© 2011 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
Here are some of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) I've received about my many years of business and personal travel.
Have you ever had an emergency landing or any in-flight trouble?
My first unscheduled landing was weather related. Even though it happened 30 years ago, I remember it well. I left Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (ORD) in a 20-seat commuter propeller plane. [Imagine if you will two adult elephants walking one behind the other, trunk to tail, with a newborn baby elephant way down below and between them. That's how my plane looked taxiing out to the runway between two wide-bodied jets!] I was headed for Bloomington, Indiana, a short hop to the south. Soon after takeoff, we ran into a serious electrical storm with lightening cracking around the wings. Well, in that little plane, we definitely were at the mercy of the elements, and we sure learned what turbulence was. Seconds later, the woman next to me was hanging on to my arm for dear life as though I had the power to save her. After what seemed like ages (but was probably no more than 5 minutes), we put down in Terra Haute, Indiana. There, we waited out the storm and then continued on to our scheduled destination. I can't say, however, that I "saw my life flash before my eyes" indicating I was going to die soon.
My second unscheduled landing was to refuel. I was on a Boeing 747 Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Washington DC and, as usual, the route for that flight went over the Atlantic Provinces of Canada and down over the New England states of the US. There was a widespread power failure in the greater New York City area over which we had to fly, and air traffic control was operating on a severely reduced basis. So we flew "figure eights" over Massachusetts to kill time. Eventually, we put down in Boston to refuel. Unfortunately, as no one was expecting us, it took a while for anyone to come out to where we were parked. And then it took another hour for a fuel truck with all the right attachments to service a 747, to arrive. And as Lufthansa had only one flight in/out of Boston each day, and that was nowhere near the time we arrived, they had no staff on site to help things along. As it happened, more than a few people were ticketed to fly on to Boston once they landed in Washington DC. Of course, they started making noises about wanting to get off and go straight home, but customs and immigration refused to allow it. Eventually, they did relent, but deplaning passengers could take only their carry-on luggage. Any checked luggage had to continue on the flight to Washington and be flown back later.
On a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Bangkok, Thailand, which followed along a mountain range, we'd just been served a meal with hot drinks when we hit some sort of air pocket. Well, we lost some altitude in double-quick time and the food and drinks went up in the air, but no one was hurt. I don't even recall the oxygen masks dropping down. [Each time I watch the animated safety video on a plane, it shows how calm everyone is when the masks drop down. I'm thinking that is highly unlikely for most people in a real emergency.]
Another time, I was taking off from Calgary in Alberta, Canada, in a Boeing 727. That plane has three engines, one on the top at the back, and one on each side of the body at the rear. There was a very strong crosswind and when we were about halfway down the runway there was a loud bang as the compressor on the top engine stalled. Well, that certainly got the passenger's attention. The pilot said there was nothing to worry about and that he'd simply taxi to the end of the runway and try again in the other direction. [From the reactions of some of the passengers near me, it seemed that they would rather have changed planes instead.]
Once on approach to Boston's Logan International (BOS) we came down through very heavy and low clouds, but all I could see below us was the sea. The pilot announced that, unfortunately, we'd missed the airport, so he was going to "go around and try that again".
In November 2009, I was on a Boeing 747 coming into the Ben-Gurion airport (TLV) of Tel Aviv, Israel. We were lower than 1,000 feet when the pilot decided to abort the landing. With a great roar, the four mighty engines sucked up at least a day's pay in fuel, and the giant plane climbed steeply. Whatever the reason, we circled back around the airport and landed on the second attempt. No explanation was given. However, I have to admit that it crossed my mind that the airport might be under a rocket attack.
Occasionally, when I'm half way across the Atlantic or Pacific I think about how far we are from the nearest emergency landing place. In a real emergency, I think the answer is "too far", so it's best not to dwell on that and/or to have a(nother) stiff drink.
During the volcanic eruption in Iceland in 2010, stories surfaced about past aircraft problems with volcanic ash. I was pleased to hear that some years ago a Boeing 747 managed to glide for quite some time and distance after all four engines died after taking in ash, and that the pilots managed to get them restarted.
In your travels, have you run into any serious political or other unrest?
No, but I've been close enough to the fringes to have had my curiosity satisfied.
When I landed in Bangkok in June of 1979, there had been a military coup, and the airport was full of very short soldiers with very large automatic weapons. It was a little unnerving for a young lad from the bush, but I didn't feel at all unsafe. Outside the airport, there was no evidence of any security concerns.
A couple of years later, I departed from Frankfurt, Germany, where I experienced some very thorough security. This was back when the Baader-Meinhof Group (Red Army Faction) was active in Germany. Heavily armed soldiers were all over the terminal, and German Shepherd dogs sniffed my luggage and me. Apparently, that was normal!
My first adventure trip was to the Amazon River in northern Peru. To outfit myself I went to a military surplus store and spent about $25 on some khaki shirts, trousers, and a webbing belt, and the shirts even came with some rank and insignia. At the end of my jungle trip we were taken to the airport by bus where we waited by a hanger. Several military helicopters swooped in and landed near us and a whole bunch of armed soldiers jumped out. There I was looking every bit like a mercenary or gunrunner, except for one standout feature, the bright red laces in my hiking boots! It turns out they weren't after me, they were headed out on "pirate patrol" on the Amazon. [While on the river, I also saw evidence of that in the form of navy patrol vessels.]
On my first full day in Santiago, Chile, I went to an afternoon movie and when I came out it was dusk. As I walked down a street, I could see a large group off in the distance chanting and coming towards me. So I went off to get a closer look. Apparently, something panicked them and they started running towards me. Unfortunately, the quickest way out of the street for me was to run towards them and then to a side street, so I did that, and they and I turned off at the same time. Safe, I thought! 30 seconds later, an armored car entered the intersection we'd just vacated and directed very high-pressure water cannons at many of the protesters knocking some of them over. Interesting thought I, and then I heard the sound of something metal rolling along the paved road and saw a teargas canister coming my way. Let's just say that I moved quite quickly down the side street. 200 meters down, I ran into a whole squad of riot police in full gear quietly smoking and talking. Back at my hotel, I was told that students protested regularly over the disappearance of people who had been arrested by the government, and that the whole episode was carefully choreographed. The next morning, I was awakened by a public address system right outside my hotel window where a speaker for some freedom political party was addressing a rally. I was sure that a SWAT team would be rappelling through my window any minute, but after 30 minutes, the protesters packed up and left.
Have you ever run afoul at security screenings?
When I moved from Australia to the US, my port-of-entry in Europe was Rome, Italy. In Hong Kong, I'd bought a new attaché case and it had an expandable bottom. The very arrogant customs agent in Rome was convinced it had some sort of hidden compartment. He tipped everything out on a desk and was disgusted not to find anything and he threw up his hands and walked away. I waited for some time not knowing what to do, but when he didn't come back, I packed up and left.
In July 1992, I'd been in Russia for a 2-week lecture tour. Coming back from Saint Petersburg on the train, I sent my main case onto Helsinki to be stored while I traveled around Finland by train for a week. I recovered my bag on the way to the airport and admitted that it had not been in my possession for the previous week while it was in storage. In normally tranquil Finland, that week security was "over the top" because the leaders of some 10 countries (including the US) were coming to town for a summit. So I was taken to a small cubicle. I had to take everything out of the case and it was X-rayed empty to make sure nothing was hidden in the frame.
Once, I flew into Frankfurt from Berlin where I'd already cleared security. Although I was still in a secure area when I arrived in Frankfurt, I had to go through another security checkpoint, and it was operated by a woman who had all the charm of an East German border guard. She gave me such a hard time I thought she didn't like me for some reason, but it appeared that she didn't like anybody that day (or perhaps any day)! And 200 meters along from that checkpoint, I was stopped at another one. Don't you just hate that when that happens?
Several times, I've been chosen at random just prior to boarding for a thorough check of my hand luggage, even when I've been ticketed in Business Class.
September 11, 2001, was a Tuesday, and my wife and I were ticketed to fly from Washington DC to Kona, Hawaii, on the following Saturday. We actually got out via a different airport on the Monday, flew to Chicago, Los Angeles (where we made a last minute change), and then Honolulu, Oahu, without our luggage. The next day we flew to the Big Island with only carry-on bags and our luggage arrived that afternoon. A week later, we departed from Kona airport, which is a sleepy place with palm-thatched roofs on small cabins, one of which houses security. They discovered a pair of stainless steel folding scissors in my wife's carry-on bag, after she's been through at least three lots of security the week before without their being detected.
Have you flown around the world?
I have flown around the world twice, but only once during the same trip. In the first case, I went from Australia to the US via Asia and Europe, but did not complete the circle until several years later when I flew across the Pacific from the US to Australia. My only around-the-world trip was flown in two weeks in 2008; it ranked only 11th by distance on my personal flight log as it was done in the upper half of the northern hemisphere. It was 18,692 miles (29,907 kms) and involved 57:45 hours travel time with 32:30 hours in the air. The route was Washington DC; Frankfurt, Germany; Milan, Italy; Frankfurt; Seoul, South Korea; Jeju Island, South Korea; Seoul; San Francisco; and Washington DC. It was a business trip and I wanted only two stopovers (Milan and Jeju), but to get a special fare, I needed at least three, so I stayed overnight at a hotel near Seoul airport. The good news is that I was in Business Class. [As a "practice run" for that trip, six days prior to starting it, I returned from a trip to Japan, 12 time zones in the opposite direction.] If one were planning to enjoy an around-the-world trip, one would take much longer, and one would almost certainly do it going west, to handle better the time changes.
In late 2011, I will do a similar trip, stopping off in Copenhagen, Denmark; Busan, South Korea; and Tokyo, Japan. However, I hope to spread out the flying over four weeks.
[In 2009, I visited the historic site of Petra in Jordan. While walking around the ruins I struck up a conversation with a retired man from Canada. He and a party of "well-heeled" tourists were on an all-First-Class National Geographic charter Boeing 757 that was going around the world in 30 days stopping off at major tourist attractions. The ticket price was around US$65,000/person, meals and accommodation included! How many tickets would you like?]
Is there anywhere you haven't been that you really want to go?
Yes. To start with, Slovenia and Croatia, the Pyramids of Egypt, Southern Spain and Morocco, Greece, Turkey, Bolivia, and New Zealand.
What's your favorite place?
I don't have one, really! I enjoy every place that I visit. You can have a bad time in some exotic location and a good time in a third-world slum; it all comes down to the attitude you have and the people that you meet.
What's it like in Business and First Class?
If I told you, I'd have to kill you! Well okay, as long as you promise not to tell anyone else.
As you might expect, it's much better than being in Economy Class especially if you need as much legroom as I do. Besides, the seats don't lay back far enough in Economy Class for me to get any reasonable sleep.
Being a frequent flyer, I get free domestic upgrades. Most domestic flights nowadays have only two classes of service, Economy and First, so I generally get to fly First Class without extra charge. (The domestic wide-body jet flights still have three classes.) Meals and drinks are sold up the back, but are complimentary up the front.
When flying international, the service is a significant step up from domestic, and most of my air travel now is international. My favorite plane used to be the Boeing 777, but now that United Airlines has converted its old fleet of 767s to lay-flat beds in Business Class, that is much nicer even though I'm still a bit long at one end to completely fit. You get a small suite with a large digital screen on a wall fixed in front of you, with movies, music, games, and language lessons all on-demand. Meals involve at least three main choices and are always excellent. You also get a bowl of warm nuts and a drink on takeoff and a hot towel before the meal. On one Airbus flight, my seat/bed had seven separate moving parts, so it took a while for me to get it "just right". Then I saved those positions in memory in case I sat up again to eat and wanted to restore that position again.
I intentionally flew international First Class just once, and it was a memorable experience. And I'm happy to say that no one paid for it; I cashed in many frequent flyer miles. It was a Boeing 777 non-stop from Chicago to Buenos Aires, Argentina. There were 12 First-Class suites each of which ran the length of four side windows. I was one of only two passengers and we each had a flight attendant dedicated to us the whole trip. On arrival, I was met by a personal escort and taken to the First-Class lounge to await my on-going flight to Montevideo, Uruguay. When that flight was called, First-Class passengers were asked to stay behind until the last moment when we went down a private ramp to a limousine that drove us the 200 meters to the plane, arriving just as the last passenger disappeared up the stairway. The plane door was closed as we sat down, and we were off. I guess, if you are paying for a First-Class ticket, time really is money! Needless to say that on the return trip I was infinitely wiser as I knew what to expect.
In 2010, I rode First Class from Frankfurt to Washington DC, and then in both directions from Washington DC to Tokyo. First Class passengers have their own airport lounge separate from Business Class passengers. In the Tokyo lounge, the first person I saw on entering was a former US Federal Senator who served as Secretary of Defense. Fortunately, he followed strict First-Class lounge protocol, and didn't make a fuss on seeing me!
By the way, on average, an international Business-Class ticket costs about four times that for Economy, while that for a First Class runs 10–12 times. Start saving your pennies (or frequent-flyer miles)!
Have you had any unusual flying experiences?
Several come to mind. The first took place while I was at a primitive jungle camp on the Amazon in Peru. We were about to board a boat for the 6-hour trip back to base camp when an oil-company floatplane touched down on the river next to us. After some discussion with the pilot, our guide announced that the pilot was flying to the same place we were headed and that he could take several people with him if we wanted to go, for about $30 each. The trip would take less than an hour. I volunteered as did one other guy, and we were off bouncing along the water trying to get enough takeoff speed. All the controls were in English, which the pilot didn't speak, and a few things seemed to be tied together with string, but, hey, it was an adventure. Being in a floatplane, we had to follow the waterways so we could land in an emergency. It was only when the pilot took short cuts over the jungle that I worried a bit.
I flew from Caracas, Venezuela, in a Boeing 727-100, which is like a VW Beetle with a V8 engine! I was headed for Canaima near the base of Angel Falls, the world's tallest waterfall. However, instead of stopping at the airport the pilot raced up the valley giving the passengers—first on the one side and then on the other—a bird's eye view of the 1,000-meter falls "just out the window". It was not your typical jet flight and most tourist destinations would charge you $100+ to do that in a small plane.
In central Maine, I went out in a small plane on a snow survey; that is, to measure how much snow was on the ground. We took off on wheels, but lowered skis to land on frozen lakes. At least one of the lakes had frozen during high winds resulting in ice that was far from flat, which made for a very rough landing. Note that you have no brakes when landing on skis.
Going the Extra Mile (or Not)
Sometimes things don't go right despite the best planning. I have been fortunate in my travels and hosting experiences; few bad trips or guests come to mind, and those that do were often the result of poor communication or over-optimistic expectations. I can recall four situations although none of them was a problem for me. In three of the cases, I had the means to solve the problem and I did. In the fourth case, the guest annoyed me to the point I no longer wanted to help her and was happy when she departed.
The first involved two young German students. They planned to go to Florida by driving a car there for a moving company that was relocating someone. There, they would buy a car and travel around the US. What they didn't know was that they might have to wait a week or more in Washington DC before a "moving job" came along. As they couldn't afford to hang around—and no job was forthcoming—they didn't know what to do. I suggested that they buy a car locally and drive that to Florida. So, I spent a day with them locating a dealer that sold cars for less than $2,000, getting them insurance, registration, emergency roadside service membership, and travel maps. They had made no provision for insurance—which for single men under the age of 25 cost them 45% as much again as they'd paid for the car! On the 4th day, we waved goodbye and they drove right across country (via Mexico despite my warning that they not go that way) and back again, all in 3 months. They had one roadside emergency (for which they got free service) and one repair in Mexico, and at the end of their trip, they sold the car for the same price they'd paid.
The second case involved a nice woman from Sweden. She'd been in the US for 4 months attending some training program during which she'd decided to extend her stay afterwards for personal travel. She'd made the change with the airline over the phone, but had not understood that the change was tentative and that if she didn't go to a local agent's office to present the ticket and get the change authorized the change would be voided. Several months later, when she got to my place and we called to confirm her ticket we learned that with her special fare the change she thought she had would now cost a lot of money as it was high season. Not only was that a shock to her, but she didn't have the money. Anyway, I took her to the airport during a slow time of the day. We got a very nice and understanding agent who went off to speak to her (also understanding) manager. While they couldn't waive the whole fee, they did offer to reduce it significantly. I spoke to my guest and explained to her that the ticketing endorsement process that she's failed to do was a common requirement and that they were being more than reasonable, so she should take the offer. When she raised the issue of the remaining money needed, I asked her if she was an honest and honorable person and she replied that she was. Then I offered to lend her the money. Some four months later, she sent me a bank draft for the full amount. The vast majority of people can be trusted!
The third case involved a Dutch woman at the Montevideo international airport in Uruguay. She had no traveler's checks or cash, just a cash machine card. Unfortunately, she couldn't get the cash machine to work, and its being entirely in Spanish didn't help. As I arrived, she was in tears with no Plan B and feeling very sorry for herself after a long flight from Europe. I too failed to get money from the machine, but I did have US$100 in $20 bills, so I went to the airport bank. Unfortunately, the bills had been printed/cut off-center, and the bank said they looked like forgeries and refused to change them. I pleaded for a bit and, finally, they relented and changed $20. With the proceeds, I bought two bus tickets to the city center, and took my newly acquired Dutch friend with me. There, I found a cheap hotel and paid for two rooms. I found a moneychanger who happily changed the remainder of my "funny looking" bills and my friend found a cash machine that worked. With that, she was able to pay me back, along with 50% interest! (I'm joking of course; I only charged her 30%.)
The final case involved a teacher from France who was with us for 10 days as part of a teacher-hosting program. The basic program had them in country for 30 days, but gave them an option of arriving earlier and/or staying afterwards for an extended trip. However, to do so they must declare that up-front; being high season, they would not be able to change the trip once it started. Well little Miss Know-it-All claimed to be very well traveled, knew the airline policies, and was certain she could change her ticket at any time without penalty. However, when she tried to do from my house she was quoted a change fee of more than $1,000 and from that point on everything and anything American was associated with the Devil and she was the victim of discrimination (she was a black African originally from Senegal). As it happened, she couldn't afford the fee or didn't want to pay it and had to leave several days earlier than she'd planned. We'd organized a reception party for her with a group of our friends. As it turned out, she couldn't attend as she'd already departed and I must say her presence was not missed one bit.
In conclusion, let me say that I have never lost any luggage for more than a few days. When I think of the huge numbers of planes, routes, and passengers all "in play" around the world at any one time, I truly am amazed that anything gets delivered to the right place at all let alone on time. It really is a logistics problem to be appreciated; yet most people only notice it when it breaks down. As such, I always say "Thanks" to agents and crew as I board or deplane. The vast majority of them really are doing the best they possibly can, and a kind word gets more assistance than does abuse.