Category: 2002

Used: 2002

I have flown my share of shady airlines. But probably the one I get the most weird looks about is Kuwait Airways. When I spent the semester at UMass, my sister was spending the semester in Florence, Italy and I wanted to take a week off and visit her. You know, since I was already half way there. The summer before the semester began, I planned the whole week, which included a dirt cheap flight from JFK to London. Seriously, the whole thing, with taxes came to $300 in mid October, which was easily $100 less then anything else. And it was on Kuwait Airways. When I told people I was flying them, they were like, do you think it’s going to be okay. I would respond with, when is the last time you heard of this airline having any issues? And everyone would come back with a “true”.

So I checked in and don’t remember having any issues. Nearly everyone checking in was wearing some sort of garb, weather it be middle eastern or indian and the only other white person as far as I could see what an older dude standing behind me in line. He started chatting with me and he said he had taken them over to the US (his accent ID him as British) and said they were fine. No alcholole on board, which is a non-issue for me. I was issued a window seat with no problems. I remember the terminal being super empty. I remember when they called certain row numbers to board, everyone stampeded the gate, which in one of my pet peves. I hate when people can’t follow rules like that. I board last, to avoid the crowd. I have the whole 3 seats in my aisle to myself. Someone sits on the asile seat but before we take off, they move, so I end up with all seats to myself. YES! In looking throughout the cabin, I see the middle seats are jammed and full, bu the edge seats are more empty. So weird, but good for me! For the first time ever, I sleep the entire flight. Helps that it’s a short flight too, you leave at 10pm and you arrive in London at 10am, which is perfect! I am used to leaving mid afternoon and arriving mid day and getting hardly any sleep. I don’t remember the food and I remember the entertainment, while everyone having their own screens, not being the best. I remember one channel on the tv having the option to see which way Mecca was, so you knew which way to pray, which is not normally an option on any flight I have ever been on before. So that was different. No issues on arrival and no issues at immigration or customs because of the flight. All in all, a totally regular, normal flight.

The way back was just as fine. Since there is only one flight a day, there is really no fear you are going to miss it if you get to the airport with enough time. I was in line behind a white family who was returning to the US and flew them for the same reason I did, dirt cheap! When I boarded, I had my whole row to myself again (window for me, of course) but once we took up, some guy sat on the aisle of my row, which I totally did not care about. I would prefer to have the middle empty anyway, as I like to pull that tray down for drinks and stuff as not to have to deal with mine. The center of the plane was again packed. And compared to what I am used to, another quick flight. You leave at 3pm local London time and are back in New York City just in time for dinner!

Moral: For that price, totally worth it. Not the best I have ever taken, but by far not the worst. The service was fine. And you can’t put a price on paying for a coach ticket and getting a whole row to yourself, especially on an overnight flight. We all hope for it, but it never happens. And I got to my destinations in one piece, which is the only thing you can really hope for when boarding a plane. Don’t knock certain airlines just because of their name and home country. I know I always think twice when I have to do this now.

Used: 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

Virgin Airlines in its many forms. I have flown with three of their services. The first was with VirginAtlantic back in 2002, during my first trip to London. A friend of mine suggested them and told me they were awesome, so when it came to book my flight and they were on par with being as cheap as any airline, I picked them. Yeah, kind of a disappointment. The seats were super tiny and on my flight from LAX to LHR, none of the entertainment consoles worked. Granted it was the overnight flight and you were supposed to sleep anyway, but a total dissapointment! Luckily, they worked on the way back. Good things: I liked the little bag of goodies you got when you got to your seat. I loved the pen that came in the bag and used it for years. I just liked the way it wrote. Also, I did like the funkyness of it all, but would have gladly changed to blah to get the entertainment working. That was the biggest disappointment. Otherwise, don’t really remember much else about them. Haven’t flown with them since.

Funny enough, I totally forgot about flying on Pacific Blue until this week when I was reading about the change in name to Virgin Australia (from Virgin Blue, see below) to include Virgin’s services in the pacific, outside of Australia. This service started within New Zealand in 2007, when I was living in Auckland, and to promote the new services, the fares were dirt cheap, so I bought some for my family when they came and we had to fly from AKL to CHC. 4 one-way tickets for US$114! But you pay for what you get. They only flew back and forth from AKL, WLG and CHC on various routes a few times a day. It seemed they only had a two or three planes that flew back and forth, granted distances aren’t very far and you can get from AKL to CHC and back in less then 4 hours. But if one flight was delayed, the whole schedule for the day was thrown off. I booked the last flight of the day from AKL to CHC, just in case of any delay and by the time we left AKL, we were about 4 hours delayed and finally left AKL about an hour after we were supposed to land in CHC. It sucked, but it was supposed to be a rest day anyway. So we ended up “resting” in the airport instead of the hotel. Oh well. I was just looking at the PacBlue website and it appears that they do not fly within NZ anymore, just from NZ over to Australia. So I guess those routes didn’t last long the way they were booking them. Oy.

When I was in Australia, they have a low cost airline called VirginBlue. I flew with them from Brisbane up to Cairns. The airline was pleasent enough. At the time I flew with them (October 2008) they allowed one checked bag, so I sent my bag through and there was no problem. You had to pay for all entertainment (though ads screened non-stop on your personal screen for all those that didn’t pay, thankgod, no sound) and the worst part for me was no free drinks, not even water! I almost shat my pants when I heard that. The only water they had was bottled and you had to buy it. I was so mad. I depend on water when I fly and I stupidly forgot my bottle (hell, you can even bring FULL bottles through security when you fly domestically in Australia) but still. We might charge you for every little thing on American airlines, but I would hate to see the day when they won’t even give you water for free with no warning. That is the day, I’ll start to fight.

While I was away, Virgin America started up. One of there big routes that I have taken many times since being home in the LAX-SFO route. They are usually on par with Soutwest when it comes to everyday price, so for the most part, why fly SWA when you can fly Virgin? They are located in Terminal 3 at LAX and Terminal 2 at SFO (having moved recently from the International Terminal). My only recc for the LAX terminal is not to take the last flight of the day, as that is when ALL their flights leave, including some jumbo jets to Australia on VAustralia. The security line is forever (compared to other parts of the day) and it sucks. I have never really had a bad experience on VA. Some flights have been delayed for mechanical and weather issues, but I have always been kept up to date on delays. Since they know that everyone carrys on their luggage now, sometimes you’ll get a message on the overcome, asking people to check their luggage at the gate for free and I almost always do that. Unfortunatly, you have already come through security at that point, but still, it’s one less thing to carry about the terminal. And last time I did that, they let everyone with no luggage, no matter what row you were in to board early and get a jump on watching the tv that they provide on individual screens for everyone for free! That is the best part of Virgin is the entertainment and I always have a hard time choosing what to watch or listen to when I fly them. Their planes are clean and attendents are very nice. I always look forward to flying with them.

Moral: Virgin as an airline brand seems to be hit or miss. All the low cost carriers in Australia have different issues, so VirginBlue having issues is of no surprise. I just got a crap flight on VirginAtlantic. I don’t hold it against them, just everytime I have gone back, they haven’t been the cheapest, so I’ll pass. But I highly reccomend VirginAmerica for all those in the US, if they happen to be going your way.

Used: 2001-2007

All my Harry Potter books

In general, I am late to the party in regards to Harry Potter books. I hated “magical” books when I was a kid and by all assumptions, I shouldn’t like these books. For some reason, it was the trailer of the first movie that got me interested (a movie trailer had never done that before, in 20 years!) and after seeing and loving the movie, I went out and bought all 3 books available at the time (4 was still in hardcover and no way was I investing in that). I’ll fully admit to anyone that the movie got
me into the books, because like I said before, I normally do not like stories like this. So this is Fall/Winter 2001. I went to Boston in January 2002, and when I was on the T, I saw someone reading a PAPERBACK copy of #4 and nearly freaked. Since it was a different cover, I came to the conclusion that it was a british copy. Luckily, I was headed to the UK in March! Part of souviners for myself and my friends were paperback copies of HP and the Philisophers Stone. NERD ALERT! Plus, I got a copy of #4 in paperback, even though by this point, I had read the american version of #4 (of course).

The following summer, 2003, #5 is FINALLY getting released. Of all places, I happen to be doing my “European Backpacker Summer” at the time and happened to be in London at the time! I hemmed and hawed if I wanted to join the midnight release parties and I actually ended up sitting out, mainly because the following day I was headed on the train/boat to Calais and I knew I could buy the book at the train station. And I am not one of those that is going to start (and def. NOT) finish the book in the middle of the night. I could wait. But the next day, picked up my copy (along with like bunch of other adults headed out on early morning trains) and a cool bag at WHSmith. YAY for the British cover! So this cover was yellow and that is the version they sold all over Europe all summer, so I got so used to seeing that cover, that when I got home, I was like, what is with the blue cover? So weird to me, even though I think it (the US cover) is a better representation of the book, as it’s a more dark story then the rest of them.

I was in the US for #6, nothing special there.

So they announce the relase date for #7, probably what, like a year in advance? It’s coming out summer/July 2007! I am going to be in NZ! I preread #6 before I leave to refresh myself and because I don’t want to take it with me. I have reread all of them way more then once anyway, but I am off for who knows how long and I am not trading my Harry Potter books away, as is my plan for the rest of my books while I am traveling.

July rolls around. It was the middle of winter. It rained. If you are in a time zone ahead of the UK, the book gets released in time with them, so for NZ, we’re talking 11am, Saturday morning (12am UTC, 4pm LA time, the previous day!!) If I was crazy, I could have read the book before LA even got their hands on it! NUTS!!! I think the book should have just had a full on UK release time, no matter what time it is in the US. That would have been so so so awesome. Anyway, I get to the mall and the two book stores aren’t packed at all, maybe like 30 kids at each. That is how NZ rolls! After the crowed clears like 10 minutes after 11am, I just stroll to the counter and just say, one please. The sales person knows what I am talking about. I take the bus home and dig in. I actually finish the book in 2 full days and unlike the previous 2 where I plow through them, just so no one ruines it for me and usually by the end, I am totally burned out, this is the first book that I actually read very closely. What else is new, there isn’t much else to do in NZ.

The cover of the international copy of black, so I get used to this one, even though it’s a horrible cover. Unfortunatly, since I was unemployed for the first 6 months of coming home, buying the US version of HP got shifted low to my priorities list. And even now that I have a job, I actually haven’t picked up the US paperback yet. I really should. The US covers are so much better, plus they have those little pictures at the start of each chapter! Pure HP fans think the UK “versions” are better, but they kind of aren’t. Since I have so many versions of the whole series, it takes up an entire shelf on my bookshelf at my parents house. I do like that.

Moral: I am such a nerd, that I love having stories like these about my book buying expirence, especially for such iconic and non-American books like these. I liked seeing how crazy fans are in every country and as usual, the US is still the most nuts. I have little stories like these about the movies too, since I was only at home for like half of them. Maybe later this year, when the last one comes out, so I can write a complete story.

Used: 2002

I am going to deviate for a moment here to share one of my favorite travel stories, when my friend Melina (said Hanson friend from NJ) and I went to London for spring break in 2002.

We had both been to Europe before with our families, but neither of us had made it to London and we both had been wanting to go for years. Right after 9/11 we made the executive decision to just bite the bullet and go. Neither of us were scared of flying, so that wasn’t an issue at all. Anyway, when we were discussing accomodation options, I think I threw out staying in a hostel. I had done it 2 years before when I traveled around Israel with a group and didn’t find it as scarey as I originally thought. So we booked a week in the largest (cheapest) room at Ashlee House, which is near Kings Cross. That seemed central for us.

As she came from the east coast and I was coming from LA, Melina arrived before me and we made plans to meet at the hostel at 3pm on our arrival day. Her plane landed at 6am and after wondering around town, we made perfect time and she arrived back at the hostel just as I was putting my bag into storage. She had returned to take a nap, but I was excited and wanted to get out there and walk around and wake up, so she obliged me and walked around for a while, even though she was dead tired. We ate dinner at Pizza Express (our most expensive meal of the week, for two money starved students) before heading back to check into our room for the night. We pull our bags from storage and headed to the assigned dorm room. We took one step in and stepped out. It was filled with dirty old men, clothes hanging from everywhere and there is no way we are staying there. We are so tired and I nearly started to cry at this point and ask if there is another room we could stay in. Luckily, we were in London the first week in March, so not high tourist season and there was space in a 4 bed female room so we went up there. I go to the bathroom to take a shower and while the showers had doors, they were just in a huge room and the doors were perfectly clear and that is when I broke down and just cried. There is no way I could stay in this place for 6 nights. I haphazardly threw on some clothes and returned to our room and talked to Melina and knew she wasn’t feeling it either. When I walked from the Tube station to the hostel earlier in the day, I noticed a Comfort Inn 2 blocks away. Comfort Inns are cheap in the US, so how expensive could this place possibly be? We piled on jackets to go outside and take a look. We arrive and the receptionist is on the phone, but they have a price list and back in 2002, the price for a twin is £90/room. No way can we afford that for 5 more nights, when the hostel was only costing us like £20/night/person. I groan and the women gets off the phone and asks if she can help us. We tell her our issue and end it with, but your prices are too much. She says, wait a moment, let me call my manager and see what we can do. I nearly faint. At first, I was like we can pay £60/night, before realizing that that is still over $100 and once she gets the manager on the phone and asks how much we can pay, I say £50/night. She hangs up and it’s all approved. I put the whole fee on my parents credit card to reserve the room for 5 nights starting tomorrow, since we have already paid for the hostel for one night and I breath out the biggest sigh of relife, I am so happy!! We rushed back to the hostel and canceled the rest of our reservation for the week, which luckily we hadn’t paid for yet.

Sure, we ended totally blowing our budget and spending like 4 times what we had planned, but it made the week and trip so much better! We had our own bathroom and tv. We didn’t have to pack up our stuff every night as we were staying in the same place, our own room, for nearly a week. The complimentary breakfast was fantastic! We didn’t have any lock out hours, which Ashlee House had at the time, which worked well for us because what we ended up doing all week was going out in the morning, tour around, have lunch, coming back to the hotel for a nap and then going out again at night. We couldn’t have done that in the hostel!

When I came back through London for one night by myself later that year in October, I emailed the hotel and asked if I could book a single room for £50/night (still cheaper then list price) since I was arriving late and didn’t want to wonder the street and they approved it. In looking at the Ashlee House website for this story, it seems they have redone the hostel considerably since our expirence in 2002, so I wouldn’t even listen to our exprience there.

Moral: It doesn’t hurt to ask for a lower price then advertised, especially during the off season, because you never know what you may get. I am not a haggler by any means and it being London, this is one of my favorite travel stories.

NSE – National Student Exchange

Used: 2002

There have been a couple of posts floating around lately of peoples regrets in not doing a study abroad while in college. This used to be one of the few ways kids traveled overseas on the cheap (aka: mom and dad) or for the first time. Things have changed a lot in the last 10 or 20 years in the way of traveling and just because you didn’t do a proper study abroad doesn’t mean you are going to be stuck at home for the rest of your life. Nor can “staying home” (not leaving the country) be frowned upon! It took leaving the country for me to realize how lucky we are in the US. We can surf and ski, see fine art, hike in the sun and snow and about a million other things in the same day (depending on where you live in the country) without the need of a passport. There are very few (if any!) countries that you can do all that.

When it came time for me to decide on where to “study abroad” I wanted to go everything. I wanted to do a semester in London and a year in Australia. So you may think it was an odd choice for me then to choose a whole different program and do a semester at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst through the National Student Exchange . To back the truck up even more, I think I have said this before, but I did not like school. I went to college because it was expected of me (both my parents went to ivy-ish schools (Mom=Barnard, Dad=Berkeley) so I was 2nd generation) and I knew I couldn’t get a job without it. I knew I wasn’t ready for the “real world” so I killed time with college and worked and did internships. I used my summer vacations for travel and spent all the money I earned during the year. I associated LA with “working hard” while everything else was play. Why would I want to spend a whole bunch of money and be stuck in class every day? When I was in the study abroad office, I found out about the NSE and changed my plan. I lived at home, commuted to school and worked. This was not the “typical, Felicity college experience” my year saw and wanted to achieve. I liked where I ended up, but I wanted to experience something different as well. I wanted to live in a dorm. I wanted to have no work commitments. I wanted to see what it was like when school was your world. To not have a car. To live in a small college town. To see snow fall from the sky! UMass fit all those expectations. After 3 years, I knew I didn’t want it forever (and in hindsight, I could have never really gone to a school like that), but what else is a “study abroad” if not to learn and experience a different culture? Sign me up! If you look at the schools who participate, it’s mainly state schools. No ivys, just middle of the road schools for the everyday student. Most schools have a 1:1 exchange which means you have to send people to the same school you accept people. Oddly (or not) U of Hawaii at Manoa (in Honolulu) was the top school in the country. One kid from CSUN went there and all she took was hula and whatnot because it was her last semester! Anyway, I was a little worried about not getting into UMass, but luckily, CSUN is one of the top 10 schools in the program because everyone wants to come to LA and CSULA is not only in a crappy neighborhood, but they only accept kids for the year, while CSUN does semester. I think nearly everyone (if not everyone) my year got “accepted” for their first choice schools. UMass here I come! I also got accepted into the group that got to pay in-state California tuition, which meant I was paying less then kids at UMass paid for the same school. Score! The biggest expense I had that semester was living in a dorm and paying for the food, but for one semester, I think I can afford it. One semester won’t kill me.

The experience was fantastic! There were some kids on the program from Hawaii who had never seen snow before and while I had, I had never seen it fall from the sky. It snowed super early that semester, like the week before Halloween, which apparently is really early, but I loved it, mainly because I knew I was leaving in December and not coming back. I lived in one of the quiet dorms and enjoyed it. I got along with my roommate for the most part. As I said when I left, it could have been worse. I didn’t work for the first time in nearly 3 years. I helped out at the college radio station and read the news on Friday mornings with another Californian who read the sports (though he was a perm student, I thought it was still funny) because while I worked for a huge commercial station back in LA, there was no way I would ever make it on-air or really wanted too. And what else is college for but trying new things you could never do otherwise? I met a guy and “hung out” for a few weeks until I came back to California and it kind of fizzled and I didn’t care too much. I walked around the campus in the snow a lot. I would take the free bus into town and hang out at Wal-Mart and the $4 movie theater. I experienced cold weather I have never felt before and my eyes would start to water and I wasn’t crying. And after finals I came back to California and jumped back into my old life.

Moral: I am really glad I did this “study abroad” instead of one actually overseas. I wouldn’t have wanted to waste my time in a foreign country being stuck in class. The following summer I did my own grand tour of Europe and didn’t have to waste a minute in class. And isn’t experiencing a culture and life outside what you normally experience the point of study abroad? I’d say I achieved that. And I didn’t even need my passport! If your school is part of this program, I would highly recommend it!

*Sorry, I have no pictures. This was 2002 and I still used a film camera at this point. And actually, I didn’t take too many pictures while I was there either*