State #46

The USA has 50 States, one District and five Territories.  With my recent West Virginia visit, I have now been to 46 of those US States...four to go:
  1. Iowa
  2. Nebraska
  3. North Dakota
  4. Alaska
I have visited several times The District iof Columbia (DC) where the US Capital Washington is found.

I have also been to three of the US territories (Guam/Puerto Rico/US Virgin Islands)...two to go:
  1.  American Samoa 
  2. Northern Mariana Islands

  1. Does anyone know how many states the average American has been to? 
  2. The average number a non-American tourist has been to? 
  3. How many Americans know how many territories they have?
  4. Which states have you visited and which have you missed?
  5. What is your favourite sights/sites  in what state(s)?

Love you to share below in the comments.

By the way the order I did the US States in:

1 Hawaii
2 California
3 New Jersey
4 New York
5 Delaware
6 Maryland
7 Virginia
8 Michigan
9 Indiana
10 Illinois
11 Texas
12 Mass
13 Pennsylvania
14 Colorado
16 Rhode Island
17 Washington
15 Ct
18 New Hampshire
19 Vermont
21 Nevada
20 Arizona
22 Utah
23 Ohio
24 Missouri
25 Kansas
26 Oregon
27 Florida
28 Tennessee
28 Louisiana
30 Arkansas
31 Mississippi
32 Georgia
33 North Carolina
34 Minnesota
35 Wisconsin
36 South Carolina
37 Idaho
38 South Dakota
39 Wyoming
40 Montana
41 Maine
42 Oklahoma
43 New Mexico
44 Kentucky
45 Alabama
46 West Virginia

Formula for finding fantastic fares found

∏A = gUG + min(k-g, (1-g)(1-r)) 

This formula developed by Makoto Watanabe and Marc Möller from the University of Madrid is behind their research on the economics of airafes to be published shortly in the Economic Journal as “Advance Purchase Discounts versus Clearance Sales.” 

We all know the situation.

  • Book an airfare too early and you sometimes find the airfare goes down. Or your plans change.
  • Book an airfare too late and you will usually find the airfare goes up.

Watanabe and Möller have found that the best time to buy an air ticket is eight weeks before. They also found it is best to buy the ticket in the afternoon.

Others have suggested midnight to dawn on a Tuesday and Wednesday is the best time. This has been debunked. If you travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday, however, fares will be lower.

The Images of Flying

This video represents all of the plane flights in a 24 hour period. Its fascinating to watch and makes me hope those air traffic controllers are having a good day! Enjoy!

Have a look at the solid mass that is the USA at certain times of the day and the flights between Nth America and Europe. Notice the sparseness of North Africa for flying and what is going on in Asia.

Below are my global flights for the World, Europe, Uk and USA

Appalachian Wonder -the WVU PRT

Headed down to West Virginia. This state West Virginia in the Appalachian and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. It became a state when it broke away from Virginia during the American Civil War. Bordered by Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, Ohio to the northwest, and Pennsylvania and Maryland to the northeast.  

For me, this was my 46th US State,..,....only 4 US States to go!!  I wonder how many states the average American has visited? Anyone know?

West Virginia is a mountainous forested state...very pretty. Its also economically one of the more struggling states with the second weakest economy of any state in the USA.

My trip took me to Morgantown, West Virginia  so I could ride the PRT operated by West Virginia University.

 Why the fascination? I am a train geek and this represents a truly unusual system. Its an automatic people mover system which transports people on demand between stations. Think of it as subway meets taxi.  Have a look at my movie of the trip (NB it is not a Monorail but I liked the song!)

Built 1970-1979 and opened in two parts:  1975 and 1979. It has operated continually and economically with no incidents since then with a 98% reliability rate..far higher than most other transit systems!  
The Morgantown PRT has about 14 kilometres (8miles) of track covering a distance of 6 km (3.6 miles) with five unstaffed stations:
  • Beechurst Avenue - main downtown West Virginia University campus stop (where I boarded the system-also access to a lovely riverside walk)
  • Walnut Station (downtown Morgantown)
  • Engineering  - College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and Student Rec Center
  • Towers- Three Residential buildings for WVU students
  • Medical- covering the Hospital

The PRT has 73 cars resembling mini-buses just under 5 metres long, 3 meters and 2 metres wide with automatic doors on both sides.  Each car can carry eight seated and 12 standing passengers.The record?  97 students in 2000 squeezed into a car during the annual PRT Cram when students from campus groups compete to set a record.

We rode Car 10 first of all (10 is my favourite number so was doubly pleased!)

There were two things I was surprised at:
  1. how rusty everything is- the system drips with rust (see pic below). Like most US infrastructure, maintenance is probably minimal. In Europe they would be finding ways to keep it gleaming! 
  2. how bumpy the ride was-its not a smooth ride. It was not uncomfortable but you could not easily drink a hot coffee on board

The cars run on rubber tyres in a  concrete guideway that has power and signal rails along the inner walls.  Both front and rear wheels steer so the tight turns on the track can be negotiated.  Each car has a guide wheel on each side. They can reach 50km/h (30mph) with average speed of 24km/h (14mph).  Sections of the track are at ground level and some are on viaducts. The concrete guideways feature embedded piping to melt snow and ice. More info on the system and the engineering behind it is here
After pressing a button at the Station entrance to call a car  a car is activated to transport the person to destination they have chosen. When a car approaches a station it can either bypass the station, or the wheels can turn and follow the  rails into the station.
On weekends and after hours,  the cars stop at every station.

The Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system is one of five automated urban "people mover" systems in the USA
  • Downtown People Mover (DPM), Detroit, Michigan ( I rode this 2008)
  • Skyway in Jacksonville, Florida (I rode this 2005)
  • Las Colinas Peoplemover (APT) IN Irving, Texas (not open to public)
  • Metromover in Miami, Florida (yet to ride it)
There was one at Duke University Medical Center Patient Rapid Transit in North Carolina but it has now been closed and is being dismantled.

Thanks to my friend Cody for showing me round and being an excellent guide. Finally to finish heres a fun ad for PRT

85 days in the air

I just ticked over total flying time of 85 days or   2040:40 hours!  I was tickled with that number 2040:40!!!!   This has taken me  647 flights. I am on the way to the magic one million miles - about 1.6 million kilometres! Over half of those miles have been with one airline: Qantas. A third has been with United Airlines, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, American Airlines, Air New Zealand and Continental Airlines combined. The remainder is split between 60 other airlines!

Another Kiwi Crash- Fares WILL GO UP

New Zealand is one of the most stunning countries in the world. It stretches 1,600 kilometres (990 mi) from North to South. It has  an area of 268,021 km2  103,483 sq miles slightly bigger than Britain and slightly smaller than Italy. It is made up two main islands  (North and South Islands) plus several smaller islands including  Stewart Island and the Chatam Islands).   Some of my favourite hikes in the world are found in NZ!

That stunning piece of Middle Earth is home to 40 million sheep and just under 4.4 million people - and as of yesterday two major airlines: Air New Zealand (my favourite airline in the world) and Qantas owned Jetstar (my fourth most disliked airline in the world!).

Pacific Blue (part of the Virgin empire) have been running services around New Zealand since 2007. They promised Happy Flying, great planes and great prices (see their fun advertisement which unlike Air New Zealand's fun one features employees with clothes on).

Yesterday Pacific Blue announced that it will completely pull out of the New Zealand domestic market from October, 2010. They will increase trans Tasman (ie Australia-NZ flights), however. 

This means several thousand seats across New Zealand will vanish. Jetstar have announced some increase in capacity and vowed to keep prices low but with only two airlines flying that means there will be a lot fewer cheap options

If you live in Dunedin, the news is really bad. Only Air NZ will service the city meaning that cheap fares will be much much harder to find. The last two times I went to Dunedin, I took the bus for a five hour from Christchurch.  Dunedin airport is so far out of town, that it was much cheaper to take the bus all the way to Christchurch than  to take a taxi to Dunedin airport! Christchurch had many more cheaper air options and the bus trip was quite pleasant. I read, worked and enjoyed the sights. (I would love the train back on this route please). Not every one has this leisurely option though!

On top of the bad news for Kiwi fliers, about 450 Pacific Blue people will lose jobs (though Pacific Blue will need 100 more people for its Trans Tasman services).

New Zealand has struggled to get a competitive market. These airlines have all come and gone in the last 15 years.

  • Ansett New Zealand: 1987-2000 ..did they ever make money? Sold when Air NZ bought Ansett International

  • CityJet: flew Embraer EMB 110 between Wellington, Nelson, Blenheim, & Palmerston North from May to November 1999 - they were grounded over safety irregularities

  • Freedom: started by Air New Zealand to compete with Kiwi International on trans Pacific routes- lasted 1995 to 2007

  • Kiwijet: supposed to start between 2007 and 2009 -never got off the ground

  • Kiwi Travel International Airlines: Operated Trans Pacific from 1994 until 1996 - until their CEO was charged with multiple counts of fraud

  • Origin Pacific: my personal favourite Kiwi competitor- lasted from 1996 to 2006 before collapsing under mountains of debt. I remember once flying from Hamilton to Wellington to Nelson clutching the little drink box and snack the pilots gave out on boarding while the Co Pilot did the safety briefing which was interrupted by a nervous German tourist who begged him to reassure her that the plane was safe. He told her with a straight face that Wellington would be a smooth landing (Wellington is the windiest airport in the world in my opinion)

  • Qantas New Zealand- pulled out of the domestic market and replaced by "low cost" Jetstar

  • Tasman Pacific Airlines -operated as a Qantas New Zealand franchise from 2000 before going broke in 2001

Air transport is crucial in New Zealand. While they have a great intercity bus service operated by three major companies (Naked Bus company is one of them -what is it with nudity in NZ Transport?), taking the bus from the North to the South is not always practical.  It also has a limited under invested rail service. Geographically, the small population base probably means high speed rail is never going to be an option.   
Will another airline try to come in and replace Virgin Blue? I doubt it. By now, financiers must realise that there is no money to be made in the New Zealand market. So I fear higher air fares are here to stay in New Zealand.

Tweeting but no talking at 10 000 metres

Very cool to tweet  10 000 metres (over 30 000 feet) over Georgia -I also think its very very cool to be able to use the net on board my flight (#AirTran 332 out of Atlanta) 

Like to see this wifi on Qantas flights (and others).  
Qantas has also been trialing the ability to send that idea!!!
I, however, do not want to see mobile phone calls on planes. I dont want to hear about someone's toenail operation while trying to sleep on a Trans Pacific flight- hard enough getting sleep sometimes now.

Anyone know who is planning to introduce them? I think Air France,  Oman Air, Royal Jordanian and Shenzhen Airlines allow it now?

A bad bad day

I feel very sorry for Steven Slater, the Jet Blue Flight attendant in New York who "resigned" yesterday.  If you have not heard the story-- JetBlue 1052 from Pittsburgh landed at  John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York around midday.

There are several versions of what happened floating around. One version says it started at takeoff when Slater had to intervene in a flight between two passengers. Upon landing one of those passengers allegedly got up and grabbed their bag as the plane was taxiing in. Upon being told to resume her seat by the FA, the passenger refused. When the FA walked over to tell the passenger, she had to sit down, he was sworn at. Allegedly somehow the flight attendant got hit in the head - either with the passenger's bag or the luggage holder door. It is not clear if this occurred at the start or the end of the flight.

What is agreed is after landing, the Flight Attendant walked to the front of the plane, repeated the expletive back to the passenger over the plane's PA system, activated the emergency chute and threw his cabin bags down the chute.. It is alleged he grabbed a beer from the galley before jumping down the chute. He then drove home to his boyfriend. (see this cartoon re-enactment)

He has now been arrested and charged with if convicted the charges would give him seven years in jail. The authorities take a dim view of anyone causing trouble in planes. Deploying an emergency chute on the tarmac and abandoning one's post is probably more dangerous than someone getting out of your seat to get your bag early!

And thinking about it.....It is not a behaviour pattern we want repeated. There are many other things Flight Attendants could do with the equipment and doors they look after. More concerning was what another attendant said: "Kudos to you, I am a former flight attendant and only wish I had the nerve to do what you did."

The public seem to be also supporting the agent as words of support have been flooding in:  "I think the public is overwhelmingly sympathetic to him" He has become a massive hit on Facebook and people are talking about some kind of TV reality show!

Jet Blue are not be too happy (though it has generated a lot of publicity for the airline).    The cost of replacing that slide is estimated to be $25 000. NB JetBlue is one of my favourite airlines (Number 8 on my top 21!)  but I noticed they have made no comments on their official Facebook site (fans have not been silent with comments on the JetBlue Facebook community page....  I was tempted to comment myself on their Facebook to see what they would do! Normally JetBlue are prolific in their use of social media!

I myself was was negative in this blog about Flight Attendants (MEL-SYD -the Unfriendly Way) on a flight I took on the weekend as their customer service attitude I felt was lacking. But sometimes who would blame them?? I have seen some very poor public behaviours and who cops a lot of it? Check in staff and Flight Attendants. I have seen boarding cards torn up and thrown in agent's faces, racist jokes told to FAs about their nationality and FAs abused for not having a vegetarian meal (which the passenger had not actually ordered).

 Flight Attendants have had their pay downgraded continually since the 1980's. They now look after more passengers than ever before and they are the front line for abusive, negative, frustrated, drunk  and angry passengers. With more people flying, more security, more delays there seem to be a  lot more of those passengers. In addition in the USA people are carrying much more on board as the airlines now charge for luggage checked in. Theres more scrabbling for binspace than ever before.

So, lets give our FAs a break. Unhappy with the airline's treatment of your luggage, its frequent flyer policy, your security delay, your seat location? Angry with the fog over your airport, volcanoes in Iceland or an air traffic control strike? Don t blame the FA- don't  take it out on them! Your Arline has complaint hotlines, postal addresses, Twitter and Facebook!

And treating people with respect gets you further. I was in line on one of the winter days in 2008 when the whole of the NorthEast was shut down by ice and storms. I was in Charlotte flying to San Francisco via New York. There was a long line of distressed, frustrated people yelling into cell phones, I joined the line as it snaked to a weary looking check in clerk. No one in front of me was happy with their answers. It was like a scene from Little Britain: "Can I get to Chicago? says no".
My turn: "hi...not a good day"
She: wary grim look
Me: not your fault
She: try to tell these people that
Me: Yes, I am amused that each of them think you are personally responsible for the entire weather patterns over the whole of the Northeast
She: That's not half of it
Me: I have been hearing. I imagine you wanted to run away when you got to work this morning. I appreciate you staying until now but after me you can run away to Australia!
She: you're Australian aren't you?
Me; Yep
She: every Australian I have ever dealt with in 20 years of travel has been delightful
At this point, as I offered up silent prayers of thanks that this woman had got nice Aussies, she re-ticketed me FIRST CLASS on a new flight. I got to San Francisco five hours late --but I got there that day.

The Skies get friendlier

This is Part Three of a Three Part description of my flight with United from Mel to Syd to LAX to ORD (Chicago). This covers the longest hop from Sydney to Chicago.
Part One: Across the Pacific the "Friendly Way"
Part Two: Mel-Syd unfriendly-way

My Craft foreground-the other United plane heads to SFO
After a brief sojourn in the Air New Zealand Lounge (the heavenly Koru Club), we boarded our Los Angeles, California bound 747 pictured right at Sydney airport.

At 105pm, there was a Business class seat left so it looked like my upgrade for the 13 hour cross Pacific hop was happening. BUT at 110pm, it had been filled by a business fare paying passenger- I still had my Emergency Exit seat!  Really appreciated the service of the lounge staff as they tried to get me the upgrade...Thanks team. 

Welcome aboard was good and staff more engaged and way way way more friendly (what happened on the last flight???) but again a lack of hands or help to guide people to their seats. I saw one woman approach a flight attendant because someone was in her seat. "tell him to move" replied the attendant !

On the other side, one passenger later demanded the cabin crew suspend meal service so he could use the restroom. Upon being told to use the other restrooms he abused the FA. Shame you cant throw some passengers overboard.

Me (Martin J Cowling) on Board the 747 
The passengers around me included a large contingent of navy reservists from USNS Mercy which had been assisting Indonesians with medical supplies and attention. Dave, the  guy next to me a firefighter from North Carolina was  heading home after  a very powerful period of Service in various Indonesian communities and a brief R & R in Darwin. Dave is hoping to come back and vacation in Australia and or NZ (Hey Dave, I hope you made your Chicago connection!)

Takeoff over Sydney's Cronulla Beach was stunning. 

Beverage service brought another drink and those mini pretzels  followed by a choice of  Asian Chicken or tortellini was adequate. On FA recommendation, I went for the pasta. To my surprise United still do effectively three meal runs with a middle of the night meal service. (Qantas gives out a snack Bag and bottled water before switching off the lights. In the middle of the night, United gave us a sandwich with a non-descript meat plus coke slaw and  a bland pecan cookie. This was followed by a drink service and then a rubbish collection service. The effect of all of this was to wake people up. 

This added to the restlessness on the flight.  After each movie, for example,  people would get up, wander and talk. Individual entertainment  units do keep people on their seats and docile. On top of this was that  the lights don't seem as dim as they do on other crossings I have had -and people chatted a lot making sleep harder.

Breakfast (pictured left) was the worst I have ever been given on a plane. The eggs tasted worse than they looked and the blob of yellow dumped on the plate did not look good! The sausage was bland, the mushrooms had some flavour but looked sad. The croissant was awful. I could have had fruit as well but I was starving.

Touchdown in LA was Perfect!! Thanks Pilots! (110%!!!!) And we were early!!

On this segment;
Welcome aboard: 7.5 out Of ten
Cabin Crew: 7.5 out Of ten
Beverage / Meal Service: 4 out of ten
Entertainment: 2 out of ten 
Farewell from plane: 8 out of ten

So on board this segment: 29 out of 50 

Total score for my United airlines experience so far: 96 out of 150...64%

Customs and immigration were not so bad. The good thing about flying United Airlines as opposed to Qantas or Air New Zealand is that most of the passengers are Americans so the line for "Visitors" at US immigration is far shorter!!

I had my boarding pass so quickly re entered security, grabbed some food and had time to check the net including finding another negative review of UA840

Boarded the third segment of United 840 to find the purser from the SYD to LAX segment was travelling to Chicago as a passenger (she told me she was going to Europe). My friend Dave (see previous post) was turned away at the door of the aircraft as it was  a completely full flight (I did note there were quite a few crew travelling for free as passengers. Whats the best priority here I wonder?)

Staff on this flight were incredibly friendly, pro active, polite and went out of their way to help. The contrast to my Melbourne-Sydney flight was palpable. 

United flight 840  starts in Melbourne, Australia and finishes in Chicago, USA  travelling via Los Angeles. En route, it changes planes and crews twice.  To me, it seems strange that the one flight does not have to have the same craft or crew? What makes it the same flight?

Meal service consisted of a free drink and the sale of snack boxes. I bought the Eat for Good snack box. It impressed me for three reasons:

  1. The contents are on the healthier end but not that exciting...after 15 hours of travel, I would have killed for fresh fruit,
  2. $1 from each box is donated to Feeding America®
  3. packaging was designed by an 18 year old high schooler engaged in a development program in Chicago

Not so impressive is the claim that 1 in 6 Americans goes hungry. One has got to question what is going on in a country when this is the situation?

We landed early---again!

Welcome aboard: 8 out Of ten
Cabin Crew: 10 out Of ten
Beverage / Meal Service: 6.5 out of ten
Entertainment: 4 out of ten 
Farewell from plane: 7.5 out of ten

So on board this segment: 36 out of 50 

Total score for my United airlines experience: 132 out of 200...66% NB I did not check bags. My last Qantas flight across the Pacific, I gave 95% to. My Air New Zealand flight on the same route got 96%. United has a long way to go to match the service, food, aircraft amenities, cleanliness and entertainment of its competitors on this sector.  See my list of top 21 carriers.

Would I fly them again? 
For a substantial price discount? Yes. 
For the same price? Only if I knew I could get an upgrade to business class.