Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Flight is How Long? LAX to BER

I’ve taken a lot of trips that required air travel. Not as many as some of my friends, some who must routinely fly for business, but I’ve likely flown more than the average person (I think).

The first 18 years of my life, I never even thought of getting on a plane. The family trips we took were mostly camping. We had a trailer and a tent and would travel around California, and a few times to Baja California (the adults used the trailer, we kids were banished to the tent).

Then my mom separated from her second husband, and let’s face it, we were pretty poor. Mom did her best, but there were no fancy vacations on the horizon.

Then mom remarried. I don’t remember many real vacations, but my stepdad bought a boat, and we did a lot of water skiing on the local lakes. I couldn’t have asked for more.

My first experience with air travel came courtesy of the US Army. I joined the Army while still in my senior year of high school, and after a really great summer, headed off to basic training in New Jersey in October.

 A group of us, maybe 9 or 10 new recruits, were given packets with our tickets, orders and some other vital information and dropped off at Los Angeles International Airport.

As I remember it, none of us had ever been to an airport. The instructions were a bit sketchy, but we managed to make it to the plane, survived making a connection in St Louis, and arrived unscathed in Newark New Jersey. Our travel class was less than economy, I can only assume the Army had arranged for a special category of flying hell that they used for new recruits.

The Family Visiting Me in Hawaii in the 1980's

Since that first flight in 1979, I have flown a lot. Some flights have been great, some good and a few less than desirable. One or two a living hell.

Twice I have had the pleasure of a First-Class upgrade. Once with the kids when they were very young (flight was over booked, we opted to fly direct to Boston, instead of flying to Atlanta with a long delay, the kids were young enough that they don’t remember), once while traveling alone on Army business (weather closed the airport in St Louis for nearly 24 hours, and while rescheduling the flight, the guy in front of me treated the poor desk agent like crap {she was almost in tears}. I was nice to her, and she made sure I was well taken care of for my flight home).

Since the Christmas trip was a spur-of-the-moment idea, and we are heading to London/Paris in a few months for our 40th Anniversary, I hoped to do this trip on “the cheap.”

Now “cheap” has changed a bit. Our trip to London/Oxford in 2019 our flights were under $900 for both of us, oh yeah, and we had upgraded seats. Not business class, but better than the cheap seats.  This trip to Berlin the flights we a bit more. We were in the cheap seats. However, we paid over $1630 to sit in the back of the plane. Yeah, double the price from 2019.

Stonehenge 2019

So, what did we get for the additional $800?

I’m pretty sure that they reduced the distance between the seats. I’m not that tall, but I’m at about the max leg size for the cramped seats in economy.

The food is pretty sub-par. I remember flying on Alaska Airlines back in the ‘80’s. The lady in front of me was complaining about the quality of the salmon they served on the flight. I thought to myself, “you just had salmon on an airplane, are you kidding me?” (Might have been my first “Karen” experience).

I won't comment on the food they offered on this trip to Berlin, but it was "free" which was still overpriced. 

On this flight, we didn’t get charged extra for drinks, so a couple of glasses of wine were nice.

However, neither of us were able to get much sleep. So, we arrived in Germany almost totally exhausted.

The lack of sleep, combined with the time change meant that we would waste the first day + of an eight day trip trying to acclimate to the time change.






Monday, December 19, 2022

To the Airport!

 After just a couple of weeks preparation, we were off to see the wonders of the Christmas Markets of Europe. Well at least Germany and Prague.

It's something we have wanted to do for years, and on a bit of the spur-of-the-moment decision, we were off. 

We used to like flying out the the airport in Long Beach, CA. It's a smaller airport, but was always easy to get to, and to get to your gate.

Unfortunately, we have found ourselves leaving out of Los Angeles International Airport for our last few trips.

Parking at LAX has been a living hell. They were working on building a new high rise lot, so the available spaces were pretty few. Parking off airport has it's own challenges, which almost made me miss a flight to Boston (too few transports to the airport). 

They've finished the new parking structure, and it's pretty nice. It still is clean, not too many people are using it so far, it's close to the airport and the bus runs often.

We were flying Air France to Berlin with a 2 hour stop in Paris.

We left out of the Tom Bradley International Terminal. It's a bit confusing, but we managed to get our bags checked in.

Security wasn't bad, and we went to our gate. 

Our gate was at the far end of the terminal. There wasn't a lot of things at the gate, some vending machines that who knows how long the food has been in there. 

The worst part of the terminal was there wasn't a bar. NO BAR! How am I expected to spend 12 hours on a plane without starting with a drink!

Well time to board came quickly and we made our way onto the plane.

At least I had a good meal before we got to the airport

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

I Decided to Take My Wife Christmas Shopping – In Germany

Just over a month ago, I was sitting at my computer, mindlessly surfing the internet.

My wife mentioned that she had sent me a link to a story by a gentleman that calls himself “The Points Guy.”

He writes about travel and suggests ways to save money using points from credit cards, hotels, airlines etc. to save money.

This story was about the Christmas Markets in Germany.

A trip to the European Christmas Markets has been on our list for several years. A co-worker once suggested that “you haven’t lived” until you had been to Prague for Christmas.

I looked out the window at our front yard. The trees had dropped most of their leaves, but it was still very warm in our SoCal neighborhood.

I thought, why not.

I went online and started looking at flights and hotels.

I booked us a flight to Berlin, Germany. I found a hotel near the airport and rented a car. I also made plans to drive to Prague and booked a one-night stay, about a 10-minute walk from the main Christmas Market.

The Christmas Market in Prague

Then I figured I should probably tell the wife. Her reaction? She seemed to think I had lost my mind.

Usually, before we go anywhere, I begin planning at least six months before departure dates. More often it is closer to a year before the trip. Once I make the “folder” it is official. We are going!

I made the folder and put the receipts for the plane, hotel and car inside it. We only had just over two weeks until we departed.

Amazon purchases started to show up daily, long johns, new winter coats, shoelaces for boots I rarely wear, masks to wear on public transport and a few accessories for my camera.

I spent almost every waking minute looking at Utube videos and researching every fact, tip and trick I could find on traveling to Germany and Czechia.