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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Maui report is mostly about air travel

Well, as thrilling as it was to get to Hawaii, for various reasons, mainly around Margaret's health, we didn't cover very much of Maui.  We found satisfaction staying in Kihei and relaxing at the condo.  The volcanoes on the Big Island were not an issue for us.  One remaining highlight is that we went out to dinner, at Matteo's in Wailea, with Kelly and Charlie, whom we'd met at one airport connection and Margaret became a regular customer of Kelly's cosmetics sales, and we happened to wind up being on Maui at the same time.

So I wind up having the most to say about air travel on the return.  Early in our stay, when I happened to look at the American Airlines app, I think to see if the miles had posted, I found that my confirmation code had changed, while Margaret still had the old one that was originally for both of us; perhaps the change was because we wound up in separate cabins on the LAX-Maui leg.  Anyway, Margaret's record no longer showed her as being on the waiting list for an upgrade.  I went to the airline both on Twitter and by phone to get our records linked again, so Margaret too was on record as requesting an upgrade.

At the 72-hour mark, we found ourselves confirmed in First for the second segment, the red-eye LAX-Boston flight.  There were still six seats open (according to the seat map) in First, but the airline likely expected from experience that a fair number of people pay for First on short notice on Hawaii routes, and in those remaining days the cabin filled up without our getting upgraded.

On the morning of our flight, we returned the rental car before 11 and got to the terminal.  Because there was some question whether we would actually return as scheduled, and there are warnings that upgrade "stickers" purchased online are late in posting, I held off buying the upgrade until we got to the airport.  After putting our checked bags through an agricultural x-ray required for Hawaii departures, I was first in the Priority line, ready to check in and holding the credit card to buy the upgrade.  The agent, whom I'd have expected to be used to processing these, fumbled for a long time, made a couple of phone calls, and finally went back to a supervisor for advice on how to get it done.  The deal was that the upgrades needed to be added to my AAdvantage account before they could be applied to Margaret's check-in, and apparently this agent wasn't used to handling that, which happened at my status level.  It's more common to have passengers at lower status levels who need to buy upgrades for themselves, or for the group to be on the same confirmation.

We got our boarding passes printed after 11.30.  The TSA inspection area there is open to the outside, and there was a high number of electric fans for cooling.  Then it was a long way to our gate, including an agricultural inspection (x-ray) of our carry-ons.  We were getting close to our boarding time of 12.10.  Margaret sent me to Starbucks to get some things, and I was able to get back just in time to board together.  No upgrade on this flight, but our Main Cabin Extra seats were quite satisfactory.  The person initially assigned to the aisle seat in our row was, I think, a deadheading flight attendant, and when the doors closed she moved to another row.  There was pretty good room on this flight, I bought a fruit and cheese plate, on a credit card where 25% is rebated, and they didn't ask for payment for the sparkling wine that was mostly frozen when served.

The eastbound flight, with tailwinds, went pretty fast, with us going into darkness quickly before arrival at LAX.  We had a three-hour connection, in fact using the same gate although it was not the same plane; the best sit-down eating opportunity in that terminal appeared to be Sammy's Woodfired Pizza.  We got through a meal, seeing the terminal bustling through the wait to red-eye departures, there and back to our gate, and eventually to our Row 1 seats, with departure just before midnight.

I'd understood that there would be no meal service at all in First on this red-eye flight, but in fact they offered a fruit and cheese plate, in addition to drinks.  We tried to get a little sleep, and at the end they offered a breakfast with a cinnamon roll and yogurt.

With a scheduled arrival time of 8.41, we had hoped that a flight this long would be early and we could get the 8.55 shuttle bus back to our area.  Because of storms in the midsection of the country, the flight needed to go due east to the Dallas area before turning northeast, and we weren't early.  Even with priority baggage tags, we were just too late to catch that shuttle, and needed to wait another two hours.  When we were on the shuttle bus, we fell asleep often, and we eventually got to our destination for my father to meet us.

I wish the time in Hawaii had been longer, and there were some frustrations, but it was an amazing time.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Kihei-Kamaole photos

Here are some pictures from the condo grounds in Kihei and Kamaole Beach across the street.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Aloha Spirit: starting our time

It’s been a whirlwind of activity at the start of our time on Maui: I’ll just try to give the basics.  We appreciate the Aloha Spirit, as one waiter described it: nice open friendliness.

We got a rental car from Budget, and used the Waze app to get us to our condo of Maui Kamaole in Kihei.  It was an after-hours check-in; as we got the car Margaret called and got a code so we could open a lock box with check-in materials, including a code to unlock the unit door.  It is a nice spacious unit.

With the 6-hour time difference, we were up early and were too early for one place for breakfast; we went to another for packages of coffee, and they loaned us an espresso coffeemaker.

For one errand, we went to the main mall in Kahului, and wondered about trying to get in for a meal at the highly reputed Mama’s Fish House in that direction.  We called and could get in at 3.45.  Even at that time, the place was very active, high-priced but we ate in style.  Mama’s Stuffed Fish, stuffed with lobster and crab was our choice.

In the morning, we had booked the sunrise trip to the Haleakalā volcano, picking us up at the condo at 2.15 a.m. when that wasn’t too bad while we were on East Coast time.  It meant going up to cold temperatures, and the view wasn’t too good today, but the guide shared some pictures from better days, which I’ll attach here.

Continuing to report an anniversary celebration

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Trip to Maui

American Airlines gave me Platinum Pro status as a promotion; I’ve never had elite status with a legacy airline.  I was thinking it might be nice to go, say, to Chicago, and somehow it came together to go to Hawaii.  I learned of Maui being best for a first visit, and the fare was impressively low.

We were ready to go when Margaret took ill and was hospitalized.  Just as she was taking ill, three days before the flight, we got word of an upgrade to First on the LAX to Maui segment.  It was sad to lose that opportunity, but Margaret’s health was most important.

Once the hospitalization was over, she was on the upturn.  We missed out on the really good fare, but the fare for May, even on short notice, was better than for June or July, and in May I still had the Platinum Pro benefits.   Instead of going on Margaret’s birthday as we planned, we could go to Boston on our anniversary, the night before our flight.   With this status, on this airline that charges for seat assignments for so many of their seats, at a minimum we could get extra legroom seats at no charge, and we were on the upgrade list for First Class.

Three days before departure, we got our upgrades cleared, this time for the Boston-LAX segment.  Mine was free, and I needed to buy distance-based “stickers” for Margaret.  We went to Boston, had a nice North End meal, and a night on points at the airport Hyatt.  In the morning, we had an easy check-in and were at the gate early.

We’d been assigned opposite window seats in row 1, and the person in the aisle seat agreed to  trade so I could be with Margaret.  We were on a transcontinental flight, something nice to experience now that we live on the East Coast.  I’m writing now in a nice wide First Class seat on the A321S.  We had pre-departure beverages, and when we were in flight our pre-ordered breakfast of a cheese omelette.  I’m not sure if I’m doing the right procedure to get Wi-Fi, but it’s spotty.  I had the AA app working just long enough to improve our seat assignments for the second segment.

We had friendly enough service through the flight, and it arrived at LAX over 30 minutes early.  I had found that our connecting flight was actually the same plane using the same gate,  but we needed to deplane for the 2-hour layover.  As the boards started to show our flight, I noticed my name at the top of the upgrade list.  This gets rather technical: American’s rule had been that, if I had not paid for the upgrade virtual coupons before checking in, we would be out of the running for the upgrade.  If I had paid and the two of us were at the top of the list but there was only one open seat, as is often the case when upgrades are assigned at the gate, we’d have been passed over for a person traveling alone.  I didn’t want to buy the “stickers” without the upgrade being confirmed, because they’d be useless after my status expires.  There was a policy change this past weekend that made it possible for me to be confirmed without Margaret, once the upgrades were under airport control.

So I noticed my name at the top of the upgrade list, and Margaret had in mind to go on her own to ask if she could buy an upgrade of her own if I was upgraded, which I don’t think was really a possibility.  The customer service agent said there was only one seat left but, if I got it, we could “share” it.  Just before boarding I got confirmed in the upgrade, and Margaret and I made plans to split the time in First Class.  

We were back on the same plane, but it was set up differently for the over-the-ocean trip, although shorter than the transcon.  There were pillows and blankets.

There was some confusion over whether we were to switch before or after the meal.  I had a surf and turf dinner.  Margaret was impatient to make the switch, we did, and then she back saying they wouldn’t allow it.  The flight attendants brought me to the front saying a change of First passengers couldn’t happen, at least without word from the ground crew. I was sorry to leave Margaret with a bad feeling.

Anyway, we had the excitement of landing at Maui Kahului Airport, and  had our bags quickly delivered in an area open to the Hawaiian air.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

And the return

We'll try to cover the story of our return.  We pretty well relaxed through to our Saturday departure.  With a Saturday afternoon flight out of Rome Fiumicino, we stayed in Umbertide until mid-morning, saying good-bye at our regular spots, with my longtime grocer friend Angelo offering us sandwiches for the road.

We hit the road, with one stop to eat the panini, another to fuel up, having used a little over half a tank of diesel on the whole trip.  I thought we were leaving pretty early, but we reached the airport at about the right time.  As I look over the still accessible SlowTrav page on returns at the airport, I see that the return locations have changed:  there were small signs saying which garage and floor are used by which companies.  I think Hertz was garage A, first floor, meaning one level up from the entrance.  We dealt with the return and took the elevator to level 2 to reach the overpasses to the terminals, still a fairly long way to Terminal 1.  Margaret sat there while I went to Terminal 2 to return our portable Wi-Fi device.

We asked for wheelchair assistance and gotten taken to the designated counter for Air Berlin check-in, handled by Alitalia staff.  We were spending the night in Düsseldorf and we could have asked for our bags to be checked through to the next day's flight to Boston, but we didn't plan for that and I was worried about the airline's reputation for handling luggage: better to have it in our control for the night.

We got to the gate, with concourses full of gleaming shops, and had a bit to wait with a late inbound.  We eventually got on with a half-hour delay, and had that flight to Düsseldorf.  We arrived at a gate with a jetway, and were helped to baggage claim, our bags turned up, and we went to the arrivals hall to be greeted by our friends Ben and Ellen.

Ben was an exchange student with my parents in 1988-89 in St. Louis; now he's an accomplished doctor and collector of my father's art. He and Ellen had visited us a few weeks prior and gave the news that they have a baby on the way.

We saw a bit of the city from the car on arrival, as we were taken to their apartment in the area of Land government buildings.  We saw their nice place and went to dinner at their "second home" restaurant down the street.  The owner wasn't there and things were botched in several ways, but we eventually got a nice dish of pork strips and spätzle.

On Sunday morning, Ben and Ellen put together a nice spread for a German breakfast, and we went for a walk along the Rhine.

  It was nice to see all that, and we got to the car for the drive to the busy airport.

We got to the designated counters for Air Berlin's USA flights, got checked in, and had some time to wait for a wheelchair attendant.  We were taken through exit passport control and security, with instructions to take electronics out.  There was an area at the end of the concourse for U.S.-bound flights, with extra security around.

Eventually it was time to board, for an on-time departure of Air Berlin's last flight to Boston.  There had been confusion about whether this was the flight, or the flight was discontinued as of today.  In a FlyerTalk discussion, I saw of another participant who was scheduled for the same flight, sent him a message while we were in the gate area, and he greeted us at our seats.  There were some people, I'll guess from connecting flights, who boarded close to departure time, then the pilot said we'll no longer wait to account for everyone: there may have been people who missed the last chance to get to Boston on AB.

The selection of movies on the seatback screens was reduced from the outbound flights.  We couldn't tell a lot about it being the last flight, but when I wondered whether the crew would go back as passengers on that night's return flight, Margaret asked a flight attendant, who said no, they'd return on a later date's Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt.  This FA was working her last flight after 30 years.  The next day would bring the news that AB would end all long-haul service by Oct. 15, and likely shut down around Nov. 1.

We arrived in Boston and took our first advantage of Global Entry privileges, which we got at a lower price through the U.S.-Canada NEXUS program.  There was a group of kiosks, with a wait to get to one, where we had our passports scanned and fingerprints taken, and they printed a slip to clear us.  We went to baggage claim with a bit of a wait, but we were at the bus stop for our shuttle to our home area about 30 minutes after arrival.

The bus came a bit late, and we had the last stage of the long day's trip (but nice to have an afternoon departure from Düsseldorf, rather than starting from Rome in the early morning).  A good trip, without a lot of activity, but great to spend time in other home.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A restful week

Most of this trip has been a matter of relaxing at this home, rather than going out and seeing much.  One thing we did was to meet with Slow Europe members at a restaurant in the country outside Marsciano.  Then, after there was confusion and they overcharged us, most of the group went back there for another meal with the refunded funds a few days later.

Wednesday, a new market day, we decided to go to lunch at La Botticella, on the road to Pietralunga. The owner, Leon, had made Facebook friends with us, as he had with several others in networks of friends, and recognized us when ee came in.  We were the only customers, and he put together a nice meal of Puglia-influenced specialties.

The time of the trip is getting short, and we're in suspense about the operation of our Düsseldorf-Boston flight.  It shows as the last day of operation of that flight, and is bookable for that day, but Air Berlin also issued a notice in German that apparently says the flight is discontinued as of that day, and people booked on the flight to Boston will be rebooked to New York and be on their own from there. I'm going on the assumption that the flight will operate, and there was some confusion in the composition of the notice, but we'll see.

Pictures include a street in Umbertide with old photo displays, more pictures of our house and the weekly market, and the sad matter of the gathering in front of the church for the funeral of a high school friend of mine, a prominent business owner, who died in an automobile accident.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Umbertide pictures

Here are pictures from Umbertide, including the Wednesday market.  Margaret took most of them.