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David J. Danto

 

Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion

 

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eMail: ddanto@IMCCA.org††††† Follow Industry News: @NJDavidD

 

On The Road Again, Part 1 of 2

 

Iíll leave the picture at the left to speak (sing) for itself.Iím sure you can hear the tune in your head.After fourteen months of pandemic semi-isolation Iím now back on the road.

I didnít intend to be back this early.I had planned my coming-out of a homebound state to be in August, but when my wife and I were invited to an outdoor family party in Los Angeles where we were assured everyone (like us) would be vaccinated, we decided to make the trip.This part one of two blogs will cover the experience flying to, landing in and getting our car in LA.Part two next week will cover the hotel and tourism experiences in LA and San Diego.

Iíve written a few times in the recent past about how-much anxiety I was having regarding what to take and not take.We wound-up checking two bags, and packing a third empty duffle we can check on the way home.Clean pillows, an air purifier, our own mini k-cup coffee maker were all taken Ė both as conveniences we got used to while driving to local hotels during the pandemic and safety measures that probably werenít necessary but did make me feel better.(I wound-up not checking but rather buying alcohol to spray on things at Amazon and simply had it shipped to the hotel.)

I was hopeful that Newark Airport would be a bit calmer due to the reduced flights and the pandemic still somewhat underway.HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAÖ.It wasnít the worst experience Iíve ever had at EWR, but it was a clear eight and a half out of ten on the EWR Misery Meter.

IMG_6827Arriving just after 6am for a Friday 8:30 flight, there was already a traffic jam to get to terminal C.How United managed to have such reduced flight capacity yet not spread-out the slots is just beyond me.†††

IMG_6829The first thing we had to do (which Iíve mentioned many times I hated to have to do) is check two bags.The first part of that was easy Ė go to a kiosk, wait behind one other flier, then scan my phoneís boarding pass.It didnít ask me to confirm the number of bags, so it proceeded to print out the three tags I had indicated my wife and I might check.(It turned out we managed with two, but there was no way to adjust.) The second part of that first step was not as easy Ė waiting for a United employee to take the tags, check our ID and put the tags on the bags.It took about ten minutes, as there was one lonely agent working about ten kiosks.

When our bags were finally tagged and collected, we looked for the back of the TSA Pre-Check line for the C2 Security entrance.It was sadly halfway into the C3 wing.Typical EWR.And just in case you thought the longer line was due to distancing, thatís another laugher.Despite the signs and the floor stickers, people were standing as close as they did in pre-pandemic days and nobody at the airport cared.So much for those airline boasts about Ďcaring about our safety.í

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Iíd completely lost track of the construction and line configurations at EWR throughout the pandemic.The security line serpentined around in a few places before getting to the front and being faced with the ďload your carry-onĒ bins.As usual, my carry on briefcase was set apart for secondary screening despite me removing my computer and iPad, as registering for Pre-Check consistently meant nothing to the TSA.I had to wait for them to remove half the contents and x-ray it twice more before they left me with my pile of belongings in a tray to reassemble and re-pack.By the time my wife and I got through security we wouldnít have had any time to go to a club, so it was somewhat calming to know my decision to drop club membership was a good one.It was also good because I found-out the long promised club construction in the C3 wing was never done, and the pop-up club there was gone, so the only clubs would have been all the way back in the C1 wing Ė something that would have riled me even more if I hadnít given-up caring about it.We did walk by and use an Amazon style convenience store to buy water and snacks for the flight.We used our credit card to get in, and never had to pay when leaving Ė it automatically tracked and charged-us for what we took.It would be awesome if the rest of the airport could use more modern technology, but thatís pie-in-the-sky for now I guess.

IMG_6836When we arrived at our gate, we found a couple of empty, available (yet still bolted down to the floor too close to the table) chairs and decided to take turns going to the restroom before we departed.I went first, and when I returned my wife was no longer at the chairs.She had correctly jumped onto the group 1 boarding line once it was called.Thatís how we learned that Unitedís standard boarding by groups had returned.(Kudos to the missus for her alertness!)

We had purchased an upgrade to Premium Plus seats when our schedule-comfortable 10:30am-ish departure was cancelled in favor of a schedule-uncomfortable 8:30am-ish 787/Dreamliner over a month earlier.I canít stand the cramped 3-3-3 of this aircraft (and honestly never liked it) so the extra comfort seemed like a good deal.(Again, miles and loyalty be damned, we paid cash for our upgrade.Yes, that could be considered a win for the airline, but Iím not sure theyíll feel that way when we take our next flight for cash on another carrier because our lifetime elite status gets us no considerations.)The seats were nothing special but were certainly wide enough to be much more comfortable than coach for the flight.

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The good news was that my fellow EWR travelers were all 100% mask compliant.Everyone wore their mask all the time when they were not eating or drinking, and that was a good thing to experience.As for the food service, the coach experience is a sealed baggie with pretzels, cookies, a wipe and a tiny water bottle.The premium plus service seemed to be the same as the first class food service without the extra pastries and courses Ė and without a choice of meals Ė as they clearly donít load enough to offer choices for everyone in first and premium Ė so guess who gets the short straw.(I couldnít tell you if ePlus in coach was getting hot meals again as I didnít see any, but Iíd assume that perk is likely not back post pandemic yet.)

All in all it was an uneventful flight Ė which is of course the best kind, and we landed at LAX on-time.Iím very hopeful about what Iíve heard regarding eventual improvements to LAX, but other than a fresh layer of paint and new signs I saw none of it yet.It was still a zoo waiting for a shuttle bus with enough space to get our rental car, and the bus that did eventually take my wife and I was nearly full as usual.Thankfully the service from National Car was excellent, so at least in this case the rental car fears were unfounded.When we got to the lot we could again choose anything we wanted from the Executive assortment Ė and they had plenty of cars.

So, ultimately, traveling again after 14 months was no better than it was pre-pandemic, but not really any worse either.I suppose status-quo was probably the best we could hope for.

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Thatís it for part one of this trip.Next week Iíll go into more details about the hotel experiences and what it was like as a tourist in the twilight of COVID19.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.

All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.

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As always, feel free to write and comment, question or disagree.Hearing from the traveling community is always a highlight for me.Thanks!