As the start a series on various airports from the viewpoint of a traveler (frequent or otherwise), it felt the natural to begin with my local airport: Raleigh-Durham International Airport, RDU.
RDU is quite a gem given its physical location. As the airport for the Research Triangle region, it has a great deal of demand placed upon it, and as a result has some very interesting routes. For example, you can take direct flights to London, Toronto, Los Angeles, and soon to Paris!
There is also very nice availability of choices when it comes to airlines. The list below is a small cross-section of the carriers that travel to and from RDU:
As I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few options when it comes to direct flights that use Raleigh as a origin or destination. A full list is available here, but a few interesting options are listed below:
Salt Lake City (starting March 2016)
Paris Charles De Gaulle (starting May 2016)
As with many airports in the United States, RDU offers standard priority security and support services for the “big three” carriers. Additionally, TSA PreCheck is also available as an option. The real surprise is the presence of Global Entry! Global Entry makes for a much easier return from some of the locations that you can reach from Raleigh, and I see it becoming more of a prominent feature as additional routes are added.
There are both a SkyClub and Admiral’s Club located in Terminal 2 – the terminal that houses all airlines other than Southwest. Located immediately after security, it makes it easy to rest a little before or after a flight. Just keep in mind that alcohol isn’t available before noon on Sundays!
What about you? Have a favorite airport or one I should cover?
Alas, all trips must eventually come to an end, and we realized that 5 days really isn’t enough time to see even one island of Hawaii — some follow-up trips are clearly in order! The airport is very easy to navigate, thankfully, and there are many lounge options available.
Since I had access to Priority Pass lounges through my Citi Prestige[non-affiliate link] card (with two guests, no less!), I took Carrie to the IASS Lounge on the garden level. Though there were no alcoholic beverages available, they had interesting drink options — guava juice, for example!
Other lounges available at HNL include a Delta SkyClub, KoreanAir Lounge, JAL Sakura Lounge, United Club, Hawaiian Airlines Lounge, and Quantas Lounge. Quite a few options!
HNL → JFK
The return flight was on a Boeing 767-300ER and though we were not able to sit in DeltaOne seats, we were in the Comfort Plus cabin. Unfortunately Delta does not allow complimentary upgrades to DeltaOne even within the US. This made for a somewhat difficult flight back as the lavs in the middle were nonfunctional and the lights over the left third of the plane (where we were sitting) were also nonfunctional.
The flight was a whopping 9 and a half hours, from boarding to deplaning, after a 45 minute delay on leaving Honolulu, so Carrie and I were all kinds of stiff. It didn’t help that the couple in front of us were discourteous in reclining their seats completely only to give us nasty looks if we so much as bumped them.
Given the length of the flight, we were given a rest-kits including earplugs, an eye mask, and a toothbrush with toothpaste. Definitely practical!
After our second snack service, two of the cabin crew walked down the aisles handing out chocolate to the passengers, which was as nice touch and certainly appreciated after the flight.
JFK → RDU
Oof… here is where the fun began… our flight from JFK to RDU was delayed by three hours according to the Delta app, so I made my way to a counter to inquire to the nature of the delay. I knew the plane was there already thanks to FlightAware, and it turns out one of the pilots was delayed on an earlier connection.
The agent suggested we fly out of LaGuardia instead and provided a taxi voucher. Unfortunately, as our bags were checked we had to hope they would eventually make it home that night.
Thankfully, due to our status, we were able to upgrade to first class on the return leg (even if it was on a CRJ 700), and the SkyClub attendant was nice enough to allow my girlfriend in for free. Honestly, it is their customer service that makes me keep returning to Delta over other airlines.
Their website, however, is ridiculously buggy and would not allow us to track our bags after we filed our delayed baggage claim, so we weren’t able to stay abreast of the situation without calling periodically. The truly frustrating thing is that each time I called, I received a different answer from the representative. The bags finally made their way to us at 1 AM the following day, so everything wrapped up okay in the end, albeit a little stiff from that first flight!
Though we were unable to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center on Christmas day, there were seats available the following day. The bus ride was just over an hour and a half each way, but the interior was air conditioned and the seats were comfortable.
We were lucky that our driver also worked with the agency that ran circle island tours of Oahu, so he made sure to point out all the sights on our way to the center. He showed us shooting locations for various well known films including The Karate Kid Part 2, Jurassic Park, and others.
As we purchased Ambassador tickets, we were able to skip quite a few lines and even received shell leis! The tour started with a canoe ride through the canals in the middle of the center that explained the way it was laid out as well as how to navigate it.
After exploring a little with the tour group, we were directed back to the canal area for a canoe parade. Each canoe was manned by individuals representing the indigenous people of the various islands, and they showed off their native dances on the water.
Following the parade, we resumed the tour and explored the islands of Tonga and Samoa, having visited Aotearoa at the start of the day. Finally, we wrapped up our day with a traditional lu’au experience (complete with fire dancing and poi) and then the presentation of “Ha: The Breath of Life”. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed during this, either. I strongly recommend the Ambassador package as it is an amazing value (lunch, dinner, leis, better seating for “Ha”, and dessert) and a significant improvement to the experience as you have shorter lines for everything.
With the help of the hotel concierge, Carrie and I booked a submarine excursion with Atlantis Adventures. They conveniently dock their ferry at the pier at the Hilton Grand Vacation village, a short walk from the Doubletree that we were staying at.
The Hilton village is a series of towers with a large shopping area in the middle (more on that later!), and with some delightful animals spread throughout the grounds. We saw some massive koi, which appear to have been conditioned to beg for food from passerbys, as well as macaws!
Upon reaching the pier, we were allowed onto the ferry vessel which took us to our submarine — there were three submarines available, two of which seated 48 passengers, and the third holding 64. Carrie and I were on one of the 48-passenger vessels, where the individuals were seated in two rows.
Though we did not see too many forms of wildlife we did make a friend which followed us throughout the duration of the tour.
Upon returning to the surface, we made our way back to the pier and began exploring the Rainbow Bazaar — the stores and restaurants located in the middle of the Hilton village. After picking up some whole-bean Kona coffee, we noticed the time and decided some fresh fish was in order!
We happily discovered a Japanese sushi restaurant, Hatsuhana, which had extremely reasonably priced sashimi and excellent presentation. Lunch was a bit of an exploration as well as neither Carrie or I had eaten Sea Urchin or Butterfish. Both were excellent!
Magic of Polynesia
After lunch, we made our way back to our hotel to rest before dinner and a magic show. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted at the venue, so you’ll just have to believe me when I tell you that it was quite the experience!
Carrie and I opted to upgrade our breakfasts to the “full American breakfast” and had custom omelets made while we had some fresh fruit and coffee. The pineapple in particular was spectacular!
We talked to the hotel concierge and arranged to get a rental car from a local agency. We didn’t realize that the cars were all SmartCars, though, which was an adventure in and of itself. Our entire drive only took a gallon and a half of gas. After making arrangements for the rest of the stay, we went to get our car.
The first step on our exploration was the Dole Plantation. It was only an hour drive from Waikiki, which was not bad at all. Though the car lacked Bluetooth, the rental agency provided GPS devices with all their vehicles.
The plantation offered a guided train tour, the Pineapple Express, as well as a self-guided garden tour. The train tour was very informative and offered a brief history of the plantation as well as pineapple production in general. Unfortunately, they had recently picked the last crop so we weren’t able to see any ripe fruit in the plantation itself.
The last stop for the day was the Haleiwa on the north shore of Hawaii. The beach here was wonderful, and though it was in the low 80s, the breeze coming from the ocean made it feel much cooler.
This is the first post of a series so bear with me!
For Christmas this year, I wanted to do something special, so I used two of my regional upgrade certificates to fly my girlfriend and myself to Honolulu first class. These certificates are available from Delta after reaching Platinum or Diamond Medallion status as Delta Choice Benefits, and can be used on most paid fares. The tricky thing is that it does not guarantee your upgrade, but you do get a higher priority than others (including those with the Delta Reserve SkyMiles card).
RDU → LAX
The first flight on the way to Honolulu was on a Boeing 737-800, and we managed to get cleared for first class well before the day of departure. The great thing about that is that we were able to request special meals for our flight.
The omelet that came with our breakfasts was full of spinach, and the asparagus was cooked well. The only questionable part were the potatoes which were severely dehydrated.
Though we didn’t have in-flight entertainment on our first flight (outside of Delta Studio, which doesn’t work on most Android phones), the ride was smooth and the flight attendants were excellent.
LAX → HNL
Our second flight was on one of Delta’s 737-300s using their “Hawaii” configuration. Our upgrade certificates didn’t clear us until we were about to board, so we weren’t able to request a special meal in advance, but we were surprised by Mai Tais!
The flight crew really made the trip wonderful. They were extremely attentive and made sure my girlfriend and I were always comfortable.
The meal choice was between stuffed ravioli in a red sauce or grilled chicken with cheese on a bed of rice. I went with the chicken and Carrie went with the ravioli. The chicken was surprisingly juicy for an airplane meal, but the ravioli was mediocre.
First class on this flight had individual screens, and we were able to watch the original Ocean’s Eleven (with the Rat Pack!) as we ate, which was a treat. The AmazonBasics tangle-free headphones[affiliate link] I always travel with was much better than the prepackaged headphones offered. It’s an added bonus that you never have to feel bad about misplacing a pair thanks to their pricing! 😉
Though there wasn’t a shuttle offered by the hotel, they did have an arrangement with SpeediShuttle to transport guests at a reduced rate. I checked in online prior to arrival at the DoubleTree Alana so all we had to do was pick up our keys (and cookies!).
As a Hilton Diamond, Carrie and I were given free breakfast vouchers with the option to upgrade to a full breakfast for only $8. We were also given premium internet access codes.
When checking in, I opted to upgrade for only $60/night to their one room penthouse suite. Though Hilton points are not the most valuable, if you book early enough, you can get some very nice deals! The final cost for me was 50,000 points and $60 per night for the penthouse suite.
More posts to come as I move pictures from my phone and get readjusted to home!
As we continue into the holiday season and temperatures drop (in most US cities), there are many things to keep in mind. Wintery weather brings with it delays, cancellations, and colds. Though it’s impossible to plan for every contingency, proper planning will help mitigate a great deal of travel woes.
Flight Delays and Cancellations
It’s not possible to accurately predict weather all the time, but with the technology (and crowd-sourcing) available, we can get pretty close! Keep an eye on not just your point of departure and destination, but also the projected flight path (more on that below). Pilots will do their best to avoid the nastiest chop, but sometimes there’s nothing to be done but to fly through. If motion sickness is a concern, be sure to keep some Dramamine [affiliate link] handy!
In addition to weather, there are quite a few reasons that your flight might be delayed or cancelled – anywhere from your inbound flight being delayed to equipment issues or the flight crew missing connections. Fortunately, you can keep an eye on some of that using the tools I mention below.
If you aren’t familiar with it, FlightAware is a wonderful resource for fliers. Regardless of how often you fly, it is worth keeping on your phone for handy access. It allows you to track your flights, including their inbound flights, and projected flight paths. It even overlays weather patterns to give you an idea of what you can expect on your trip.
FlightAware’s ability to identify inbound flights and their delays, combined with push alerts, and gate information makes it invaluable. It’s available for both Android and iOS, and making an account is free. While it won’t tell you if the crew for your flight will get there, you can keep an eye on the plane!
Next up is the FAA’s Flight Delay Information website. By default it shows the major airports in the US for various regions, but users are able to filter to a specific region or go right to the airport they are interested in, directly.
Finally, we have the all-knowing Google. Google Flights is a wonderful tool for both planning and rebooking. Its interface has improved considerably over time and knowing what flight numbers you want to change to when you call your airline saves everyone a lot of time!
One of my favorite features of Google Flights is shared with FlightAware: the display of historical on-time information, particularly when a certain flight is consistently delayed.
When at all possible, fly direct! Every connection you add to your itinerary introduces the possibility of delays. This gets particularly tricky when you have multiple airports in the same region. It isn’t uncommon for flights to arrive at one airport (JFK) and leave from another (LGA). Be sure to pay attention to this when booking!
The North-East tends to get hit consistently in the Winter, so I do my best to avoid flying through airports in that region if I can. Unfortunately, you can’t always avoid airports, so try to pick larger airports where you will have multiple flights to your destination.
Another consideration when booking is what time of day the flight should be. While waking up at 4 AM for a 6 AM flight isn’t terribly appealing, earlier flights offer the most options with delays and cancellations. By taking an earlier flight, you have more time to find alternatives or reroute to reach your destination.
It is in your best interest to keep on top of the weather along your entire route when traveling so that you can reroute if needed. Note that checking your bag will limit your options considerably. Many airlines will move the bag to your new route, but there is a very good chance of it being delayed if you take a different route. If you have to check your bag, be sure to keep a carry-on with a pair or two of extra clothes so you won’t be out of luck (and smelly) when you get to your destination!
Time for the most important part… your flight attendants! These ladies and gentlemen are responsible for making sure you get from Point A to Point B safely, so treat them with the respect they deserve. Politeness and a smile goes a long way in making everyone’s day better. Don’t hesitate to bring treats for your flight attendants, especially when flying over the holidays.
Keep in mind that these folks get paid a fraction of their wage when they are on the ground, so it is in their best interest to make sure you get in the air as fast as is safe to do. They don’t want to be late any more than you do, and every minute they spend on the ground impacts their paycheck in a huge way!
What about you?
How do you handle delays and cancellations? Have any tips you’d like to share?