, DINING, New York City, Rhode Island, Texas