30 March 2007

30-March-2007 : Don't Want To Check Your Bags? Don't Do It!

Web: www.fishfoto.com -- E-Mail: fish@fishfoto.com

30-March-2007 : Don't Want To Check Your Bags? Don't Do It!

Many photographers are under assumption they need to bring it all and need to pack it in five bags to get the job done. I have never understood this mentality, but it exists.

Do I ever over pack, of course I do for some jobs. Do I ever need three or four bags to get out the door? When it involves packing lenses like my 400f2.8 or a full set of location strobes, I do need more bags. When I am lazy I also end up with more bags, but for the most part I can pack two carry on bags, get on a plane, fly across the country, check into a hotel, shoot a wedding (or editorial shoot) and fly home without missing a thing.

Today I boarded the an Amtrak train at 10:55am and headed from New London, Connecticut (NLC) to Boston, Massachusetts (BOS). I hopped on the Silver Line at South Station to Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS). From BOS I boarded a United Airlines Airbus A320 and I was off to Denver International Airport (DEN) and from DEN onto San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Tomorrow morning I will meet my bride at 10:AM and stay with her until 10:PM then I am on a 6:27am flight the next morning from Oakland International Airport (OAK) to Chicago O'Hare Airport(ORD) and homeward bound to Hartford/Springfield (CT/MA) Bradley Airport (BDL).

My total luggage for this trip? A Think Tank Airport Addicted backpack and a North Face Offisite briefcase. These two bags qualify as a full size carry on and a "personal item," and haul all my camera gear, chargers, small waist pack and pouches, toiletries, clothes, GPS, portable DVD player, laptop, etc etc etc.

I will warn you my Think Tank Airport Addicted is extremely heavy, and I might suggest using a Think Tank Airport Security rolling bag instead (except it has no laptop slot, but the Offsite could fit a carefully packed laptop).

By traveling this way I am able to travel without any fear of a lost or delayed bag, and since my flight lands at SFO at 10:17pm (which is 1:17am for my body) I am able to skip the luggage carousel and head right for my hotel saving about 30-35 minutes. By being able to keep my piece of mind when traveling at certain hours of the night, ie: no later flight can delivery my delayed bag, get to bed sooner, etc, this makes traveling much easier at times.

My Think Tank Airport Addicted for this trip contains the following

2 - Canon 1D series bodies
1 - Canon 70-200f2.8L
1 - Canon 28-70f2.8L
1 - Canon 16-35f2.8L
1 - Canon 15f2.8 USM
1 - Sigma 20f1.8
1 - Canon 24f3.5 TS-E Tilt-Shift
1 - Canon 85f1.8 USM
2 - Canon 580ex Speedlights
1 - Canon off camera E-TTL cord
7 - spare Canon 1D batteries
4 - spare sets of AA batteries
1- Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket (CF Card Wallet)
1- Canon 1D battery charger
1 - Wagon Air/Car AC inverter
1 - Garmin GPS
1 - Domke small pouch (with cords, chargers, etc)
1 - Apple 15" PowerBook
2 - Newswear belt pouches (empty)

My North Face Offsite contains two buttom up shirts, two pairs of boxers, three pairs of socks, three under shirts, toiletries, Polaroid 7" DVD plater, Energizer external DVD player battery, Domke F5x waist bag (with belt) sleeve of DVD, small Newswear pouch (with iPod, head sets CF card reader, phone chargers, etc) , small surge bar, agenda, etc.

This set up lets me be on the road for three days, if need be, with out ever needing to check a bag.

Traveling this way takes planning, especially when going to work. You need to make sure you not only have everything, but that you can carry it (for international flights my back pack would get weighed due to it's shape and it is way over the weight limit).

If you are looking to make your travel smoother, try it some time.

**This packing method is for US Domestic travel and/or travel within the US & Canada**

Below is a photo of the two bags I am flying with in the gate area at Gate B45 at DEN and a photo of me in the gate area writing this entry

-Click On The Photos Below To Enlarge The Images-

18 March 2007

18-March-2007 : Can I Get This On Board?

Web: www.fishfoto.com -- E-Mail: fish@fishfoto.com

18-March-2007 : Can I Get This On Board?

A big unknown to many travelers, not just photographers is "can I bring it on board?"

Many flyers seem to think there is a non-conformist rule between airlines regarding carry on policy. Overall this is not true. The published carry on allowance size of most major airlines is 45 inches (length + width + height). In general 45" breaks out to 9"L x 14"W x 22". Some North American carriers have their own non-conforming standards of 51 inches, US Airways (US) and Continental (CO) both are 11"L x 14"W x 26"H. The 51" size can be deceiving though, because it is good for U.S. domestic travel, or travel outbound from the U.S. If you tried to get your carry on back on board returning from an overseas trip chances are you'd be stopped and have to go buy a new bag in the airport.

To make carry on rules more confusing there are variables. These variables include most U.S. airlines allow for "1 Carry On and 1 Personal Item." Most U.S. carriers allow you to carry on "1 Carry On and 1 Personal Item" on your outbound international travel, however many countries now have restrictions in place that do NOT allow this policy on your return travel. Your return travel, most notably from the United Kingdom, is one carry on only. There are exceptions to the UK carry on rules, such as flying Virgin Atlantic (VS) Upper Class or flying Air New Zealand (NZ) and being Star Alliance/Star Gold (*A/*G). So if you leave with two carry on bags, make sure you can get two carry on bags home!

Airlines such as Emirates (EK) allow one carry on bag only, this means a woman's purse is not allowed on board, it is considered a personal item and will not be allowed to board the aircraft.

Another carry on variable is many airlines simply say "Personal item,such as a lady's purse, briefcase, small camera bag or computer case." This is really vague. For a photographer a small camera bag can be a Domke F2 (http://domkef2.notlong.com) that holds two bodies, four - eight lenses, two flashes and eight Canon 1D/Nikon D2 batteries.

For me, my carry on is often a Pelican 1514 rolling case (9"L x 13.8"W x 22"H) , http://1514.notlong.com , and a "personal item" of a North Face backpack or brief case. Neither bag technically qualifies as a "personal item," however the few times I have been challenged I have pulled out my laptop and explained it was my laptop bag.

Personal item sizes is a grey area that irritates even the most seasoned of travelers. This is because without a defined size you can find yourself at the mercy of the gate agent. I know a few photographers who have lost this argument at the entrance to the jet-way while boarding the plane.

One area you MUST be careful in is the weight of your carry on bag. I cannot stress this enough. While most North American carriers are fairly relaxed in their weight policy (I have only been stopped three times, every time by American Airlines, every time at in Dallas at DFW Int'l Airport). I know a number of photographers who have been stopped while traveling internationally. Not while departing North America but while seeking to return to North America.

There is a tactic I use which has worked very successfully for me while traveling. I shed my "large looking" Think Tank Airport Addicted backpack (http://ArprtAddctd.notlong.com) for a slimmer looking Lowe Pro Stealth backpack (http://stealthbackpack.notlong.com). I use this with a small waist pack which is work as a belt, that does not appear to be carry on, it appears to be a belt (mine is a Domke F5xb with two Newswear pouches).

A slimmer profile backpack gets noticed much less by airline staff , so it is less likely to be stopped to be weighed. I have had my Lowe Pro Stealth backpack weigh as much as 50lbs, but the key is to make it look like it is only 5lbs. When I go through security, enter the gate area and start the boarding process I swing the bag onto one shoulder and walk in a relaxed manner. By showing this body language no one says anything.

I have seen photographers and other travelers struggle to pick up their bag. I have seen numerous travelers that appear to be fairly young and healthy show signs of strain picking up a bag and look like they are extremely uncomfortable carrying their bag. NO MATTER WHAT you must SUCK IT UP and look calm, natural and relaxed if you know your bag is close to or over the carry on weight limit.

If you travel with a hard sided case, such as the hard Pelican 1514 case I like, you must make sure it will fit in the templates at the airport. These templates are generally made of tubular metal. There is no flex or room for squeezing a hard case into these templates. If you use a soft sided case, or a case with three soft sides, you can squeeze the case. It may sound odd, but practice effortlessly squeezing your case into something. If it looks easy no one says a word to you, if you struggle to squeeze the bag into the template you may be forced to do a "voluntary separation" at the gate. This means your bag is taken, tagged and loaded with the baggage to be delivered at the baggage carousel at your destination airport.

If you know your bag meets the "45 inch" rule (I strongly suggest measuring it and not trusting the bag manufacturer) but not the standard 9x14x22 dimensions, such as being 8x13x24 you can ask as the gate agent to measure your bag. Some will balk, some cannot find a tape measure, so it is always handy to have your own paper tape measure handy. Buy one for $1 and stuff it in the outside pocket of your bag for the odd occasion you'll need it.

Despite the published carry on sizes the final ruling is made by the gate agent. I know a few people who have been challenged and lost at the gate when arguing, on international travel, than their 9x14x22 bag was OK. An accepted standard, although not the official one, is quickly becoming 8"L x 14"W x 21"H. I am sure this will become the published size in the next few years for Asian and Pacific carriers, but for now just be able squeeze your bag and you should be OK in most instances.

Below is a list of known current carry on baggage sizes I am aware of. Some of these sizes include carry on size restrictions for your "personal item," as well as carry on sizes for "commuter carriers." All of these sizes are in Inches.

United Airlines (UA) 9L x 14W x 22H
US Airways (US) 11L x14W x 26H
**US Airways Express (USX) 11L x 15W x 19H
Delta Airlines (DL) 9L x 14W x 22H
American Airlines (AA) 9L x 14W x 22H
JetBlue (B6) 10L x 16W x 24H
**JetBlue (B6) "Personal Item" 8L x 15W x 18H
Southwest Airlines (WN) 10L x 16W x 24H
Continental Airlines (CO) 11L x 14W x 26H
Air Canada (AC) 9L x 15.5W x 21.5H
**Air Canada (AC) "Personal Item" 6L x 13W x 17H
WestJet (M3) 9L x 15.5W x 21.5H

British Airways (BA) 8L x 16W x 22H
**BA Connect (TH) 10L x 18W x 22H
**BA Connect (TH) "Personal Item" 6L x 13W x 17H
Virgin Atlantic (VS) 9L x 14W x 22H
BMI (BD) 9L x17W x 22H
BMI Baby (WW) 7.5L x 15W x 21H (*WW has NO weight limit!**)
Ryanair (FR) 7.5L x 15W x 21H
EasyJet (EZ) 7.5L x 15W x 21H

Lufthansa (LH) 8L x 16W 22H
KLM (KL) 10L x 14W x 22H
Air France (AF) 9L x 15W x 22H
Alitalia (AZ) 10L x 14W x 18H
Scandinavian Airlines / SAS (SK) 9L x 18W x 22H
SWISS (LX) 7.8L x 15.7W x 21.6H

Japan Airlines / JAL (JL) 9L x 14W x 22H
JALWays (JO) 8L x 14W x 18H
All Nippon Airways / ANA (NH) 10L x 12W x 19H
Asiana (OZ) 9L x 14W x 22H
Korean Air (KE) 9L x 14W x 22H
Air New Zealand (NZ) 10L x 12W x 21H
Qantas (QF) 10L x 13W x 22H
Virgin Blue (DJ) 9L x 13W x 18H

I strongly suggest looking up your individual airline's carry on baggage allowance. I also strongly suggest printing out your airlines carry on baggage policy. Having a policy, in print, and with you can help eliminate almost any problem you can have at the gate.

If you don't see your airline listed above or are having trouble finding your airline's baggage policy drop me an e-mail. I should be able to point you in the direction of the specifics of your carrier's baggage policy.

Happy Flying!

17 March 2007

17-March-2007 : Is There An Airline Alliance For Me? Probably......this post requires some end user homework!

Web: www.fishfoto.com -- E-Mail: fish@fishfoto.com

17-March-2007 : Is There An Airline Alliance For Me? Probably......this post requires some end user homework!

Do often wonder how you could maximize your frequent flyer miles? Come on, you can admit it. You fly, you open up a frequent flyer account, but can't seem to accrue enough miles for a vacation.

Something I find many flyers ignore is combining miles from airlines that are part of an alliance. For example this does not mean you can take your miles from United Airlines and transfer then to their Star Alliance partner Air Canada, but it does mean that you can rack up your redeemable miles and elite qualifying miles with Air Canada's Aeroplan by flying United Airlines.

Currently there are three major global airline alliances

SkyTeam (www.skyteam.com)
Star Alliance (www.staralliance.com)
One World (www.oneworld.com)

The members of these airlines are as follows:

SkyTeam: Delta Airlines ; Northwest Airlines ; Continental Airlines ; AeroMexico ; Aeroflot ; Air France; KLM ; Czech Airlines ; Alitalia ; Korean Air

Star Alliance: US Airways ; United Airlines ; Air Canada ; ANA ; Asiana Airlines; Singapore Airlines ; Thai ; Air New Zealand ; South African Airways ; BMI ; Austrian ; Lufthansa ; TAP ; Spanair ; SAS ; LOT Polish ; Swiss

One World: American Airlines ; Qantas ; Cathay Pacific ; LAN ; Iberia ; Aer Lingus**; British Airways (Joining One World on the 1st of April 2007 will be Japan Airlines, Royal Jordanian and Malev Hungarian Airlines)
**Aer Lingus will be leaving One World on the 1st of April 2007

Choosing the right airline alliance has a lot to do with where you travel, what you want from your airline and their partners and your personal preference.

For years I was loyal to Delta Airlines. My loyalty to Delta kept me at the Delta SkyMiles elite level of Platinum for quite a while. Along with my loyalty to Delta I typically chose to fly airlines that allowed me to gain both redeemable and elite qualifying miles with Delta, obviously this meant most of my flying was on SkyTeam carriers. SkyTeam is a fantastic alliance if you fly extensively within the United States and most of North America. Additionally SkyTeam has a great selection of European carriers. SkyTeam is however quite weak in Asia and the Pacific.

With a shift in my travel about a year ago I switched much of my travel to U.S. Airways, which then shifted much of my travel to Star Alliance carriers. Star Alliance is great for cross-airline benefits once you reach a mutually accepted level referred to as "Star Gold" that is accepted by all the carriers in the alliance. Star Alliance, like SkyTeam has an extensive North American route structure and an extensive European core group of carriers, with excellent connections throughout Asia and the Pacific.

One World is an alliance I have always avoided. Many frequent flyers in the U.S. love American Airlines. Many European and global flyers really like British Airways and Qantas. All three are excellent carriers, I however have never liked either American Airlines or British Airways. These airlines, although serving areas I frequent, have never met my personal needs. I also find the domestic and international route options to be not nearly as extensive as I like. Am I a snob? No, just like a lot of options.

In the last year I have been playing with new airlines and frequent flyer programs.

Going into my 2007 flying year I ended up attaining the following status on these four carriers
US Airways - Platinum (75,000 to 100,000 miles)
United Airlines - Premier Executive (50,000 to 100,000 miles)
Delta Airlines - Gold *dropped from Platinum due to my shift in travel* (50,000 to 75,000 miles)
Northwest Airlines - Gold (50,000 to 75,000 miles)

If you notice, this means I maintained upper level elite status with two Star Alliance carriers and two SkyTeam carriers. The combined minimum travel for these levels of status is 2006 is 225,000 air miles. My travel in 2006, for weddings alone, had taken me extensively throughout the United States, including Hawaii, as well as Canada, England, France, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong.

At the moment I switching much of my travel to probably United Airlines, although I may keep my miles on US Airways and choose to fly United. Flying this way is very easy. One advantage I find to Star Alliance at the moment is reaching the "Star Gold" level allows me to fly with heavier bags with no excess baggage wait, access to elite check in line across all Star Alliance carriers and access to any Star Alliance/Star Gold lounge when flying internationally. I have found it nice to fly through London Heathrow , with my U.S. Airways/Star Gold card, on United Airlines and sit in the BMI Diamond Club lounge before flying out. On the way back I use my US Airways/Star Gold card to quickly check in at United Airlines, go shower at United's club then hang out in SAS/Air Canada's London Lounge which is nicer than United's club. This is a small perk, but it is very nice.

By knowing which airlines are in your alliance, as well as affiliated regional carriers or outside carriers that allow you to gain miles, you can effectively build up your frequent flyer miles account for when you want them.

I like to fly Virgin Atlantic (VS). Although VS is not a member of any alliance I can attain redeemable miles and elite qualifying miles on my US Airways Dividend Miles account. Additionally by being a Star Alliance/Star Gold flyer I can use VS's ClubHouse lounge (which at London Heathrow is one of the best lounges anywhere) when flying on VS.

If you fly on Alaska Airlines (AS) often (which many do because they are a great carrier throughout the west coast) you can rack up the qualifying miles on Delta Airlines towards your SkyMiles account. When I flew Delta as my primary carrier I often flew AS up and down the west coast out of either Seattle or Orange County.

There is no right or wrong answer and I am not really addressing "What Is The Right Frequent Flyer Program For You," because that is a whole other long drawn out question that can't be easily answered. What I am trying to do here is address how you can maximize your miles to fill up your miles account while trying to get benefits that might make your travel easier.

Each of the airline alliances have detailed web sites. These web sites layout the benefits of flying their carrier. I strongly suggest you read each alliance web site to find out out what is the best alliance for you. What works for me may not be best for you, considering I know many photographers and business travelers who love One World carriers. It may turn out an alliance is not best for you and prefer an independent carrier. If this is the case , sign up for their frequent flyer program and remember to add your FF# to all your reservations!

Happy Flying!