Saturday, December 28, 2013

Travel Shows on the web and radio

Every weekend I'm at work I tend to listen to travel shows on the radio, both from my home state of Utah, and others.  Every single one sounds exactly the same.  They are ALL shameless, ego-stroking, carnival barker-esque rants on how Agent so-and-so has the best deal for you!  Every last one of them sound exactly the same, where the agent is on the air hawking his cannon fodder lowest deals to places no one really gives a damn about, just to bring them in the door, or to garner a phone call from in order to pitch a more commisionable trip.  I thought Travel Agents were supposed to be as close to their clients as their lawyers, accountants, doctors, and car mechanics.  We not only sell you vacations, we also assist our clients in obtaining passports, visas, arranging vacation holds and sitter services for our clients while on trip (especially for our luxury and corporate clients), as well as finding them the lowest fare to Las Vegas.

What I try to listen for are shows that have knowledgeable agents on the air, ones who share their experiences in the finer minutiae of travel, such as whats the best way to fly in/out of LAX, which alliances get you where you need to go in a shorter amount of time, what current visa statuses are, what countries are up and coming, what are some good spots to eat in Cleveland, what shows are playing in London's West End...etc. etc.  Travel Agents need to know this stuff, or have access to this stuff to give the traveler a peace of mind when they go out of the country, or for the less traveled of us, out of the county.  I've heard several horror stories from friends outside the industry who've bought their plane tickets online, reserved their hotel rooms online and then went to their destination and didn't have a transfer, or the hotel was not where they need to be, among other issues.  I keep telling them to go to a REPUTABLE Independent Travel Agent, not one of the huge chains that still lurk around.  They moan about not wanting to pay the Agent's commission.  I'd say, I'd rather pay the extra $30 bucks or however much it is and know I'm being taken care of.

Back to the topic at hand.  Radio Shows.  One here in Salt Lake City is 3 hours long and EVERY SINGLE SEGMENT is either a hot deal for a weekend in Cabo San Lucas or a Mormon Temple Tour while you wait for your connecting flight at the Salt Lake Airport.  Not a single segment has ever been aired that had any worthwhile information on what's new in travel, what hot spots are booming, or what baggage allowances are.  This has to change.

Not that I'm against a good deal, but filling an entire 3-hour radio show on doorbusters to Mexico?  I think not.  Here is how I would fill those 3 hours:

Hour 1:  What's new in Travel, what's going on in particular destinations, discussions with callers

Hour 2:  Hot deals, good deals, getting to and from and around your destination, caller discussions

Hour 3:  On-air interviews with Travel Agents, Industry professionals, and experts.

That would be my ideal travel show.  Make it more well-rounded, include not just your own Agent pretending to be an expert, but have actual experts and industry professionals on the air.  Make the show accessible to everyone with an interest in it, not just some last minute weekend jaunt flyaways.  Are there any takers?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The "new" American Airlines is taking off!

By now, anyone who follows me on Facebook knows I'm a fan of the new combined carrier.  I have been a supporter of Doug Parker and Scott Kirby since the days of them pulling America West Airlines out of the post-9/11 morass and an almost certain 2nd bankruptcy that the little airline could never have gotten out of.  In fact, under Paker and Kirby's tutelage, America West was the very first airline to pay back the government backed "stability" loans that were issued to US carriers in the wake of the terrorist attacks that grounded an entire industry.

Fast forward to 2005,  and Parker & Co. have taken America West off of life support, enacted a series of policy and staffing changes systemwide that made it so much stronger in such a short period of time that they went looking for a bigger partner to dance with.

Enter US Airways. 

After a tumultouous decade of mergers and growth in the 1980's that made USAir into a large competitor on the East Coast (especially once they acquired the Trump Shuttle), the 1990's ended up being the airline's decade of hell.  First, there was the period of time when Stephen Wolf (late of United) and Rakesh Gangwal ran the airline down to its knees with massive orders from Airbus, then a badly executed code-share with British Airways, and a rash of well-publicized accidents and crashes that put the East Coast juggernaut on the ropes.  Once Wolf and Gangwal left, a revolving door was left spinning and a host of airline and travel industry cheiftains took over the reigns for small amounts of time trying to keep the airline flying.  Needless to say, the dot-com bubble burst and 9/11 almost killed USAir.  They entered bankruptcy for the first time in 2002, after a failed merger attempt with United Air Lines.  Their average costs were still sky high after exiting bankruptcy in 2003, and the Board of Directors looked for a savior to buy the carrier, but not after another year and a half of staggering losses on top of a government-backed stability loan.  US Airways entered bankruptcy for a second time in 2004, and it was likely it would not exit bankruptcy on its own.  America West came to the rescue and brought US Airways out of bankruptcy in 2005, the first merger I was an active part of, acting as operational consultant.

Now it's 2013, and American Airlines is in bankruptcy, and US Airways is looking to merge with someone to gain size in order to compete better with the newly combined United Continental Holdings Corp. and the recently enlarged Delta Air Lines (by way of their merger with Northwest Airlines).  Doug Parker struck a deal with the American unions first, then the Board of Directors of both carriers, solidifying the chances of the merger going through.  After a prolonged court battle against the Dept. of Justice, the combined airline was given the all clear sign for merger on November 12, and the first signs of the combined carrier were announced yesterday, December 9, with the legal close of the merger and combining of both carriers under the new American Airlines group moniker.

I've recieved a LOT of questions and concerns with the new merger and here's the timeline of events on what will happen during the merger process and what it all means.

A Gradual Transition: For the foreseeable future, especially with the upcoming holiday season, the airlines will operate separately and system-wide changes will roll out gradually. It’s expected to take 18-24 months for the merger to be completed.

Expanded Service: The airline will offer 6,700 daily flights that cover more than 330 destinations in more than 50 countries, at least for the first 3 years.

Limited Choices for U.S. Travelers: Following the American Airlines merger, four airlines will now control more than 80 percent of U.S. flights.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing as most people think.  This will allow the network carriers (American, United, Delta) to better compete with the Low Cost and Ultra-Low Cost Carriers in the United States, while upgrading and improving service to better compete with Foreign Carriers on International flights from the major gateway hubs.

The New American Hubs: Though the airline had to give up high-competition slots in New York LaGuardia and Washington Reagan, it will still have a substantial footprint. The airline will have hubs in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago’s O’Hare, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Charlotte and New York’s Kennedy International for the next three years at current service levels. Here's the thing about those slots...the majority of them were already leased out to the other airlines that are purchasing them, so there's no real major loss of service from the new airline, save for maybe a handful of flights to better align the schedules of higher yielding flights.

How Mileage & Loyalty Programs Will Change: The airline has yet to announce its complete plans for frequent flyer programs. Combination efforts are underway. By January 7, travelers can earn/redeem miles reciprocally for with American Airlines or US Airways program. Flyers will keep their existing miles in their respective accounts, and full integration into the AAdvantage brand has not been set yet.

A New Alliance: As the merger is structured, US Airways will no longer be in the Star Alliance as of March 30, 2014. Instead, it will join American and the airlines in the oneworld alliance whose partners include British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Qatar Airways, to name a few.  This is a much better deal for US Airways, which was an almost useless 3rd wheel in North America for Star Alliance, constantly in the shadows of much larger rival United.

The inclusion in oneworld is a godsend, as it allows US Airways (while it is still a seperate operating entity) access to the lucrative American-British Airways-Iberia trans-Atlantic joint venture.

Unions Support Merger: The merged airline currently employs more than 100,000 workers and that’s anticipated to change. Currently, the merged airline has the support of  the Association of Professional Flight Attendants for American Airlines. It doesn’t not have the support of mechanics and machinists for US Airways, represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, who have held out support until its contract is finalized, even though originally they were on board.  But then again, the IAM has never been one to go along with management for ANY airline during a merger process.

Technological Foresight: Following the still ongoing technology, service, and reliability bumps that preceded the United/Continental merger, CEO Doug Parker has hopes of a smoother transition. Initially, the airlines will operate with separate websites and separate reservations systems. Eventually, the merged airline will be using the Sabre reservation system, which American invented back in the late 1960's and has turned it into a powereful weapon against competitors throughout the years.

The Most Valued Travelers: CEO Parker has set a goal for $1 billion in new revenue and savings. Business travelers are a big part of this new plan. With the merged airline, the airline will reach more destinations and will have, “more ability to compete for corporate customers” according to new American President Scott Kirby.  This is not an unatainable goal, considering the massive amounts of corporate travel contracts American has out of its cornerstones of New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston.

A Stock to Watch? One Bloomberg News report had analysts estimating that the AAL stock will be worth close to $40 a share by 2015. Yesterday,  the stock rose more than 4 percent to trade at $25.18 a share as of 3:30 pm.  My Travel Investment Firm is a strong proponent of the new company's future and invested heavily in both companies, and will continue to invest in the new company.

Rising Airfares? While the common rule of mergers is diminished capacity, CEO Parker swears that is not his intention. According to his statement to the press: ”We’re keeping all the airplanes, keeping all the people,” he said of the merger. “So supply should be unchanged. As long as demand stays the same, nothing should happen to prices.”  I expect this to stay true for the duration of the merger process, expected to take at least three years.  After that, we will see how the new airline adjusts to those current levels.  Fares, naturally, will rise according to supply and demand, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

There are two additional key dates later in the year, according to people familiar with the matter.  On April 1, US Airways will adopt American’s meal windows and catering, and on September 1, the US Airways soft product (i.e. in-flight service) will mirror American’s.  Also by that date, new aircraft being delivered to US Airways will have the new AA interiors.

All in all, not a bad start to this merger, and I see the new carrier being a successful and profitable venture in the near to mid-term future.  Congrats and kudos to both sides.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fads, Crazes, and the Low Cost Carrier Hoi-Polloi

Many of you who know me know I do not subscribe to the Southwest "Effect", drink the jetBlue "Kool-Aid" or go ape over any LCC's (Low Cost Carrier) gimmicks.  My criteria for airlines are the following:

* gets me there safely (and in 1 piece)
* allows interlining with International partners (I like to keep my options open when flying abroad)
* has a network with access to the majority of my most frequent destinations
* has a decent elite mileage program for frequent fliers that's easy to understand, use, and accrue

Those are my requirements.  Every traveler on Earth has their own requirements that fit their needs. Some fly on Southwest as it gets them where they want with frequent intervals.  Some fly jetBlue because it's the "in" thing to do.  Some fly American because they have corporate contracts out of JFK or LAX (seriously, AA's 9:00AM Flight 1 to LAX is nothing but corporate contracts in Business and First Class). 

That being said, I do not believe in the fads several airlines perceive to have, let me tell you why.

The Southwest "effect":  According to the US Department of Transportation, the definition of the Southwest effect is the increase in air travel originating from a community after service to and from that community is inaugurated by Southwest Airlines that a) improves service to and from that community and b) lower airfares in/out of said community.

In the 1990's this was absolutely true.   Southwest came into cities like Columbus, Ohio; Islip/Long Island, NY; and Manchester, NH and obliterated fares while increasing frequencies and service to various cities and allowing the masses to fly.  Southwest also expanded quite a bit in the Pacific Northwest and West Coast due to their buyout of up and comer Morris Air, enabling Southwest to take over Morris operations in places like Seattle, Spokane, Salt Lake City, Boise, and increased access to Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles area airports.

That was then.  This is now.  the Southwest of today has absorbed a fantastic low-cost carrier out of Orlando and Atlanta by the name of AirTran Airways (itself being the resuscitation of ill-fated Valujet Airlines).  This merger gives Southwest access to places like Atlanta, Newport News, increased access to New York's LaGuardia Airport, among others.  Also, during this last round of mergers and acquisitions,  Southwest came away from the pack with a big chunk of coveted slots in Newark, Washington/National, and Boston airports.  Now, with the impending US Airways/American Airlines tie-up, Southwest stands to gain more from LaGuardia and again in Washington/National.

Here's what I can't stand about Southwest.  They perceive themselves to still be the underdog airline that they were under the tutelage and care of Herb Kelleher.  They are not.  Herb's gone, and Southwest has metamorphosed into just another airline, with fares just as high as the legacy carriers on the majority of routes, with a dislike for larger passengers (size 36 waist or higher needs to purchase a second seat, for safety's sake after all) and a penchant for being the most arrogant airline flying the friendly skies, at least in this writer's not so humble opinion.

Back in it's heyday, Southwest had a fictitious claim to being THE origianl low-fare airline.  Wrong.  That claim righteously belongs to Pacific Southwest Airlines, colloquially known as PSA.  A West Coast airline based in San Diego that originated short-haul, high-frequency flights between San Deigo, Los Angeles, and Oakland.  When Southwest was still in the planning stages, they visited PSA and got their hands on policies, procedures, best practices, uniforms, and even their first two 737's came from PSA!  PSA was unfortunately bought out in 1989 in an unscrupulous move by a very inept senior management bent on erasing their famous smiling airplanes from the sky permanently.  Also, the low fares Southwest used to be able to sell no longer apply on a majority of their routes.  I've sampled in a month-long stretch several different fare pricings between various city pairs and have found Southwest is now THE highest fare in the market.  Talk about false advertising.  The reasons they had those low fares all these years were due to their sly manipulationg of fuel futures on Wall Street where the financial wizards at Southwest hedged their bets on fuel going higher and locked in multiple year contracts that averaged the barrel of fuel out to just over $10/barrel while other airlines were paying out the nose to the tune of over $35-40 a barrel!

Drinking the jetBlue Kool-Aid:  Everyone in the industry remembers all the hoopla and chutzpah behind the launch of jetBlue back in 1998.  With brand-new planes, a nice sized hub at New York's JFK Airport, and the penchant for bringing humanity back to air travel, everyone was lining up to buy tickets and nosh on Blue chips (which are actually purple) , Blue this, and Blue that.  They went all out looking for staff that didnt fit the airline mold and had a soul.  Their first casting call was an ad the Village Voice in NYC.  An eclectic mix of folks showed up aged from 18 to 92...if you think I'm kidding, I'm her eto say I'm not.  I was in NYC on and off during this time  and lemme tell ya, the lines of people looking for a job with an airline were insane! 

Let's fast forward a bit.  I decided to try jetBlue on a few segments in and out of Salt Lake City to JFK.  These 4 segments were the absolute worse 4 flights I had ever been up to that point.  From the moment of boarding, the Flight Attendants had the attitude that made you feel like you were worthless and weak and that it was a priviledge for you to be in their presence, all the way to New York, and back.  No, these weren't the same crew on all segments, but they ALL had that same attitude.  I initially chalked it up to the luck of the draw and i happened to be on the odd bad flight that every airline has.  Until 2005, when I got back on jetBlue to head back to Salt Lake City and had THE SAME kind of treatment that I was subject to in 2001!  After that experience I shunned jetBlue for good.  I just cant get into the whole hipster vibe and college frat party atmosphere the airline puts out.

Now it's 2013, and jetBlue has (hopefully) grown up some, and the big bad Mormon is gone, and a competent airline chief is running the show.  They've got a few different planes and they are now adding a First Class section (dubbed "Mint" of all things) to their new Airbus 321 Transcontinental fleet.  I am willing to try them on a segment or two, just to see if they've fixed their in-flight service levels and general in-flight attitude, and to try out the new Mint offereing.  We'll see what happens.

Now that I've bashed the two biggest post-deregulation LCC's out there, let me tell you about the two i do like.

US Airways.  Yep.  You heard me.  US Airways, after being bought out of their second bankruptcy by Doug Parker's newly refreshed America West Airlines, US Airways has turned into an amazing carrier with low fares to destinations I want to go to.Domestic AND International.  Now that they are merging with American and taking them over, the list of destinations grows, and their portfolio of partners (in the OneWorld Alliance) improves tenfold.  Yes, I'd much rather fly American or British Airways across the pond than god-awful United or any of the other financially struggling Star Alliance carriers. 

What US Airways does right.  Now that they've connected the dots from my home airports to their East Coast hubs, the connections are much easier to get across the Atlantic to Eastern Europe or the Middle East.  True, some of those flights are red eyes to their fortress hub in Charlotte, or an afternoon arrival into Philadelphia, but that's better than the countless times I've connected through Phoenix.  Don't get me wrong, Sky Harbor is a nice airport, I'm just burnt out on it. 

US Airways baggage policy is not bad, $35 for the first checked bag on Domestic flights, unless you have status in their Dividend Miles program, and the baggage is free on International flights.  They operate the world's biggest fleet of Airbus aircraft, and to a larger guy like me, the extra inches are a godsend.  Their ground staff are some of the best in the business and the in flight folks know how to take good care of you, rain or shine.

The next on my list is little Virgin America.  They finally started making profits, and I'm glad my segments on them helped them out.  Despite all the glitz and glamour they put off, they actually do run a neat operation.  With hubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the are popular up and down the West Coast and on Transcons to Florida and the Eastern Seaboard.  I've racked up a few segments on them, and have enjoyed each and every flight with them thus far.  Mood lighting or not, you cant help but feel like you're in your own living room on board Virgin America. Oh, and those low fares don't hurt either, but I opt for paying the slight higher Economy plus fares, or the First Class Fares, as their Elevate program makes it easy to accrue and redeem points, and their Loft lounge at LAX hearkens back to the glory days of that terminal's former tenant, TWA, and their halycon days of being THE airline of Hollywood.  Many kudos to Virgina America and I can't wait to see what the future brings for them.

There you have it.  My list of my preferred "low-cost" carriers, and the fluff behind them.  Some good, some bad, some downright terrible.  Drop me a line if you would like to add anything to this list.

Enjoy your flight,


Monday, September 16, 2013

Keeping it fresh in La$ Vega$ Part II

Following up on our original writing on the Palms Casino Resort (August 8, 2013), Part II continues our focus on the goings on in Las Vegas!

MGM Resorts International ( and AEG have entered into an agreement to pursue the development of a privately funded, 20,000-seat indoor arena in Las Vegas on land located west of the Las Vegas Strip, between New York-New York and Monte Carlo.  The new arena would be capable of hosting boxing and other sporting events, major headline entertainment, and other special events.

The arena will be the centerpiece of a complete revitalization of the area between New York-New York and Monte Carlo, extending from Las Vegas Boulevard to Frank Sinatra Drive.  The overall project will involve new retail shops, dining and entertainment offerings, both between the two properties and along the Strip.

MGM is also partnering with the Morgans Hotel Group to open Delano Las Vegas later this year.  The all-suite hotel will occupy the site of the former THEhotel at Mandalay Bay.

A new boutique lifestyle hotel will replace the deserted Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon on prime Vegas Strip real estate.  Scheduled for opening in early 2014, the hotel is a collaborative effort between Caesars Entertainment Corporation (, nightlife savant Victor Drai, and New York-based luxury hotel brand Gansevoort (

Distinguishing itself from the multitude of surrounding skyscrapers, the property has a more intimate approach to luxury.  It will include 169 Parisian apartment-style rooms and 19 suites, in addition to an upscale lobby bar, ultra-lounge, retail outlets, a destination restaurant overlooking the Strip, and a 40,000 square foot casino.

Atop the hotel, Victor Drai will open his new combination beach and nightclub, featuring a 65,000 square foot indoor-outdoor nightclub and rooftop pool experience, a Vegas first.  To entice the most dedicated clubbers, Drai will also bring his exclusive "After Hours" scene to the venue.

Stay tuned for more news from Sin City, as well as this weekend's spotlight on the Peppermill Resort Casino's ( renovations and plans for the future of this once secluded Nevada city.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Keeping it fresh in La$ Vega$

Las Vegas is on a roll.  According to the 2012 Executive Summary year-to-date report, issued by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), the city welcomed a record-breaking number of visitors last year.  More than 39.7 million people paid a visit to Las Vegas in 2012, topping the previous record high of 39.2 million set in 2007 by 2.1 percent.  This follows on the heels of 2011's near-record mark of 38.9 million.

With nearly 46.5 million room nights occupied, the hotel industry is always looking to keep or grow its share of the pie with new constructions, expansion of existing facilities and giving a new look to old favorites.

The lavish redesign of the Palms Casino Resort ( has transformed all 428 hotel rooms in the Ivory Tower.  Designed by Klai Juba, these accommodations sport a modern concept accented with horizontal lines, warm wood tones, and luxe velvet; the room's mood is sensual and edgy while staying true to function.  Each architectural line highlights the custom artwork that extends horizontally from wall to wall above the bed.  Finished with high-gloss laminate, the 16-foot oversized photo-mural uses vibrant hues and movement to complement the room's contemporary style.

Room amenities include 460 inch Samsung LED TV with Perfect Pixel HD technology; a media hub that allows guests to connect laptops, cameras, media players and game systems to the TV; a music channel selection with nine genre options controlled directly through the TV; a corded phone at the night stand and a cordless phone adjacent to the desk.  Beds now have Serta Platinum Suite pillow-top mattress with feather and down-free options for both pillows and blankets.  Each bathroom has new step-in showers, redesigned vanity and Upgraded lighting.

Stay tuned for part II of our Las Vegas spread as well as this blogger's report from the newly refurbished Peppermill Hotel and Casino ( in Wendover, NV!


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How Travel Strengthens Children

There's a story about my father, who, as a young man, left his native Greece for the United States all by himself.  Along the way, at one of the 3 connection airports, he went to the men's room and left his bags on the outside of the stall door.  Someone on the outside promptly reached over and grabbed one of the bags (turns out it was his satchel with some of the money he had).  My Dad, who was indisposed, couldn't catch the thief.  He would have been absolutely penniless in the wild, wild West, if not for the money bag he wore tied around his waist underneath his clothing.

This particular tale of my father's has always fascinated me and helped fuel my wanderlust; it's also inspired me to never fear traveling alone.  I can only imagine the horror he would have felt when he saw his satchel had disappeared and that makes me feel I have at least some sense of what it was like to be in his shoes.

This is just a brief story I have heard a few times from my Dad, but it helped shape who I am.  It gives me a sense of comfort in places I am unfamiliar with and in fact, it gives me a thrill to be in the middle of nowhere where no one I know knows exactly where I am, at least for that moment.

It's important to pass family stories down to children, particularly those that tell of a challenge, or even a tragedy, that was overcome.  The New York Times recently carried an article that details how those children who have a real sense of their families' history and roots tend to be able to face life's challenges with a greater ease.

Bruce Feiler, who wrote the column, "The Stories That Bind Us", explains how many families in 2013 have become fractured, thanks to our digital culture and other dynamics.  It also shows how those clans that somehow manage to gather and regale tales of the ups and downs in the family's history, including how it surpassed hardships, have children who are secure emotionally and happy.

Feiler cites studies conducted on 48 families, asking children 20 questions, such as where did their parents grow up, if they knew the story of their own birth and if they were aware of any big events or tragedies that affected their family in the past.  "The more children knew about their family's history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believe their families functioned," says Feiler.

Recommendations from the article?  Create as many occasions and traditions as possible that provide families with the forum to exchange tales.

Here is where my travel agent friends come in.  If you have clients who are on the fence about taking a big family fling, a vacation that will bring them all together for some quality time, show them this blog.  Of course they understand that a vacation would be goo for their family, but if you give them proof that these get-togethers actually contribute to their child's emotional health, you're likely to win them over.  Explain to them that families need to gather and share in happy times, not just during crises, and that the more often they do this, the stronger their child will be when the time comes for them to face the real world on their own.

You always knew travel was a good thing; now here's quantifiable proof.  And don't forget that new insider tip I just shared:  Don't leave your bags outside a restroom door or you may be left almost penniless in the midst of a great adventure.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Welcome to Lebanon!

Before leaving for Lebanon, I'd get the stink eye from more than just a few friends when they found out I was going there, not just by myself, but with my parents and pre-teen daughter to boot. “Why would you want to go to that war-torn hellhole, are you mad? They kill Americans for sport there!” were the most common gripes. Not only did I shrug them off, but I was armed with facts, whereas they were just going off of news reports from 20 years ago.

Now, mind you, the US State Department and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend against travel to some areas of the country (mainly the southern part of the country and the Syrian border areas), but the rest of the country is absolutely amazing, with some of the warmest, most gracious folks you'll ever meet, who are genuinely glad you are visiting their country.

It all starts when you first arrive. If you are fortunate enough to fly on the National airline, MEA (Middle East Airlines – Air Liban), from any number of European, African, or Middle East departure points, you are in for a treat. Brand new airplanes, incredibly attentive staff, and a seriously comfortable ride.

Upon arrival at Beirut's Rafic Hariri International Airport, you come to the Customs and Immigration line where, if you are a US Citizen, you get the warmest, most genuine welcome from the government official, and an extremely thorough check of your travel credentials. It might have taken a little longer than Customs at JFK, but after a quick look around, I could see that a Syrian Air flight has just landed and the majority of Customs officials were in the Political Asylum office processing their neighbors' due to the hostilities going on there. Besides, we were in no hurry, even at that extremely late hour.

After exiting the arrivals hall, we were met by our guide, Pierre, and taken to our hotel. By the time we got checked in and settled into our rooms, it was well past 1AM. Both parents and daughter were zombies at this point and we passed out. But enough of the play by play, let's get to the goodies of my 7-day stay.

As I said before, what strikes me the most about Lebanon is the people. From the night we arrived, until the morning we left, I will never forget just how kind and friendly they were, despite what the US Lamestream media says, Lebanese people almost have a permanent grin on their face from everything that's going on in their country, and they can't wait to share it with you!

A little history about Lebanon (and Beirut in particular) though. Beirut's history goes back at least 5,000 years, but we'll just focus on the here and now. Once known as the “Paris of the Middle East” Beirut was a jet setter's paradise, until a very bloody and divisive Civil War tore not only Beirut apart, but the country as well. The war raged from 1975 to 1990, with headline grabbing assassinations, bombing, and airliner hijackings becoming commonplace.

After the fighting subsided, the Lebanese people began rebuilding the country with a fervor unmatched since the Renaissance (and it is still going on, as visible in the Gemmayzeh, Corniche Beirut, and Hamra districts). As of 2012, the majority of tourists are returning expatriates, many of whom reside in Western Countries. I certainly hope with additional help and media from blogs such as FL310, and from other tourist groups, the tide will shift to more Foreign tourism.

Let's start off in the Hamra district, where our hotel was. Straddling the longest side of the American University of Beirut, this district is known throughout the West as one of the top 3 hotspots in Beirut with its cobblestone street connecting central Beirut with the Coastal Raouche areas. Hamra is a large concentration of shops, late-night fast food joints, hotels, streetside vendors, sidewalk cafes, REAL travel agencies, newspaper kiosks, and a booming nightlife spurred by the AUB students. I took my daughter and my dad (Mom was busy at the hotel spa) and we meandered through the shops, people watched from the sidewalk cafe, and visited several travel agencies and airline offices. It was obvious construction was still going on in a large part of town, but, the progress was amazing to watch and to hear the locals explain in detail what was going on was a breath of fresh air.

For any of you that are fans of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, you may recall he visited Beirut and spent some time in the Gemmayzeh District, and at a restaurant called Le Chef. Pierre, our guide, took us there for lunch after we had spent the morning tooling around Gemmayzeh and the Corniche districts, where the jet setters of today spend their time. In these areas, nee in all of Lebanon, the car of choice is a Mercedes SUV, with the occasional Cadillac thrown in for sport. Corniche and Gemmayzeh are the hotspots for nightlife with all night beach parties on the Corniche, to some of the most expensive nightclubs on Earth in Gemmayzeh. You'll find the most beautiful people from all corners of the Earth at these soirees, but you will spend quite a chunk of change getting in ($200 was the cover charge at one spot I was taken to!), not to mention getting yourself a drink...

The next few days Pierre took us outside the city, first to the Jeita Grotto, some of the most amazing limestone caves I've ever seen. The whole grotto consists of two interconnected karstic limestone caves, spanning almost 9 kilometers (or 5 ½ miles). Aside from being one of the Lebanese national symbols, the Grotto was a finalist in the New 7 Wonders of the World competition in 2011. The caves were only 11 miles from Beirut, but the amount of traffic on the roads away from the city at that time in the morning rival Los Angeles or Boston for lung-clogging, road-rage infested drivers.

From there we spent our time as bonafide jet setters in Jounieh, a seaside trendsetters resort town north of Beirut. Known for its seaside resorts and bustling nightlife, not to mention the old stone souks, ferry port, yacht docks and teleferique (cable car) up the mountain to the shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa, where some of the most beautiful Cedar Trees (the national symbol of Lebanon) can be seen. After an amazing supper of freshly caught fish by the shore, we made it back to the hotel late that night and had to pack for our early morning flight back to Europe.

I honestly can't wait to go back to Beirut (and to Lebanon in general), this time either on my own, or with friends so I can change their hard headed minds!

Well that's it for this week, stay tuned!

This mosque was under construction when Prime Minister Rafic Hariri was killed, and was named in his honor (with his memorial grave adjacent to the mosque) upon completion.
Looking down from Harissa to Jounieh and the Mediterranean Sea.
The pedestrian plaza in Gemmayzeh, with the Lebanese Parliament to one side.
 An ancient Roman bridge in the deep valley on the way to Jeita.
Yep, that's the way to Jeita and the world famous Grotto.
You have to love just how beautifully laid out most areas of Beirut are.
The infamous Pigeon Rocks of the Corniche Beirut.
Jetsetters and their water toys in Jounieh.
Good morning Beirut!
Found on the higher level of the Grotto, from ancient Roman times.
Looking South from the airport to the refuge camps of South Beirut.
Guarding the entrance to the lower level of the Grotto.
Roman ruins unearthed in Central Beirut.
The inside of the Mosque.  Simple, yet classy.
I want to say this is the Greek Catholic Church, but I could be wrong.
Welcome to Beirut!
The Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa.
Our flight from Beirut to Larnaca, Cyprus, after our stay in Lebanon.
The immortal Lebanese flag and the Cedar.

Almost everywhere in the Gemmayzeh district you will find either Ancient greek or Roman ruins.
The Lebanese Parliament.
Looking up to the Shrine.
The Opera House, being rebuilt.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Hello! Yiasas! Hallo! Bonjour! Saluto! and Hola!

Welcome to FL310, the new hub where Travel and Luxury meet!

I'm George Andritsakis, traveler extraordinaire and avid xenophile.  This is my 2nd attempt at a blog, picking up the pieces from Vintage Travel's (my recently sold Luxury and Corporate Travel Agency) blogs, FL310 will mainly focus on travel (both Foreign and Domestic US), as well as the lovely and enchanting world of Luxury.  These are my strong points, and I love writing about them (and I hope you enjoy my work as well!) So find your seats, make sure your seatbacks and tray tables are in their full and upright positions and enjoy the ride!

I'll try to keep the blogs to a minimum, with 2-3 topics at a time, unless its a Trip Report (complete with photos).  Topics range from anything you could think of when it comes to travel, to amazing timepieces and other luxuries from around the world.

Mmm...can't go wrong with the Maserati GranTurismo now can we?  I miss driving mine, hopefully I'll get another chance for another one soon!
Once again winning top honors at the Annual SkyTrax awards is Qatar Airways with best airline of 2014 PLUS Best International Business Class Product.  Kudos!

That's me on the right there, next to my Dad, Nicon Andritsakis, at the top of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece in July of 2012.

Coming up in next week's FL310:

* International Destination Focus:  Lebanon
* Airline Profile:  Middle East Airlines - Air Liban
* Luxury Snapshot: John Varvatos

Safe travels and enjoy the view from 31,000 feet, I hope you enjoy it!!