THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2019 --
The best thing about running this site for 18 years and writing about business travel on the Net for more than two decades is the interaction you and I have. I adore getting your trip reports, your comments, your criticism (of me or the airline you love to hate) and, especially, your questions.
Here are some of my favorite queries from the last few weeks. And, no, in answer to a question I get all the time: There will never be Joe Sent Me merchandise. Don't we have enough logo shirts, cup cozies, ball caps and branded thumb drives without me adding to the pile?
I'M FLYING THROUGH HEATHROW LATER THIS MONTH? ANY BREXIT WORRIES?
Yes--assuming the United Kingdom actually leaves the European Union on October 31. And then the specific worries will depend on whether it's a "crash-out, no-deal" Brexit or one covered by some last-minute deal Britain and the EU may still negotiate.
I'm working on the assumption that Brexit will happen. So I'm going to be there to cover it. Although I expect flights to continue--Britain has temporary deals in place with the Unites States, Canada and the European Union--it's the ground affairs that concern me. Not departing from North America, but return flights--and service between Britain and Europe. It could be a mess, especially at London/Heathrow, which is wonky at the best of times. I'm also concerned about Eurostar train service between London and mainland Europe. I expect chaos at both St. Pancras (the London terminus) and Gare du Nord (the Paris end). The Brussels and Amsterdam stations may also be messy.
What to do? As I've been suggesting for months, avoid Heathrow (or any U.K. airport) as a transit stop en route to Europe. And avoid them for the rest of the year--at least if Brexit happens on October 31. If Brexit is delayed again, we'll have to recalibrate.
CAN YOU REALLY PACK FOR A LONG TRIP IN A CARRY-ON BAG?
I have a rote answer: Yes. But your queries (and the need to do a five-airport, 12-day trip at the end of the year) led me to take a more analytic approach.
I recently took a standard wheeled bag that works as a carry-on--it's 45 linear inches and generally hits the 22x14x9-inch mark--and packed it methodically. Not for any particular trip, just to see how much I could practically place in the bag. Here's what I managed: three dress shirts; two sweaters/zippered sweatshirts; four pair of slacks; one pair of shoes; a yukata robe; and socks and underwear. I assume I'd wear a sports jacket and put my kit bag in my briefcase. I asked my wife to pack in the same bag and she says it covered five days of her clothing.
When you add local dry cleaning and laundry--pricey but practical--I could see going two weeks with a carry-on bag worth of clothes. That's especially true if you make sure all your items are complimentary, multifunctional and within the same color palette. Worried? Buy yourself a folding bag and stuff it in your carry-on as a backup.
WHY DON'T YOUR WRITE MORE ABOUT AIRLINE FOOD?
Because you should never make a decision about which carrier to fly based on food and beverage. Even on long-haul international flights, food is far down the list of factors to consider when deciding who to fly. That said, I can offer this tip: Always order the local menu item outbound
from that country. I know many travelers want to "get in the swing" of an international trip by ordering the local meal on the leg from North America. But that food is prepped in U.S. or Canadian kitchens. If you want American-made ramen, fine. But if you want a better shot at decent ramen, order it on flights departing
Japan. Ditto pasta on an Italy trip, curries or thalis on India trips or Chinese dishes on a China trip.
YOU WRITE ABOUT CREDIT CARDS ALL THE TIME, BUT WHAT'S IN YOUR WALLET?
I have two wallets. My on-my-right-hip daily wallet is a Tumi and has four slots. They hold my two ATM cards, an American Express Gold and my Chase Sapphire Preferred. Amex Gold and Chase Sapphire generally give me the best return on everyday spend. My travel wallet is a long-discontinued Letts of London portfolio. On the left, it has my passport and a place designed for airline tickets. (These days, I keep foreign currency as required and/or travel receipts.) On the right are six card slots and one deep pocket that allows me to keep a small notepad. In the card slots are my Priority Pass cards; my Global Entry card; my APEC Business Travel Card
; and my MedJet Assist card. Card slot number five holds my American Express Platinum card and slot six is reserved for whatever hotel credit cards I require for a particular trip.
SHOULD I BUY MILES (OR POINTS) WHEN AIRLINES (OR HOTELS) OFFER SALES?
Strategically, no. Even with generous discounts, I haven't seen a points or miles sale in the last five years or so that offered a cheap enough price to justify the cash outlay. You're a businessperson. Think about it. If you ran a hotel or airline, would you sell your points or miles below the price it would cost you to redeem them for an award? Of course not. Besides, airlines and hotels are consistently and repeatedly devaluing their currency. Why buy a currency prone to devaluation at the whim of the seller? Tactically, however, if you need a few thousand miles for a high-value business class ticket or a lodging award at a swanky hotel or resort, go for a small purchase. But remember: Never buy miles or points on spec.
IS NORWEGIAN AIR SAFE TO FLY?
Norwegian Air's finances remain a mess and the low-fare carrier has had a run of awful luck: engine issues with its transatlantic Boeing 787 Dreamliners, the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX and even an aircraft stuck in Iran after a diversion. But the management installed after this summer's resignation of chief executive Bjorn Kos has aggressively slashed the worst-performing routes. And the demise of competitors such as Wow Air of Iceland, XL of France and Thomas Cook of Britain has removed much of the excess capacity in the lost-cost sector. So while low-demand winter months are the most fraught time for cash-strapped carriers, Norwegian does seem to have enough left in the financial tank to make it to spring. I wouldn't book more than, say, 60 days out, but I think you can safely jump on those sweet, sweet cheap premium class transatlantic fares.
WHAT DO YOU BUY MOST FREQUENTLY ON THE ROAD?
Tape. I used to carry a roll of duct tape and a roll of packing tape in my carry-on bag. I don't anymore because I need the space for other things. But, damn, I have a drawer filled with overpriced tape that I've bought at the last minute on the road.
WHAT'S YOUR BEST TRAVEL HACK?
Always restock your kit bag immediately after you return from a flight so it's ready for your next trip. It is often little things--aspirin, Q-tips, razors, whatever--that are hardest to get on the road when you need them. Restock when you're thinking clearly, not in the rush before you race out the door to the airport. Bonus tip: You can never have too many zip-lock bags on the road. They take up no space in your carry-on bag and they have a multitude of uses.