Archive for January, 2010

The Emirates Lounge – Bangkok

January 24, 2010

If the surroundings, food and wine on offer at the Emirates Lounge in Bangkok is any indication of the flight, we’re in for quite an adventure this evening.    Our A-380 leaves in about 45 minutes for Dubai.    This may be the best opportunity, dollar for dollar, to find an A-380 First Class Cabin on offer, but we’ve opted for business class as we have a long itinerary ahead including Rome, Helsinki, Stockholm, London and New York.

The Moet et Chandon Imperial was an excellent precursor to the flight… as was the amazing Margaux.  To tell the truth, the buffet and hors d’oeuvre on display beat almost anything in any lounge I’ve experienced.   There are a few exceptions we can share with you, but more on that later…


How You Can Get Airlines to Stop Raising Bag Fees – A Call to Action!

January 20, 2010

The latest salvo of bag-checking cost increases is now ricocheting across the US airfare landscape like the latest fake “fare-war” sale.   But this is yet another add-on charge the airlines aren’t advertising to the public.  Instead of raising minimum fares to a reasonable and sustainable level, they’re still advertising $99 coast-to-coast fares (if you fly on Tuesday after midnight, and stand on your left foot for at least half the flight).

Perhaps you have noted Southwest Airline’s latest advertisements with a hip-hop “Bags Fly Free” message.  It’s a major differentiator, and Southwest deserves to be recognized.  Jet Blue is also among the last holdouts which does not charge for everything that goes into the holds of their planes.

Our friends at “The Cranky Flier” have both a point and a plan – something you can do today to let the airlines know you will shift your allegiance.   We highly suggest that you sign up for The Cranky Flier’s well written commentary on all things airline.  Even frequent fliers, who don’t usually pay a fee to check bags on our preferred carriers, should take action.    I know I just did – here’s why:

I just booked two travelers who work for my company and who AREN’T elite fliers on Jet Blue between Austin and San Francisco.  Aside from having lower fares (by $20 roundtrip) on Jet Blue, more legroom and “better” service, since they’re each checking two bags, the total savings on fare and bags is $140 per person – $280 total.    That’s actually MORE than the price of one of the roundtrip tickets!    Do you find this INSANE?

Charging for bags at this level is getting to be completely out of hand.  If you agree, check out this short article and write to the airlines.   Before the cost to check a bag exceeds the cost of your next ticket, check out this short article, and send a message to your favorite airline.  And some of your not-so-favorite airlines!

CLICK HERE:     How You Can Get Airlines to Stop Raising Bag Fees.

I remember buying three $120 tickets from Madrid to Vienna last year on discount carrier Clickair (now a part of Vueling) – and thinking we got a great deal.  When we got to the airport, we were hit with $850 worth of baggage fees – nearly twice the cost of our tickets!  Let’s hope we don’t get to that point here in the USA – it’s hard to travel for a two week trip with just carry-on luggage!

Happy travels,

Rob Lipman

CNET Post-CES Poll Shows Predicts IPTV Revolution Imminent

January 18, 2010

An informal poll of post-Consumer Electronics Show “Early Adapters” shows nearly 50% believe IPTV will soon overtake traditional TV content distribution methods.    With more than 5500 respondents during the week following CES, the tech-savvy crowd also predicted the advance of IPTV will be fueled by development of Internet-Connected TV sets as well as by increased connectivity through Game Consoles.

Availability of bandwidth was cited as a limiting factor in the development of IPTV technology.

BroadQ’s Qtv IPTV software will utilize the Sony PlayStation2 as a platform for distribution of a wide range of Internet TV offerings.  Channel partner content will also be available on more than 1000 models of mobile telephones.

CNET’s  informal poll also showed that 75% of respondents were either very or “somewhat” likely to ditch their existing distribution service (Cable/Satellite/Broadcast) for an Internet-based model.

CNET Poll Results as of January 17, 2010

Should Japan Air Lines be Extinct? Will the “Battle of the Alliances” Winner be the Ultimate Loser?

January 17, 2010

Japan Air Line’s recent financial distress is front page news around the world.  Four of us recently boarded a spanking new JAL Boeing Triple 7  in San Francisco.   JAL 001 – the carrier’s flagship flight – was bound for Tokyo, and we were connecting in Narita for Singapore.   Two of us were experienced worldwide “business” travelers, and two were highly experienced leisure travelers.  We all walked away with the same conclusion – this airline needs to adapt or die.

As the third leg of an around the world tour, I admit to looking forward to this flight eagerly.  While most Americans also admit some degree of uncertainty with how to react to Japanese culture, I was not prepared for the complete indifference of the JAL cabin crew towards non-Japanese passengers.

As a first impression, we were surprised that the Japan Air Lines lounge in San Francisco appeared to have been decorated sometime in the late 70’s.   The Wi-Fi system in the lounge didn’t work – we actually had to piggy-back off of a nearby airline’s lounge which offered a strong enough signal.  When business travelers are about to embark on a 14 hour flight,  they need a reliable connection.   Requests for assistance were met with half-hearted apologies.  Clearly, connectivity was not a priority.   The lunchtime departure was delayed slightly, but with 30 some-odd passengers in the lounge, there “snacks” on offer were minimal, and clearly geared to an Eastern audience.   And while two of us will try almost anything Asian, the seaweed wraps in cellophane were pronounced inedible by both of us.  Peanuts and an egg-salad sandwich quarter were the other alternatives.  So – we headed for the flight and settled in.

Great Expectations

We all gave the new JAL business class pod seat high marks for comfort and flexibility.  Even at 6’3″ – the seat was comfortable enough to sleep in.  While not completely flat, the angle of inclination did not make one feel as if we were sliding on to the floor – as is so often the case on US carrier business class seats. 

The spacious seating of the 2-3-2 business class configuration did not seem as cramped as US versions on the plane, and in fact the sleeker design somehow contributed to a cleaner design.  Perhaps the absence of gray leather and a lower profile seat  made a difference.   The advertised “next generation” seats delivered as promised.   But from there on – it was all down hill.

The first ominous sign came from a flight hostess who instructed us – each of us separately –  to turn off our mobile phones, even though the aircraft door was still open.   This breach of basic international protocol again prevented last minute connectivity, but for no apparent reason.  Certainly it’s been proven that mobile phones have nothing to do with safety while parked at the gate!  We chalked this one up to quirkiness.

(Incidentally, the phone police mercifully did not force themselves into the cramped (but immaculate) toilets prior to takeoff).

In another protocol lapse, there were no pre-flight drinks, or even water and juice, offered prior to take off.  It was something we could live without, but seemed strange to us.  But as petty as some of the following complaints might appear, there are relatively few avenues upon which airlines can differentiate themselves.

Safety is, of course, “Job One” as the old saying goes.   While I never felt unsafe for a second on JAL, of far more importance was the general inability and/or unwillingness of the crew to converse with passengers in English.  5 minute long public address announcements in Japanese were followed by heavily accented, hard to understand 30 second messages in English.  

A Clash of Cultures

I have Japanese clients and work more than most Americans to understand the Japanese culture.  But I have also flown extensively on Chinese, Korean, Spanish, German, and French National Carriers, and even when traveling between non-US city pairs, the flight announcements are always understandable.   Had there been an emergency, I wonder if less well traveled American travelers would have known what to do – it was clear that one would be on one’s own in the case of emergency.

Airline food is a major differentiator between airlines, and while I know never to expect too much – especially in coach – it seemed that the presentation needed a lot of work.  The western cuisine was unappetizing, but the Japanese cuisine was in short supply.  Apparently, the airline did not anticipate multiple “western” passengers opting for Japanese meals.  The crew’s gracious apology for running out was accepted, but it seemed odd to run out of the modest sukiyaki styled beef offering.   Overall, the Asian style appetizer selection was excellent, but the rest of the meal was quite disappointing.

The second offering on this 13 hour flight was a western style “curried” crepe.  For those of us who dislike curry, the Japanese offering was even less appetizing.  Both meals were of a level typical of coach meals on European transatlantic carriers.

I don’t want to be trivial, but for some reason, water bottles were handed out to Japanese speaking passengers, but not to Americans.  Only after three requests was bottled water brought.  

There was no “in flight” amenity kit – a first on my intercontinental travels. 

Blankets were flimsy, and of limited value, which was OK, because the cabin stayed warm throughout the flight.  (My thermometer, which I carry to check meeting room temperatures, read 73-74F through most of the flight.  I always think airlines crank up the heat to encourage sleep).

Finally, for some reason, the frequent “turbulence” periods seemed to extend 5 to 10 minutes longer than they do on other carriers – long after the flight seemed to smooth out.

Tight Connections and “Making Up Time”

Our flight left nearly an hour late, and typically, airlines will make some effort to “make up time.”   Not so with either leg of our JAL flights.   We flew at well under maximum speed (sometimes under 450 MPH) and were 70 minutes late landing at Narita (followed by an interminable 20 minute taxi to a gate on the other end of the airport.  Since we only had 75 minutes for our connection, we were distressed that the crew seemed unaware that we and other passengers were going to miss our connections.  

Extensive information about Japanese domestic transfers was provided –  followed by – nothing! – about International connections.   We raced off the plane expecting there to be a contact at the jet bridge – but – again, Nothing!  We knew we could not be the only connecting passengers, but there were no directions and no one to guide in the right direction.  

Having transited Tokyo Narita many times, we still expected some sort of staffing at the gate, but only after 5 minutes fast walk did we come to the contact point with all our names – and the names of 15 other passengers.   We were given a sticker, and rushed to security.

Now, to JAL’s credit, the plane was held for us.  We underwent an extensive security check, including every possible electronic item (not JAL security of course) – and then were told to HURRY!   RUN! to the connecting flight.   Where we made it to our seats, and then promptly sat there for 40 minutes before the doors were closed.  (No cell phones, of course!)  

JAL is not the only airline to do this kind of thing, of course, but the urgency of having to run through Narita, only to sit for more than 1/2 hour with – again- no pre-flight beverage… well, it was no way to treat a customer. Again, the late departure was met by a disturbing insouciance by the flight crew – we were advised we would land 90 minutes late – at 1:45 AM instead of 12:05 AM – as the flight lumbered along – according to the screen display at a leisurely 390 MPH.   I don’t think they can blame that kind of performance on congestion at Narita!

Passengers or Cargo?

The moral of the story is – you can’t treat customers like cargo on competitive routes and expect them to return.   I now know I’m not missing anything by flying American or Delta to Japan.

Flying transatlantic with JAL, I expected to be treated like an honored guest.   I felt like I was an inconvenience. Would I take JAL again?  Well, only if it meant saving a significant amount of money, or if there were no other options.   I sure wouldn’t have my hopes up for an extraordinary flight.  I realize these observations are based on a single trip and two flights, but carriers rarely get a second chance to make a first impression.

So, what does all this mean for JAL’s future?   Well, in my humble opinion, if  JAL management thinks it can fill planes with 100% Japanese guests and still turn a profit, they might make it.   We can probably assume the Japanese government won’t abandon their National Flag Carrier, but you never know these days.

The Winner as the Loser

But if on lucrative US – Asia and European – Asian routes they lose a 5 or 10% market share, the only way they can stay afloat is with government money.  JAL has to become a truly International Carrier – and not one that just takes Japanese businessmen and tourists to foreign destinations.   Something has to give!  

On the other hand, JAL might stay afloat with  the foolish capital investment of a US based carrier who thinks they can make up a wasteful and ridiculous investment in a failing carrier with “volume.”  

Whether the courtship for JAL is ultimately won by Sky Team or One World investors, the winner of the battle will likely be the loser of the war!

Goodbye Las Vegas, Hello Singapore!

January 14, 2010

So, after three hectic days in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics show, the verdict is – the show was TERRIFIC for our company, Broadq, and our new product, Qtv.    More about the show later, including a special “celebrity” photo from the booth next to ours.    But in the meantime, there was some “entertainment” too – one of the local vendors hired a rather unique “booth babe”  (see photo)

CES Booth Babe

The flight back from LAS to DFW featured a true firecracker of a flight attendant on American.   I would use her name but wouldn’t want to get her in trouble.  One of the reasons I fly American is that while they don’t always do a fantastic job, I feel you have a better chance of having a great flight.   Returning home at 11:00 PM, we spent most of Sunday getting the house ready for additional renovations.   A little packing, and an all-nighter followed by Monday morning flights from Austin to Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Overnight was at the very nicely remodeled HYATT REGENCY FISHERMANS’ WHARF – I hotel I hadn’t stayed in since a meeting there 10 years ago.  The guest rooms were comfortably redone in contemporary hues – beds were comfortable and the bathroom still looked new.   Of particular interest was the happy hour at Knuckles Restaurant – with some of the best fried calimari I’ve ever had ($5 for a huge portion) – and $4 draft Anchor Steam.   Quite a bargain for one of America’s most expensive cities.  

Dinner in San Francisco was at Il Cantuccio, a neighborhood hole in the wall in the still seedy Mission District (3228 16th Street) – the food was still fantastic, and reasonably priced for SF.   All home made pastas were around $15, great thin pizzas (try the Gorgonzola) – this is a place to go if you want to let people know that you “know” SF.  It is, however, a hole in the wall, so if you’re trying to impress, stick with old standards like Alioto’s, Scoma’s, or Fiore d’Italia…

Yesterday morning, we packed up our bags and headed back to SFO to take JL 001 for Tokyo Narita.  JAL’s future is in doubt.  We found out why…   more in the next edition!

Texas Longhorns Play for the National College Football Championship Tonight!

January 7, 2010

"Hookem Horns!"This entry will be brief – just a quick note in support of the Texas Longhorns, playing for the National Championship in the Rose Bowl at Pasedena, CA tonight.  Wish I was there.  But the CES show is only hours away from beginning.

This Show is A Monster… and it starts in less than 18 Hours!

January 7, 2010

We’re setting up our booth this afternoon, and chaos reigns.   I am assured that by tomorrow, order will have returned, but as this point, I don’t see how!

Las Vegas Convention Center, RIO All-Suite Hotel, and a Word About Comps

January 6, 2010

Boy, is this going to be a monster show.   Many new announcements are pending.  Stay tuned for updates from the show starting tomorrow.

Stopped by the RIO All-Suite Hotel on the other side of I-15 to see how it was looking, and the rooms are still in good shape – nearly 600 square feet with plenty of room to spread out.   A friend (not a major gambler) had signed up for the Harrah’s Group Players Card, and with modest play had earned two “free” midweek room nights – not a bad perk for those who never thought they would play enough to get a “comp” anything.

Travel tip for Vegas – sign up for the FREE Players Cards at each hotel, but note that most of the major resorts are interconnected with card programs which work in multiple hotels.   Harrah’s is one, (including Caesar’s, Rio, Bally’s, etc) and the MGM Grand Card covers more properties than I can count.   If you’re playing primarily at one hotel, be sure to check for comps at that hotel.  I was shocked to find I had played enough to get a free night AND two comp passes to the health club, worth about $75, on my last trip.

I was equally surprised to find that even though I earned points at “sister” hotels, the points earned their didn’t earn “comps” at the hotel I was staying in.   Moral – to some extent, gamble where you stay – but don’t let it ruin your vacation or business trip!

Just Checked into the Las Vegas Hilton

January 6, 2010

Las Vegas – how appropriate to start this year’s travels!

I’m here in Vegas for the product launch of Q-TV, at the Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC).   I’m expecting the usual zoo – but so far, everything is pretty quiet.

It’s been 12 years since I’ve set foot in the Las Vegas Hilton.    Same general marble look for the entryway – and this hotel – still huge by most standards,  (but not by Vegas Standards) is quiet before the storm.

My room on the 27th floor of the East Tower is about as far as you can get from the desk.  It’s been nicely updated – Crisp Linens, Vegas colors scheme  (red and orange drapes and carpeting – but actually not loud), comfortable mattress,  a small closet with double mirrors, decent in-room safe and a nicely sized personal fridge (no minibar).  The bathroom was updated and has a smart marble vanity,  garden oval tub with decent water pressure.

Compared to my last stay at the Luxor,  (which I want to love but don’t), this is a dramatic upgrade.

For $60 (off peak rate before the show) – it’s a deal!   For $275 (show rate) – not so much – but still decent!

Stay tuned for news of the setup.

Hello world! Welcome to Rob Lipman’s Travel and Tech

January 5, 2010

Traveling all the way around the world used to be a distant dream for me. Now, it’s a regular business reality.  To keep it from being boring, I keep looking for ways to make it both exciting, different and interesting.   If you are a frequent traveler, please come back often, comment, and make suggestions for the like minded wanderer.

Want to know about American Airlines’ new premium class food and wine initiative?   I’m up on it?  Japan Airlines new business class seat?  Check back on January 13, after I take their flagship flight JL001 from San Francisco to Tokyo.  Been on an A-380 yet?  It’s pretty amazing, even though I still haven’t gotten to sneak a peak at one of those private First Class cabins yet.   But it’s on my list!  I invite you to live vicariously through these descriptions…

January 2010 also marks the landmark introduction of Q-TV, a project I have been involved in for seven years.  Q-TV is designed as a giant leap forward in the development of  the Internet TV revolution — the long awaited convergence of the Internet with the TV.

Q-TV is the product of years of development by the dedicated team at  BroadQ, LLC, a company I helped found in 2002.  If you like use/enjoy things like TiVo, Boxee, AppleTV, or similar things out there on the forefront of technology,  I hope  you will follow this column.  Even if you’re not an early adapter, you WILL be using these technologies by 2015, so why not stay tuned?

So this blog will blend my two business passions – World Travel and Convergence Technology – along with comments about random experiences encountered during the pursuit of both. If you know about one and not the other, I’ll try to keep the posts interesting (and short enough) to provide that valuable nugget of information you’ll pull out to impress your friends and business colleagues.

After all, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you ARE a master of the Trivial, as well a well educated citizen of the world.

Your comments are always appreciated!