Here, there, and everywhere…

July 19, 2007

Where to begin?  We went back home at the end of July, for Berit’s memorial.  Because we purchased our tickets late (having to do with my not getting approval to leave until the last minute because I was away) we found that it was actually not much more expensive to purchase tickets on MaxJet, an all-business-class airline, than it would have been to get last-minute coach tickets elsewhere.  It meant flying into Dulles instead of somewhere more convenient, but hey, I’ve made that drive dozens of times.  So, cool, right?  Except that when we arrived at the airport to leave, we found out that our flight was delayed.  Bad, right?  Except that MaxJet had set aside rooms for us at the airport Radisson for us to hang around in to wait.  Good, right?  Except that (ok, I’m gonna stop the “good new/bad news” thing now…) they called to tell us that the flight had been cancelled.  Long story shortened slightly, they put us up there for the night (in two adjoining rooms), paid for our meals, and the next day paid for a van/cab ride from Stanstead to Heathrow so that we could catch the evening flight on Virgin Atlantic… in Upper Class, including access to the “Clubhouse,” where EVERYTHING is complimentary.  Sweet!  Now, I did some research, and found that according to EU rules, they did everything they were required to do (and probably to a slightly higher level of quality than required) except for one thing:  They’re required to compensate us with cash as well.  To the tune of 600 Euros.  Each.  Now, let’s hold that thought for a moment.

Cut to the return leg of the trip.  There we are at the check-in counter at Dulles, and the desk agent says, “We had some equipment problems with our aircraft.”  Now, by this time we’ve done some research on MaxJet, and discovered that they only own three airplanes.  Because of this they’ve had some problems meeting schedules, and had in fact cancelled several (some would say “many”) flights in the past few weeks.  But they also had a partial solution, which some of the bloggers we had read were a bit lukewarm in their reviews of.  And in fact, although we expected the agent to continue with, “so we’ve had to cancel the flight,” instead he said, “so we’ve leased an aircraft from another company.  We think you’ll like it, it’s the Dallas Mavericks‘ team plane.”  I leaned back to Susie and gave her this bit of news, and she told me how she had heard of people getting the Mavericks’ plane and the reports weren’t great.  I mentioned this to the agent, and he seemed surprised.  “It’s nicer than our planes, I think,” he said. Then he explained that since the plane was configured differently from their regular planes, we weren’t able to get the seats we had pre-selected.  “FAA requires us to put families together, so we put you in the ‘club’ seats.  That’s two seats facing two other seats, with a table in the middle.”  Sounds good to me. 

So, as he’s checking in our bags, the gate manager comes over, and says, “We’re really sorry for the inconvenience of you not having the seats you selected, so to compensate you for that, and for the uncomfortable nature of seats that face backward, we’re going to give you a $500 travel credit.  Each.”  Great!  We proceed to the lounge; as “business class” passengers, we were entitled to use the NorthWest Airlines lounge… free drinks, snacks, open bar… not as nice as Virgin’s Clubhouse, but better than the standard uncomfortable gate-area seating.  When the flight was called for boarding, we got on, and found our seats.  Now, I can’t really describe this as well as these few pictures can, so here’s the View Forward from my seat, here’s the view aft.  Here’s  Lily watching a movie (look at how massive her seat is!) and here’s me helping David with his homework.   And these are the seats that the VP of Customer Service refers to as “uncomfortable seating” in his email to me with the instructions on using our $500 travel credits.  Uncomfortable?  I guess my standards aren’t high enough…

But the real question that remains to me now is… remember the first part of our trip, where the flight was cancelled? Remember the 600 Euros each we were supposed to get, “for our trouble,” under EU laws?  Yeah… what do you think?Should I write to them and ask for what I’m entitled to by law, or should I let it go and call it good?  Comments welcome!

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Who’s the leader of the club…?

January 28, 2007

Susie and I took the kids for a surprise visit to “Disneyland Resort Paris” last weekend. We told them we were going to London for the day, and the next morning instead of taking the train home, we surprised them by getting on the Eurostar instead. We got in on Sunday afternoon, and left on Wednesday. For those of you considering a trip to “The Park Formerly Known as EuroDisney,” here are a few observations:

1) French train stations suck. They’re all (and I mean every one we saw, stopped at, or passed through) gray concrete and glass and cavernous. They aren’t so much “buildings” as “big bus shelters.” They keep the rain off, but they don’t keep the wind out, because it’s the kind of building where it’s a roof held up by posts, and there are walls but they don’t go all the way to the roof (or even the floor). They actually have space heaters scattered about, built in. The waiting rooms make the NY Port Authority bus station look like a suite at the Ritz. Have a look at the station right at the gates to Disney here.

2) Some French people are actually not rude. By this I mean the people who work at Disneyland, who are exceptionally well trained in “the Disney Way.”

3) Many Disneyland visitors (and I mostly mean the French ones) are extremely rude. F’rinstance, when the four of us were wandering through the “Alice in Wonderland” labyrinth, enjoying letting Lily “lead” us, more than once we were literally physically shouldered aside by… pairs of adults. Yes, grim faced, determined, these couples acted as though they had been told that if they were not FIRST to the Red Queen’s Castle at the end someone would take away their escargot. They have no concept of “getting in line” for something. David actually missed not one, not two, but THREE chances to get an autograph from Stitch (of Lilo & Stitch fame) because of both pushy children, and parents who shoved their children in front of him. Infuriating, and giving the parents the evil eye resulted in, of course, a gallic shrug (which, if you’ve always wondered exactly what that means, is a little shrug with a look of “And this is my problem, how, exactly?”)

4) If you’re going to go, and don’t mind a little cold, go in the low season. Waiting times for most rides was under 5 minutes, and there’s enough to do indoors that you don’t mind the wind so much. And besides, the kids don’t care, as long as they’re bundled up (and sometimes even if they’re not).

5) If you’re going to do anything requiring a reservation (breakfast with the characters, for instance) take the first slot of the day. No one else does, and you get much much more value for your time. We did the character breakfast. The restaurant was set up with 25-30 tables, and there were 5 characters wandering the room interacting with the diners. There were only 6 full tables for the first seating. Halfway through the characters leave, and 5 more come out. Still only 6 tables. We had a blast having Mickey, Donald, and the rest at our table the entire time we were there, rather than having to fight for a few minutes of their attention with the other diners (and, see #3 above).

6) Eurostar: Nice train. Take the direct one from London to Disney, and avoid the change at Lille Europe. A missed connection, a late train, and your travel day is ruined.

All in all, a great trip, despite #3 up there, and #1 was only a problem at the end. If you’re on “the list” you’ve probably been pointed to the slideshow highlights. If not, drop me a note and I’ll send you directions.

Wow, this was a “fluff piece,” wasn’t it? 🙂