Posts Tagged ‘american airlines’

Video Production From the Road: Flying Tips 2

October 12, 2012

Having become a semi-learned student of the airline rules, I wield them like constitutional rights.

Last year I chose to become an APP (my designation for the 25,000 plus mile status) on two airlines: United and American. The former is part of the OneWorld network, and the latter is a member of Star Alliance. Since my home bases are Montclair, NJ – 10 miles from Newark Airport – and Los Angeles, the most convenient airline for me to fly in the US is United, which has the Newark-based hub of its recent mergee, Continental.  American sometimes flies out of Newark, but more frequently its NY flights originate in and go to JFK and LaGuardia, making it a second choice for me.  However, the Star Alliance has more airline partners than OneWorld, and they fly to many more destinations, so I’m glad to have at least the APP-1 (more than Any Passenger and less than Any Passenger Plus) benefits.

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I write this blog now aboard a flight from Melbourne, Australia to Hong Kong. I am traveling with my husband/business partner Curt. We are videotaping for a corporate client in both locations. The decision to do the shoot happened late in the game, so arrangements were made last minute, when few flights were still available.  The only feasible and affordable option required traveling with Cathay Pacific from JFK to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to Adelaide, Australia, then Adelaide to Melbourne, where we worked for three days. This flight goes from Melbourne directly to Hong Kong, where we will stay for two nights. The next leg is to San Francisco, where we will work for a day. The last segment will take us from San Francisco back to Newark.

Cathay Pacific is a Star Alliance member. With our American gold status, we are classified as Ruby travelers on Star Alliance, going through the first and business class check-in and security lines, and boarding earlier in the game than other passengers. Since the economy class tickets had been sold out for the eastward bound flights at the late time of our booking, we purchased the next level: premium economy. That gave us a little more room and an APP+ status. But here is how being a partner airline APP member served as an advantage: The flight from NY to Hong Kong was 15 hours; the one from Hong Kong to Adelaide was another 9. When we arrived in Hong Kong, a ticket agent was waiting for us, informing us that we had been upgraded to business class. With open seats on the plane, priority went to us instead of others who had bought premium economy tickets since we had a combination of those slightly more expensive tickets and APP status on another Star Alliance partner airline.

Business seats on these eastern airlines are amazing for a number of reasons, but best of all, the seats fold down flat like beds. As someone who has a hard time sleeping in planes, I slept more than half of the journey, waking up refreshed enough to work for the afternoon in Melbourne. It made a huge difference!

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Director of Photography, Curt.

The seats en route back west are only economy. But because of our APP status with Star Alliance member American, Cathay Pacific was able to offer us bulkhead seats, ie, front row in economy, with unlimited leg room.  For non-ruby passengers, these seats would have cost an additional $100 each, but our status ensured we could get them, and at no extra charge. We have reserved the same seats for the trip from Hong Kong to San Francisco.

The last leg of our trip will be provided by United, enabling us to return on a direct flight to Newark Airport. Checking over the seat availability, it seems we will be doomed to the last row. But as APP members, we stand a chance of getting upgraded, if anything is available.

I am well aware of the disadvantage of accruing miles in more than one airline per year. By this year’s end, I will have accumulated just short of 100,000 miles on all my flights combined. Had I stuck with one airline or partnership and taken a few extra trips to reach that mile marker, I would have been a lifetime status holder. Instead, the status I’ve earned over the last 10 months – which in another three weeks will be APPP on United and APP on American – will be good only through 2013. Come January 1, I will have to start all over again for 2014. But the offerings didn’t leave me much of a choice. The flights that gave me the most miles were available at specific times on particular airlines. At least I will enjoy my status in the coming year, always keeping an eye on changing rules and new opportunities.

Read Flying Tips 1.

Video Production From The Road

October 5, 2012

Day 1: Departure from JFK

Our corporate headquarters is in Montclair, NJ, about 15 miles from Newark Airport, but unfortunately for us, the majority of international flights still depart from JFK – a one hour drive when there is no traffic (a rare occurrence). When we are shooting a documentary about which we feel passionate and are working on the hope that funding will follow, we become beggars for free rides from friends on the much-disliked trek from NJ to Jamaica, NY.  And when we travel for quick stints, we take the car and find parking lots near airports that are priced less expensively than an hour of parking in midtown Manhattan. But when we travel for a more lengthy time for corporate clients who pay for our expenses, a car service saves the driving stress and guilt for swallowing hours of friends’ time.

Warning! Not all car services are the same! Most of those coupons in the Val-Pak envelopes that come in the mail suggest discounts of all kinds, but when you call the company to get a quote, you often hear about a host of other add-ons to the rate they advertise as total – things like tolls and extra bags and tips and taxes. You do the math and realize the discount drowns under the supplementary fees. There are exceptions, however, if you do the research. (All good things in travel come with extensive, time-consuming research. But once you’ve got it figured out, the knowledge goes a long way for a long time.)

We use a car service that is truly a one-price, no gimmicks. Tolls and even driver’s tip is built into the fee, which gets charged on my credit card at the end of each airport drop-off. The car of the driver Kenny (973.573.7142 or abovelimo123@yahoo.com)  is a bit old-world – a Lincoln Town Car that was probably a “beaut” about a decade ago — but it is a smooth ride and does the job, even if the permanently-jammed front window requires the driver to open his door to dunk in the change as he goes through the tolls for which he does not have EZPass. Those are his choices, but I don’t care. I’m usually busy in the back seat, distracted from the road by the constant flow of new messages into my smartphone.

The next hurdle at the outset of a videotaping trip is checking bags without paying for extra weight. Considering that we typically carry two professional cameras; one or two camera tripods and several more for lights; a full light kit; a set of microphones including wireless, lavs and shotguns; supporting equipment such as cables, batteries, chargers, and all kinds of Mary Poppins’ bag accessories – not to mention a few weeks’ worth of clothes to be worn in different climates – this is no small matter.  First on the list of packing is thinking about which items must travel with us onboard, either because of their fragility and expense, or in case the suitcases don’t arrive when we do. Over the years, we’ve had luggage end up in all parts of the world, sometimes opposite sides of our destination. That unfortunate occurrence is not an excuse for failing to work upon arrival, so back-up plans need to be considered in advance.

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Susie (available from B&H Photo/Video)

Ordinarily two of us travel per shoot, with two carry-ons each. That leaves the checked luggage, which in the days of BetaCam SP were numerous but now are down to three, each of which comes close to the 23 kilogram or 50 pound maximum weight. One is our 28 inch suitcase carrying all our clothes and some smaller pieces of equipment that lightens the load of the other bags. For this trip we’ve added a 21 inch, two-pound screen since we’ll be setting up a mini-editing suite in the hotel room.  Another bag has our full lighting kit, and a third has the tripods, light tripods and cables. Our big suitcase and light kit have wheels that roll on all four.  One additional carry-on is our prized possession, so important that she merits a name: Susie (derived from “wuski” – Polish for “carts”) – a powerful baggage cart holding up to 250 pounds that folds up into a flat item less than three feet tall and one inch wide. Susie, who we wheel into the airport with the tripod case and carry-ons, has seen more of the world than most people I know! After we check-in the bags that get stored under the plane, her load goes down to the heavier carry-ons, which we wheel through airports with ease except in LaGuardia where there seems to be a prejudice against her and they require her to go the way of the rest of our luggage.

The last major obstacle on the departure side – assuming no plane delays – is getting through security. Since the essential equipment accompanies us on board, we are usually subject to bag checks –almost always a delay, but never a problem.

Significantly, we’ve finally splurged the extra annual $250 for the American Express Platinum card, which lets us use US Airways lounges regardless of the flight we will be taking as well as American and Delta lounges when we travel with them. We also have access to Priority Pass lounges around the world, where I write this now from Hong Kong. (After the next trip, we’ll have enough miles on United to get into their clubs at no charge, too.) These spaces provide a much more comfortable waiting area, replete with free wi-fi, large comfortable chairs, snack food, drinks, and nice bathrooms. I’m doing the same thing in this lounge as I would be doing back in my office in New Jersey.

Next week: Flying Tips.