Friday, December 11, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Wi-Fi flies to Canada
Los Angeles-Toronto — From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Dec. 08, 2009 4:53PM EST
A big sticker on the plane read “Wi-Fi Air Canada,” and the flight attendants made an announcement about the plane's new Internet capabilities. But it was only when he noticed his seatmate checking scores that Brian Strauss, 44, took out his laptop and logged on at 35,000 feet.
“The first thing I checked was espn.com to check the headlines,” said the president and chief executive officer of Southern California manufacturer Henry Company, who is also a Notre Dame fan. “I think you'd expect this sort of thing to be hit and miss, but it locked right in.”
The introduction of Wi-Fi service on Canadian flights – on two Air Canada Airbus 319s flying from Toronto and Montreal to L.A., and only over American airspace – signals the end of a year-long delay for Canadian business travellers.
This convenience comes via GoGo, an American company that has been providing Wi-Fi service to U.S. airlines since last year. It will soon be working with an Ottawa-based company called SkySurf, which bid successfully for the rights to air-to-ground frequency in Canadian airspace.
SkySurf head Raed Almasri says the company is listening to feedback from the trial run – who uses Wi-Fi in the air, for what and when – and then will make deals with owners of wireless networks across the country. His goal is nationwide air-to-ground Internet by the end of 2010. For the duration of the trial run, and possibly beyond, should Air Canada choose to extend its arrangement with GoGo, the service will work only in American airspace.
On the L.A. flight, some initial problems connecting were resolved, and from that point on, the service was robust enough to handle streaming video and even online role-playing games.
“It works better than [service on] United, I can tell you that,” says Steven Conly, Strauss's seatmate.
Conly, 26, is the North American sales and marketing manager for aerospace company Dynacon. He has been using onboard Wi-Fi for about four months on United and AirTran. On this Air Canada flight, he did a little shopping, read the newspaper online, e-mailed the office and checked the scores.
“I wanted to see if the Nets won. They did,” the Mississauga-based exec said. “Then I checked on the Raptors. They were a disaster.”
But mostly, business travellers on the flight worked. Strauss had never used in-flight Internet and seized the chance to get some end-of-day work done. “Instead of getting into the hotel at 11, 11:30 at night and catching up, I can do it here and be free and clear when I land.”
He planned to use the hour he saved sleeping. During the trial run, which ends on Jan. 29, the service costs $9.95 (U.S.) for the duration of the five-hour flight. “For a business traveller, it's the cost of doing business,” Strauss said. But, he added, “I'd probably raise my eyebrows at anything over $20.”
An American investment banker sitting nearby, who has been using in-flight Wi-Fi for about a year, concurred. “It's about the only [travel] expense the firm doesn't complain about,” he said.
His family likes it too.
The first thing he did when he logged on last year for the first time was call his wife on a voice-over-Internet service. When a flight attendant asked him to put his phone away, he explained that it's just like checking e-mail. Although some U.S. airlines have asked GoGo to block voice applications, Air Canada is – at least for the moment – not joining them. Google chat, complete with voice and video, worked fine, with occasional video freeze-ups.
Of the 14 business-class travellers, about half made some use of the system, one checking e-mail, another his investment portfolio. And though everyone interviewed said the Wi-Fi should make them more productive, for the time being most were having a little fun with it.
Probably every e-mail sent that night contained at least a mention of the fact that it was coming from the troposphere.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Or venture on over to Air Canada's websaver and check out the deals that feature up to 40% of select US destinations.
Friday, December 4, 2009
GO Travel Flights will be offering service to London’s Gatwick airport for as low as $798 return, including taxes, beginning in June.
The service is being offered in partnership with British carrier Astraeus.
This is a good development for Winnipeg because it means we can bypass having to transit through another city to reach England.
Book your tickets now!
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
With the announcement this week that the Manitoba government will help find a way to make a police helicopter a reality for Winnipeg, I can't help but get annoyed by all the whirlybird hoopla.
When I picture police helicopters, I think of my favourite original reality show, COPS, on FOX. Some poor bugger does something stupid and the next thing you know the police are chasing him with the COPS camera man bracing in the passenger seat as the police car goes barreling down the road. Aformentioned poor bugger then abandons his vehicle and becomes the target of an intense foot chase through backyards as dogs bark and the camera man huffs and puffs to keep up. Soon a bright light appears in the sky, and just when you think that FOX is adding an alien element to the show, the police helicopter appears and shines the spotlight on the dude who is now likely being tasered by an officer. High fives all around, another bad guy is off the streets.
Let me get this out of the way. I think there are better ways to spend money on policing in Winnipeg. More specialized officers (Street Crime, Arson Strikeforce, etc.) on the street. More money for immobilizers. Maybe a strategy that will help kids instead of leaving them at the mercy of the system. Another shift of Tactical Team members. More general patrol officers. But a helicopter?
I'm no expert on policing; I'm just another guy with a blog who has an opinion. So if the Chief of Police thinks we need the helicopter, well I guess I should want to believe him. After all, he should know the needs of the WPS better than anyone else. But I am also a taxpayer and this whole issue seems like it could be made into something much more useful.
I keep hearing media reports that the helicopter will be a useful tool in reducing high speed pursuits of stolen vehicles. How? Are we putting police snipers on board who will shoot out the tires of the stolen vehicle from the air before the chase gets out of hand? What happens if the high speed pursuit takes place when the helicopter is on the ground being refuelled or because the pilot needs a break? What if the call is made about a pursuit starting, but the helicopter is on the ground and by time it is scrambled into the air the pursuit is over?
What else will this helicopter do? Can it airlift trauma victims? Move the Tactical Team across the city at a far faster rate than their SUVs do with the emergency lights activated? Winnipeg is spread out but it doesn't take that long to move across the city, especially if you are able to go through red lights at a higher rate of speed than the average motorist.
I think this is a serious question that needs to be debated and shared with the city because it represents a signficant investment in one resource that could be better spread across many areas.
Here is one suggestion. If a helicopter is the 'sexy' tool that everyone is talking about, why don't we look at getting helicopters that offer lifeflight capabilities and spread the whirlybird love to more people around the province, instead of just Winnipeg? You know, so we can move remote trauma victims from car crashes and other life threatening events into the city quickly and get them to the Health Sciences Centre. Build a helicopter landing pad on the roof of HSC so the helicopter can go straight there and maybe save someone's life.
Forget about putting all these resources into a toy that will make a good photo op until it doesn't make it to the scene of a big chase in time and the politicians/media/etc. go bonkers about how this thing isn't doing what it promised it would. Whatever that promise was.
Or maybe, just maybe a police helicopter will elevate Winnipeg's status into that of a 'big city' ... you know like those cities we see on COPS.
Found this on Twitter just a few minutes ago. Love the clever message from Air Canada!
AC_webSaver Get 100% of Canada up to 50% off! Travel till March 2010. Sale ends Dec4 http://tinyurl.com/yefaf23
And maybe this isn't so clever?
airfarewatchdog Tacky? Spirit Airlines' Eye of the Tiger Sale: http://bit.ly/6sAOcf #travel
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
A few years back my good friend Jason Sapinsky and I embarked upon a mega road trip from Winnipeg to Los Angeles. Our official goal was to visit his relatives in LA and see as much Major League Baseball as we could in a three-week period, while visiting a Waffle House in every two bit town along the way.
The route stretched west along the Trans Canada Highway to Regina, and then south into the US. A scary storm with tumbleweeds pummeling the car greeted us in Montana, followed by a chilly trip into Yellowstone National Park where we experienced the American way of over commercializing a natural resource (Old Faithful). After a mother bear chased us down the side of a hiking trail we got in the car and pushed on towards the Grand Tetons and the warm weather. Utah was next on the agenda, with visits to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. (Google these parks and then go there. Right now. They are incredible but tourist heavy.) Salt Lake City and the Mormon Temple came soon thereafter, followed by two nights on the Strip in Las Vegas. (The Luxor is especially nice with its marble bathrooms.) Vegas became LA, which we called home base for 10 days. Ate calamari in Malibu. Surfed Huntington Beach. Saw Santa Monica. Walked Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Went to huge markets in heart of LA. Would live in Laguna Beach in a heartbeat if I had the money. Realizing that all good adventures must also include the reality of returning home, we pointed the car east and blitzed across the desert to Phoenix where it hit 104F and I could cook food on the asphalt. Next came a turn north, towards 4 Corners (where New Mexico, Colorado, and two other states meet). A nighttime run across the Interstate brought us through Vail and the ski resorts to Denver, where we paused to take in the sights. Colorado soon became South Dakota, and Wall Drug, a weird and wonderful drug store that has been around since the American Frontier was opened up. A motel in the middle of nowhere, with a bathroom that featured a TV, pretty much sums up the rest of South Dakota, followed by pitstops in Fargo and Grand Forks before Canada Customs welcomed us and our many pairs of runners home.
We accomplished the baseball goal by visiting ballparks in Anaheim, San Diego (it was the 4th of July...Americans sure know how to celebrate), Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Denver. LA was special because it was televised on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, with a crowd of 50,000 + going bonkers as the Dodgers won the game.
We also got to experience the wonder that is the Waffle House. All you can eat for $5 is a thing to behold, and goes a long way to explaining why obesity is such a problem. Whatever, bring me another grilled cheese.
Anyway, I jumped back into Twitter in a big way yesterday and I thought I would share some info that popped up on my screen.
I'm now receiving tweets from WestJet and Air Canada (AC_websaver) and airfarewatchdog. Judging from what I saw, there are a lot of really, really good deals to be had right now, both for travel across Canada and the United States. For example, WestJet is featuring up to 65% off its fares and I saw Winnipeg-Phoenix for $79 each way.
If you don't have any travel plans for the upcoming holiday season, you just might want to reconsider based on the deals that are popping up.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
This is an example of the good thinking coming out of WestJet HQ. The aircraft that WestJet uses (Boeing 737-700s) can make the Calgary/Edmonton-Hawaii segment non-stop, but not at the full capacity of 136 passengers. So instead of being hammered by competitors that their aircraft are too small and don't have enough range, WestJet turns around an opens up the middle seat in several rows, creating:
1) a business class type environment (more space) for customers without the business class prices;
2) a weight savings that will make it easier for them to operate the flight, make money, and dismiss any concerns about the range of the aircraft;
3) front page coverage in the globeandmail.com
Nice move, WestJet.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
But let us take a few steps back. The airline industry is an industry littered with casualities. Casualities? Isn't airline travel glamorous, with all those wonderful destinations and high paying jobs?
In a word, no.
The airline business (both here in Canada and elsewhere) is notoriously difficult to make money at, and is even worse when it comes to job security. From the price of oil (affecting fuel prices) to the threat of terrorism to global health crises (SARS in 2003), the industry is highly susceptible to forces beyond its control, which in turn can have drastic impacts on the number of passengers buying tickets. But go and throw in the occasional price war (where seats are sold at a loss) and while the plane might be full, the airline is losing a ton of money operating that flight.
(See Canadian Airlines International, Wardair, JetsGo, Canada 3000, Roots Air, and a few other examples of failed airlines in Canada alone.)
Amidst all the doom and gloom, Calm Air is a success story. Established in 1962 and based in Thompson, the airline is owned by the Exchange Industrial Corporation (EIC). The airline operates passenger and freight services in northern Manitoba and Nunavut while also doing charter work (like polar bear tours to Churchill and fly-in fishing lodges in northern Manitoba). In fact, many of their 17 aircraft are configured to transport both freight and passengers. But wait, it gets better. They have never gone bankrupt, they are never mentioned in the newspaper as being on the verge of bankruptcy, and their generosity to northern Manitobans over the years has been legendary.
(Case in point... several years back a young Thompson resident who was an up and coming musician had to take lessons in Winnipeg because Thompson lacked the instructors that he needed. The family could not afford to fly their child back and forth virtually every weekend, so Calm Air transported the child free of charge over the course of a long period of time so he could get his training. The company has also been a generous sponsor of many, many events in Thompson and other points in the north.)
This partnership is smart for both parties for several reasons. Calm Air aircraft will be seen all over the continent, increasing brand awareness of the airline. As well, providing aircraft services for a professional hockey team that is seen by many as the envy of the AHL is a smart move. The Moose meanwhile, are supporting a strong local company with deep roots in this province while at the same time making their travels a whole lot easier and increasing their cachet as a hockey team that operates like a NHL franchise.
All in all, this has the appearance of a solid relationship.
Great story in the Winnipeg Free Press recently about the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose using local Manitoba airline Calm Air for their charter flights to the US this season.
As someone who has flown with Calm Air for years, I can attest to their great service. They are a local success story and its great to see the Moose using a local company for their charter needs.
More to come...
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
"North Dakota hits 10-year high passenger count in August"
USA Today - Oct. 5/09"The number of passengers boarding flights this August at North Dakota's eight commercial airports hit a 10-year high for that month, according to The Associated Press. And the state owes a big thanks to leisure carrier Allegiant Air for helping it hit that high-water mark, according to the Minot (N.D.) Daily News. Larry Taborsky, director of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, tells the paper that Allegiant's new service and discount fares to Las Vegas and Phoenix-Mesa are helping to drive the state's passenger increase.
At Grand Forks International, for example, airport director Patrick Dame credits Allegiant Air's presence for helping send passenger traffic up 22%. "The airline's flight to Las Vegas has boosted passenger numbers from Canada, Minnesota and north central North Dakota, he said. Allegiant's plan to add a flight to Phoenix in November is expected to attract even more passengers," the paper writes.
Airport officials at Fargo's Hector International say Allegiant has helped stimulate traffic there, as well. And in the state capital, officials at Bismarck City Airport say increased service by United and Delta has helped keep passenger totals on the rise during August. Allegiant also flies to Bismarck, where airport officials say the carrier filled more than 90% of its seats in August despite that being a "slow" month for the airline.This morning (Oct. 6) , USA Today had more on the topic but from the Winnipeg perspective:
Add North Dakota to the list of U.S. border states where airports are poaching fliers from more expensive airports in Canada. The Winnipeg Free Press writes "Winnipeg's Richardson International Airport is getting some unlikely competition from its puny siblings in North Dakota, in a battle that's giving Manitobans -- and other Canadians living in cities all along the border -- cut-rate fares to sunshine destinations and elsewhere."
The Free Press adds the "Winnipeg Airports Authority says it's starting to feel the effect of the growing trickle of Manitobans heading to Grand Forks and Fargo to take advantage of low-cost airfares to places like Las Vegas and Orlando for half the cost of the same flight from Winnipeg." The arrival of discount carrier Allegiant Air to Grand Forks and other North Dakota airports has been cited as a particularly big draw for Canadian fliers.
The price differences can be dramatic. An Oct. 5 search for a Feb. 4-7 itinerary from Grand Rapids to Las Vegas found fares of about US$239 from Grand Rapids. From Winnipeg, the cost jumped to about US$686. That, as your might expect, has caught the attention of airport officials at Winnipeg.
"Grand Forks is on our radar screen for all the wrong reasons," Barry Rempel, CEO of Winnipeg Airports Authority, tells the Free Press. "Where possible, we should be coordinating in the region and doing things jointly. The unfortunate part is that it is extremely difficult when carriers that probably should be directly accessing a marketplace like Winnipeg, choose a market like Grand Forks."
Rempel, who also happens to be the chairman of the Canadian Airports Council (CAC), points the finger at the Canadian system of managing airports. In Canada, much more of the cost of building and maintaining airports is borne by independent airport authorities, and the costs are almost always passed directly on to the consumer in the form of taxes and fees.
In one example, the Free Press notes most Canadian airports must pay rent to the federal government. Despite that, airports still are responsible for operating costs and most capital costs. The Free Press writes Rempel "said (the CAC) has been hammering the federal government for some time for changes to the airport-management structure." He tells the paper "it is just not a level playing field" between U.S. and Canadian airports.
Interesting, interesting...Grand Forks (metropolitan pop. ~100,000) upstaging Winnipeg (pop. ~650,0000) in the battle to get airline passengers. Allegiant running ads in the Winnipeg Free Press advertising their seats sales out of Grand Forks to Las Vegas and soon Phoenix. WestJet and Air Canada must be seriously annoyed...watching all those Canadian travelers making a run to the border at Emerson, followed by a stop at Target, and then on to the airport for their flights to warmer destinations.
I'm thinking that there just might be some really good deals available out of Winnipeg in the very near future.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Want to shop? Head for 5th Avenue. Make sure to stop in at Tiffany's to see what a $750,000 engagement ring looks like. [Sparkle doesn't even begin to describe how it looks. Try and wrap your head around that much money sitting on someone's finger.]
Want to experience sensory overload? Go to Times Square and stare up at all the neon on the skyscrapers, while thousands of people pass around you. For a $10 you can even get your name and a message up on the neon sign outside M&M World.
Want some exercise? Go for a jog in Central Park, but watch where you are going because the horse drawn carriage rides are all over the place.
Want to be lazy? Grab a 24 hour ticket for the double decker tour bus that winds its way around Manhattan, featuring a tour guide explains the buildings (Empire State, Chrysler, etc.) and neighbourhoods (Greenwich Village, SoHo, etc.). The great thing about this option - especially if you don't have a lot of time - is that you get to see a lot of Manhattan in a relatively short period of time. You can hop on and hop off at each stop so if you want to explore, go for it. The next bus is only minutes away.
I did all these things, but started in the most unlikely place: St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Tucked in among the skyscrapers, the cathedral is a stunning example of gothic styling. Because my visit was so close to Christmas, there was a Christmas concert taking place, featuring several large choirs from the NYC area. This is a huge building but it was packed as a melting pot of cultures came together and sang in unison. For the final song, Silent Night, the lights were dimmed and everyone was presented with a white candle while the choir moved amongst the crowd. For a city that is all hustle and bustle, it was the most calming experience I have ever been a part of.
Then the doors were opened, the pipe organ pounded away and we headed out onto 5th Ave. to join the thousands of shoppers, while a member of the Salvation Army rang his bells and sang out hoping to get people to stop and make a donation at the street corner.
For everything that New York has to offer, listening to Christmas carols in St. Patrick's Cathedral was easily the highlight of my trip and one of my top three travel memories, ever.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
If you are even remotely intrigued by the idea of visiting the country, consider travelling athere nd you won't be disappointed. It is paradise for adventure tourism (hiking on glaciers or underneath waterfalls are but two examples) and a mecca for those who want to experience firsthand the general awesomness of geothermal activity that Iceland is famous for.
But just in case you are having trouble situating the country in terms of where it is, here goes.
Iceland is located in the north Atlantic, roughly halfway between North America and Europe. [If you have ever crossed the Atlantic by airplane, you may very well have flown over Iceland en route.] Picture Canada's northern region, go east and there is Greenland, and further east is Iceland. Flying time, from Minneapolis where the adventure began, was 6 hours non-stop via Icelandair. [FYI you can pick up a flight with Icelandair from Toronto as well. No airlines based in North America serve the country.]
Any country with ice as part of its name might leave you wondering as to why you should travel there when we have plenty of it right here in Winnipeg much of the year. Let me set your mind at ease. Yes, a part of Iceland is situated above the Arctic Circle, so it can get cold. As well, a portion of the interior of the country is uninhabitable because of a glacier. But pretty much everywhere is temperate and very comfortable. Take my word on it...during my visit in August it reached 15C which might not sound like much but it is perfectly comfortable and what you might expect for its location in the north Atlantic Ocean. Just be sensible...don't go expecting to work on your tan!
You land in Keflavik, about an hour from the capital city of Reykjavik, which gives you time to absorb the landscape. Very volcanic, almost no vegetation. Its also very bleak at times, leaving you to wonder about the so called beauty that Iceland is famous for. Don't worry, just enjoy it because before you know it Reykjavik will be visible.
Fun fact... Reykjavik's winters are comparable to that of New York City...mild(er) and without too much snow. Which is to say they are nothing like winter in Winnipeg.
I'm quite lucky because I have seen some of the major European capitals. For instance, I saw Paris in 1994 and while I enjoyed the trip, I wouldn't call it charming by any stretch; yes it has incredible history and things to see, but it is also super busy, super expensive, and is jammed full of hordes of people.
My point is that Reykjavik is nothing like what you might think a major European capital should be. For starters, it has 'only' ~ 200,000 people...which is two thirds of the entire population of Iceland. You can walk the city with ease. And it still has the feel of an older Iceland, a quirky mix of high fashion on one side of the street with bakeries that look as though they haven't changed in 30 years on the other.
The country is expensive, so be forewarned. But I didn't find it unreasonable...let's face it, travelling is not cheap no matter what you do or where you go. For a country that has to import much of what it consumes, I'm sure you can appreciate that there is a cost associated with that.
I would suggest you start with the Icelandair website. Not only can you get flights and hotels, but packages are available that let you experience the country. You book everything all at once, and its easy as can be. Go see the thundering waterfalls, the geothermal activity, or the black sand beaches that are washed by the crisp blue (and extremely cold) Atlantic Ocean. (I can also say I set foot on one of the top ten beaches in the world on the south coast near Vik...who would have thought that Iceland and beach would go together?)
[I stayed at the Hilton Nordica...a superb hotel overlooking the waterfront]
Another great thing about Iceland...it is a great stop over on the way to mainland Europe without incurring extra charges for your ticket. Going to London but you want an mini-adventure? You can do that with Icelandair. Take three days to see the glaciers and waterfalls, wander the streets of Reykjavik and eat some (freshly caught) delectable fish and chips at a pub in the heart of the city, go out to the clubs at night, and stop at the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa on the way back to the airport for your 4 hour flight to London.
I could go on, but here are some links to get you started for the time being.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
I'll be writing more about Iceland in the coming days but for now, take a look at this article from Vanity Fair about the economic troubles the country experienced last year. I was there two months before it happened.
I've been bitten by the travel bug and it won't go away. Have been for 32 years actually.
I suppose I can blame it on my mom who put me on a plane for the first time just six weeks after I was born. It must have been love at first sight because I'm forever planning out my next destination, rearranging in my head a priority list of global destinations that I have to get to. Recent adventures to Iceland, Chicago and NYC have only reinforced that I need to go back again to see even more.
[Australia and New Zealand are currently in a tie for the n.1 spot on the to-visit list, FYI. Although Africa is a close second and lately Turkey has moved up to the three spot.]
I'm going to be blogging about all sorts of travel related things, using my experiences as the starting point. It could be interesting things in the news about a place I have been, or some great memory I just want to share.
I welcome your stories and adventures as well.
Now back to the BlackBerry...