Saturday, May 29, 2010

Lounge Access

I spent some time on Twitter today helping a guy out with some questions about airport lounges.  I’ve been asked about them before so I figured now’s as good of a time as any to write down my thoughts.  Since we’re up here in the great white north, I’ll put a Canadian focus on the info.

What are your options

In most Canadian airports you have one (if any) option, the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge.  Some airports have multiple MLLs to cover their domestic, transborder and international needs.  Most only have one for domestic though.  So if you’re flying transborder or international, check to see if you’ll be able to access the MLL from the terminal area you’re scheduled to depart from.  If you can use a MLL for your departure, it will be close to where the Air Canada flights depart from  The full list of MLL locations and amenities can be found here on the Air Canada site.

A few of the Canadian Airports offer lounges that you can access with Priority Pass.  Their locations are a bit more random in the airport as they’re not serving the departures of one airline.

How do you get access

Maple Leaf Lounges

There are a number of ways to get into the Maple Leaf Lounges.  The first way is to have Gold status with a Star Alliance airline.  This, plus a valid same day departing ticket on a Star Alliance carrier, will get you access.  On top of you, they will grant you access to one guest plus your immediate dependants.

The other no cost way to get into the lounge is to be flying on Air Canada with a business class ticket.

The second way is to have a purchased Maple Leaf Club membership.  You get the same access level as a Star Gold member, but you don’t get guest access.

Another way is to purchase your way in on a flight by flight basis.  Note that you can’t do this at the lounge.  You have to do it when you’re purchasing your ticket.  The cost varies depending on the class of ticket (Tango, Tango+ or Latitude) you purchase.

Priority Pass

Getting into a Priority Pass lounge requires a paid membership for all visits.  They have a few different plans that you can see on their website here.  The short story is that you pay (in some way) and you always have to pay for guests.

The amenities

Maple Leaf Lounge

For business travellers, you have free internet access (name and flight info entry required), a business center with printing and computer terminals and credit card activated phones.

The food offerings in the lounges are light.  Usually toast and yoghurt for the mornings, and salad bars in the afternoons/evenings.  Through the day there are bags of potato chips and some fresh fruit available as well.  At certain times during the afternoons/evenings you can also get soup.  While not the worlds greatest soup, it is pretty good.

All beverages are free in the lounge.  There are coffee/tea/hot chocolate machines, coolers full of soda, wine and canned beers, and beer taps.  There also is a selection of hard liquors available.  As a true Canadian, one of the greatest features are the pre-rimmed caesar glasses and the condiments sections.  The coolers will have Clamato, or sometimes Spicy Clamato, juice to help you make that perfect caesar.

Every lounge has a half decent selection of magazines and local and national newspapers.  Usually there’s also a TV viewing area somewhere in the lounge.

Some lounges have shower facilities, some don’t.  When they do have them, they’re nicely appointed, but don’t have anything spectacular about them.

Some of the individual lounge amenities can be found at this Air Canada web page.

Priority Pass

It’s harder to quantify what you’ll get in a lounge when you use Priority Pass.  Priority Pass isn’t a lounge network, it’s an access mechanism to partner lounges.  Because Priority Pass isn’t controlling these lounges the amenities will vary from lounge to lounge.  Individual lounge offerings can be found by searching the Priority Pass website.


Lounge access is a nicety of air travel.  If you fly enough, you’ll appreciate the amenities.  Unfortunately lounges are opening their doors to more and more travelers.  The result is that they’re more crowded.

Like any public space, some people know how to behave in it while some don’t.  I regularly see people taking phone calls in the designated no-phone areas, talking loudly, letting their children run wild and being slovenly.

Do I use lounges?  You bet.  I use one almost every time I’m in an airport (connection time allowing).  I’m hoping to fill in a series of posts on the Maple Leaf Lounges that I frequent.  Watch here and hopefully you’ll see it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

President’s Club Lounges SEA and EWR

During my overnight mini-mileage run between SEA and EWR I was able to take in the President’s Club lounges offered by Continental in both cities.  Being an advocate of Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounges (free wifi, free booze, free snacks) and a hater of United’s Red Carpet Clubs, I wanted to see how the President’s Club stacked up.


This is the first lounge I’ve been to that requires you to buzz a doorbell to gain access.  As you’d hope, the lounge is located directly between gates B9 and B11 which seem to be used solely by Continental.  Being half asleep I missed the sign saying this and pulled on the handle a few times as my brain tried to process what was happening.  Once I had the door figured out, I was met by the lounge ladies with a smile. 

I figured that my *Gold status through Air Canada combined with Continental being new to the Star Alliance would cause some questions and/or problems.  Instead the lounge lady took my card and boarding pass and start to talk to herself under her breath.  As I found out a week later when using this lounge for an Air Canada flight SEA-YVR, Continental has provided these ladies with a scripted checklist to determine access for Star Alliance status members.  When I inquired to the difficulty of learning the new rules, the ladies responded that it wasn’t all that difficult thanks to the checklist.

The lounge itself is small and cosy, but you don’t feel cramped at all.  The leather chairs (only about 15 of them) are comfortable and to Continental’s credit, there were power bars hidden under them that were easily retrieved for powering laptops or charging phones.

Internet access was as simple as picking the appropriate open wireless network and you could immediately start browsing.  I still get free wifi in the Maple Leaf Lounges, but I have to enter name and flight info to be able to browse.

Food was limited to chips, cookies and fruit.  Drinks weren’t provided in a self serve manner (other than water and coffee) which meant I had to go to the bartender for an OJ and a tomato juice.  Booze was free, but I was far too hung over to take advantage of this.

My first use of this lounge impressed me enough that I used it on my Air Canada flight the following week.  Air Canada leaves from the North Satellite terminal which is served by a RCC known not-so-affectionately as “the bunker”.  On this use I was able to guest in another person with no hassle, but we had to leave early to make the 15 minute walk/train ride to the North Satellite.

Overall rating for the SEA President’s Club: 4/5


After my redeye from SEA to EWR, and during my subsequent 2.5 hr turnaround to return to SEA I spent some time at the President’s Club in Terminal C3.  My primary goal at this lounge was to get in, have some OJ and yoghurt, and to get a shower. 

Getting into the lounge was easy.  No questions about anything and, as far as I could tell, no reliance on an admission script.  I’m guessing that this lounge sees more people flying on different Star Alliance airline status’s that they’ve learned quicker.

This lounge is huge.  I don’t think I ever saw all of it while I was there.  “Comfy chair” seating was the standard 2x2 facing together pattern.  The difference was that the table that was in the middle has power plugs built right into it.  This is an awesome idea as it saved me hunting high and low through the lounge for the always elusive empty chair near a wall plug.

As I entered I enquired about using a shower, but all were busy so I was told to return in 30 minutes.  After getting some phone recharging time, OJ and a danish, I returned to get a shower room.  The ladies running the showers weren’t overly friendly but they performed the jobs I needed from them.  The shower room was large, clean and definitely ready for use.  While nothing special, the room had all the things that I needed.  I took my time (30+ minutes) since they never mentioned a duration of use to me.  I left refreshed and feeling human again.

I didn’t get a lot of time in the EWR President’s Club lounge, but I’d rate it a solid 4/5.

A little mileage run

In February I had a night to spare while in Seattle and with nothing to do I was looking for options.  When planning my move from one hotel to another on this night, I happened to do a quick search for flights.  It turns out that there was a SEA->EWR redeye and morning return that could be purchased for less than the night at the hotel.

The economics were simple.  Hotel + Food + Drinks > Roundtrip Airfare.

It was with this that I went on my first mileage run.  Usually mileage runners will look at the cents/mile that the trip costs and try hard to get below 3 or 4 cents per mile.  In my case, the difference in probably costs of staying in Seattle vs. flying actually had me saving money, thus a negative cents per mile factor.

On top of the savings, I also was going to get my first look at Continental’s product.  Now that they’re flying out of YEG I figured that this would be a good experience to base future flight decisions on.

The only catch was that I was booked in Y (Economy) and had no chance of an upgrade.  As the date neared, both Continental’s website and the KVS Tool showed that both flights were packed.  I braced myself for a transcon flight crammed into cattle class.

On the SEA-EWR segment I pulled the lucky straw and had (as far as I could tell) the only empty seat on the plane next to me.  A little more room to stretch out in made sleeping on this redeye much more bearable.  The EWR-SEA segment again graced me with good luck as I had one of three empty seats next to me again.

All in all, a good way to kill 13ish hours and save a little bit of money.  Oh, and also collect a bunch of mileage too.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Flying from out stations

Today was one of those days.  For me, perhaps the perfect travel storm.  I was flying out of YKA today and scheduled to depart at 09:30.  I had about 100km drive to get to the airport and when we left all was good on the departures board.  Being that there was fresh snow falling, the drive took a little longer than expected, but not so long that I would have missed my flight.  Just as we were getting near the airport I checked the flight status online and noticed that my flight had been cancelled.

Being proactive I quickly called into the Air Canada Elite line and started to rebook on a later flight (the 11:45 which was already delayed to 12:45).  All went well, I received a confirmation email and I was looking golden.  Not long after we arrived at the airport and I went to checkin and get my boarding passes.  I told the agent what I’d done, provided him with the confirmation number only to be told “You’re not on those flights”.  Again I told him what I’d done and I dug out my phone and hit the interwebs to show him the confirmation email for the change.  He looked at it and said “Yah…looks right to me.”  I dug around in my confirmation emails and found the one for the seat assignments I’d picked online after getting off the phone from the re-booking and he dug up the passengers allocated to those seats.  None were me.

Turns out that somehow my re-booking through the phone had been overridden by the airport agents when they began offloading the passengers from the cancelled flight.  I was less than impressed, but decided that it didn’t matter all that much as I had about six other flight options remaining through the day.

I got put on standby for the next flight out and was scheduled for one quite a bit later in the day.  I figured that I could standby on all the others in between those two just in case I possibly could get out.  In the end it wasn’t necessary.

As the day progressed, flights were posted with delays of up to two and a half hours but none were cancelled.  People began to build up in the land-side of the terminal still clinging to the hope of getting out of Kamloops.

On a slight tangent, realize that YKA is the end of the line when it comes to flights.  Nothing really goes through here.  Planes basically just come from one place and then head back.  There are two gates and one gate area.  All boarding is done via the tarmac.  Arrivals has one luggage carousel.  There is one cafe.  It doesn’t stock any decent scotch.  There is one TV.  There are two TVs for flight info, one for departures and one for arrivals.  The list is so short that tomorrows flights always show on the list.  Not all of them….but some.  There is no priority line for Elites or Super Elites (gasp!).  Once your bags are tagged you carry them to the security screening area and run them through the machines just like your carry one.  Someone diverts them out of the machine and into the back.  So, as you imagine, it’s small.

Anyways.  Flights are being delayed and the little terminal building is getting full….really full.  Finally they start cancelling a few flights.  Slowly at first.  Then they sent out a couple planes to try to land.  One takes off from YVR and the other from YYC.  Both make an attempt to land and both diverted due to weather.

Then all of a sudden a wave of cancelations.  Probably three at the same time and now there is chaos.  The line for the Air Canada check-in desk stretches almost all the way through the terminal.  People are trying to get rebooked on the phone while they wait in line.  People are, of course, complaining about anything that they can think of.  It’s not unruly, but it’s not pretty looking.

I grabbed a seat near the line and just watched.  Then I realized that I should be getting rebooked.  So I got out my Aeroplan Elite bat phone and called in.  By the time I was finished getting re-booked on a later flight, plus getting a seat protected on an even later flight, that line of people hadn’t moved one inch.  Being nice and small, YKA doesn’t have a Maple Leaf Lounge, so I made do in with the cafe that is there.  It provided an ample supply of AC power for my laptop and phone charger, some pretty good food, and a nice spicy caesar.

Eventually all of my planning was for naught.  It looks like all flights (except maybe the last one out tonight) were cancelled.  My last call to the Elite bat phone got me onto the first available flight tomorrow…which is the last flight of the day…but I’m getting out….weather permitting.

In the end it’s not that big of a deal.  A pain, yes (due to the 1.5 hr drive to and from the airport), but nothing earth shattering.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Starting over at zero

As with most of you, I’m starting over at zero tomorrow.  The chase for 2011 status begins as soon as we party in the new year.  I’m not sure what kind of travel 2010 is going to bring for me.  The pattern over the last couple of years is that I’ll do a whole bunch of intra-continental travel punctuated with a couple of long inter-continental trips.

I’m not so worried about the inter-continental trips.  They will fall where they will.  I am a bit more worried about travelling south of the 49th for business now.  It’s going to be a huge inconvenience to make my over night business trips while having to check luggage.  As a result, I’m working hard not to have to head south until this whole “no carry-on” policy is rectified.

As anyone starting a race knows, it’s good to get out of the blocks, but to also pace yourself.  As a result, my first trip is going to be a Jan 1-4 blast out of town to see some family.  Instead of the easiest route to my destination, I decided instead to do something more circuitous.  Both inbound and outbound I’m booked on three flights, each under five hundred miles in length.  Each direction also includes two segments on the infamous Dash8, and one is even on the wee little Dash8-100.  Luckily I was able to secure a very respectable business class rate so my middle leg in each direction is going to be in the comfort of a much large, and less noisy, seat.

After this trip I’m home for a good little bit so as not to burn myself out too quickly.  Once February and March roll around, things start to pick up for me though.  All in all, I’m currently scheduled for nineteen flight segments by March 12.  There will be more to come about all the trips and I’m hoping for one other big announcement too.

Happy New Year to all.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The hunt for power

As I’m sure many of you frequent travellers know, hitting the airport and being able to (re)charge your mp3 player, laptop, mobile phone, etc. can be an adventure.  If you’re up in the lounge it’s not such a big deal as most seem to have an ample supply of plugs available.  Down with all the plebes in the waiting area, well, it’s a completely different story.

It would seem that airport janitorial services have the longest extension cords ever made.  I rarely have seen an airport with power plugs that are close together.  As a result, there are very few of them to be found, and when you do find one, you’re probably either going to have fight someone to use it or there won’t be anything to sit on within range of your power cord.

All that said, there are a few things that can help you out.  First, see if you can get into the lounge.  Sometimes that’s easier said than done.  Second, look for a ‘workstation’ in the common areas.  They do exist in some airports and usually have a power plug in them.  Third, and I know this is random from airline to airline at this point, use the power supplied on the plane.

I regularly fly Air Canada and in anything bigger than a CRJ you’re going to find that each row of seats will have either a USB jack and/or a standard power plug.  For my non-laptop devices I only pack the USB connector cables.  This means that on most flights I can simply plug them into the USB jack on the seatback and charge away.  I’ve had to do this a number of times recently and it works great.  I’ve even been so bold as to plug in my phone (turned off) to charge while were were still boarding and had no problems letting it remain connected and charging through the entire takeoff process.  Boarding with an almost dead phone and deplaning with it fully charged is truly priceless.

Because I only ever pack the USB connector cables, I also take an AC to USB adaptor (mine has 2 USB connections on it) with me.  When in hotels I can easily plug it into the wall/desk and then charge my devices while sleeping and there’s no need to power up my laptop to do it.

In the end you’re possibly going to be stuck wandering the waiting areas of an airport, looking behind pillars, under window ledges and behind seating.  If you’re luck, and plan a bit, you might not have to do it as often though.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Kitting out

I’m a notoriously light packer when I travel.  Not only that, but it takes me no time at all to complete packing.  For instance, on a standard four day business trip I’ll have my carry-on and laptop bag packed in under 10 minutes and waiting at the door.  Some of it is due to repetition.  Some is due to  organization.  Most, in my mind, is due to the kit that I have.

In my laptop bag goes my MP3 player, my 17” laptop (obviously) and it’s power brick, the USB cables for my phone and MP3 player, a wall plug to USB plug adapter, and my ebook reader.  Occasionally I need to pack a second laptop (13" tablet) and power brick so my laptop bag has to have pretty good capacity.  For planning, I always have all of these things sitting in the same spots on my desk.  When it comes time to pack, the repetition kicks in and I just grab the different things one after the other.

In my carry-on bag I always have a small shoe cleaning kit, a deck of playing cards, an international power adapter/transform kit (if required), and my toiletries.  Business clothes are easy to pack.  Count the days on the trip and pack close to that amount of dress shirts, socks and underwear and a pair of pants.  The key here is that you travel as you dress for work.  In my case, dress pants and shirt are my travel attire.  This affords me a second pair of pants and a shirt that can be worn both inbound and outbound.  Occasionally I’ll pack some gym clothes, but they do quickly add bulk to your bag.

Of all the things in my carry-on that have traditionally taken the most time to pack are the toiletries.  I’ve pretty much nailed this to a science now though.  In a bag goes the electric razor (which eliminates shaving cream from my liquids and gels quota), a toothbrush and other sundry dried goods.  I always keep a TSA approved bag (ask for two when you go through security next time) in my carry-on.  I pack it up with whatever is needed for the trip and place it in the outer pocket of my carry-on bag.  All told, this is will take about 2 minutes for me to complete.

I almost always pack exactly the same so I’ve got a pattern down.  I have set things up on my desk and in my bathroom so that I can quickly grab the needed items and convert them from home-useable to travel compatible.

If I was traveling twice a year I’d probably not bother with any of these things.  Since I do it multiple times per month I don’t want the hassle of spending a lot of time or the risk of forgetting something.  I certainly don’t want to be spending two hours packing a checked bag the night before a trip.  It’s all about speed and efficiency for me.  With my current routine I can wake in the morning one hour before I need to leave my place, do my morning ablutions, start packing, check emails and still make it out of the house on time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The rationale

After a number of years of very frequent flying all over the world I’ve decided that I should take some time to write down my thoughts.  I’ve already been blogging for a number of years over at Coding in an Igloo so this is nothing new to me.  I’m not sure how frequent I’ll be updating this site, but I’m going to try to at least comment on each trip that I take.

Being that I’m based out of YEG, I’m going to write about it, and the upcoming changes that we’re going to see at it in the future.  I’m also going to take some time to write about the other airports that I go through, but mostly so that I have a written memory of things at them, instead of in depth critiques.

I’ll also take the time to write up some trip reports.  My friends ask me about the travel portion of those journeys enough that I’m guessing some other people might get something from it too.

Being that I’m a certified business/first class junkie, I’m going to write mostly about Air Canada and the Star Alliance products.  While I’ve used WestJet in the past, they don’t meet my current transborder and international travel needs.  The result; this is quite possibly the last time that you’ll see them mentioned here.

As the blog is named From the Lounge, I’m also going to write up a lot of info on the Maple Leaf Lounge system as well as those other’s that I get into with my Star Alliance Gold card.

I have some confirmed travel (short haul) coming in the next couple of weeks that includes a very nice hotel stay (wait for the trip report).  I’m also working on confirming at least two significant international trips along with one transborder trip that I might just turn into a mileage run.