David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
Notes From A Road-Trip 2 – A Week In Barcelona Part 2
As I mentioned last week I searched high and low but couldn’t find an article or blog explaining what the experience of Barcelona is like for a business trip, so I wrote one. Last week I posted Part 1, and here is Part 2.
When I booked this trip I wanted to land in Barcelona Monday, attend the conference Tuesday to Thursday and fly back Friday. That itinerary – in coach – was priced by United at a little over $3k. Wow, they have no shame. So, when I changed the departure to Friday evening (adding a Saturday night stay) the coach fare dropped by about $2k. That required me to add the weekend stay at the lovely Hilton Diagonal. However, when the weekend ended, I changed to the hotel closer to the conference. It didn’t fare well in comparison.
· The Leonardo Gran Via is a clean, newly renovated property about 15 minutes closer to the Fira Barcelona than the Hilton. (It however is the typical European hotel I referred to last week that did say to me ‘but sir, zee check in is not till zee afternoon, so go away.’) Because I was not coming off an overnight flight it was not really an issue, I just checked my bag with them and headed to the Fira. When I came back around 3pm I was able to get into my room. As opposed to my experience at the Hilton, I received a tiny room (two twin beds pushed together) with all the things one would expect in such a property. There was a “master switch” just inside the entrance that required me to insert the room key for the electricity to turn on. (I remembered the trick of putting one of my hotel loyalty cards to work there in case I wanted things left on when I wasn’t going to be gone very long from the room.) The environmental control however was one I’d never seen before. My total choices were 0, I, II or III. I surmised that the property determined if hot or cold air was required and all I could control was the fan speed. As silly at that lack of controls seemed, it oddly was not an issue to be comfortable for the four nights there.
The bathroom was also what I expected – a shower over a tub with only a partial splash shield. (I don’t understand how this is still in use in Europe – are wet bathrooms preferred?) What was unexpected was the hotel didn’t provide any facial tissues. If I had not brought my own I’d have had to use toilet paper to blow my nose – or buy some locally. The only bathroom amenities were slippers, soaps, and the items shown above. The “included breakfast” rate I had apparently was only “included” if one paid additionally for it. There was a terrific bakery/restaurant across the street which was a much better option.
· The conference I attended (ISE 2022) took place at the Fira de Barcelona Gran Via. It is an enormous set of halls, connected with closed-walkways above and open-air spaces between. I was lucky that the majority of things I went to see were in Hall 2 – the first one you hit after you enter. There are plenty of places to eat on site, and here again the contactless credit card is the way to go. There are also a number of vending machines with instructions typically only in Spanish. To use them with a credit card one has to first press the white button, make a numeric selection, then put your contactless card in front of the reader next to the buttons. (I wound up explaining that to about a dozen people over the course of three days.) People sat down to eat outdoors between halls – which was far safer than eating indoors during these weird hopefully-end-of-pandemic days, but would certainly be an issue if one was attending a conference during colder months. Here in May, on the days I wore a sports jacket, that was sufficient. On the days I didn’t wear one I brought a light jacket to wear while I was outside.
· In order to travel back into the US (at least for now) one needs to get a third-party verified COVID test the day before travel. Most conferences arrange for these to take place on-site, but the one I attended didn’t. They provided a list of facilities one could go to to get a test. Instead of that hunt, my employer arranged for a testing company to come to my hotel room and test me there in the morning. I received the results by email at ~6pm in the evening, and I needed that document to check-in for my flight. Your hotel should also know testing firms they can call and arrange to visit, but don’t wait until the last minute – make the arrangement as soon as you arrive at your hotel. Whichever option you use for testing, BRING YOUR PASSPORT. Some people I know forgot that this was needed to verify your test and had to make a second trip to get tested. One receives an official document with the results as a PDF with a QR code on it. I didn’t need to print that document – United let me upload it as part of the “Travel Ready” check-in process, and then I showed it on my phone to the airport agent when asked.
· My return flight home (on Friday the 13th no less) was scheduled to depart at around 11am, so (dad rules in place) I figured I’d leave my hotel at 7am, get to the airport at 8am and have three hours to calmly breeze through the security and passport lines, buy some food for the flight, peek at the duty free, and then board with plenty of time. The hotel clerk assured me that taxis would be waiting outside at 7am (which I knew likely had to be BS) so I did everything I needed to hit the hotel lobby at 6:30am. Of course there were no taxis and they had to call for a car. It came in about ten minutes and we arrived at the airport at 7am. (I didn’t care that I was an extra hour early. Every smart business traveler plans for the worst experience they ever had and is thankful when it doesn’t materialize.) So, the next step was finding the United desks and checking in. Good freaking luck with that. There were –ZERO- signs for United Airlines in the terminal. None. Not even a hint of where it would be for at least a half-hour until the departures board showed the flight and listed desks 201-210. When I went there it was as dead as the dinosaurs. No people, no signs, no open lines, just nothing. I used the United app’s new feature to message customer service but they were as clueless and unhelpful as possible. They had no idea why there’d be nothing in the way of people or signage. We were up to about 60 people in a sort-of line / mob when six or so agents came out and were milling about, talking about who knows what with each other. Still no contact with those waiting. Finally at about 8:20 they dragged out signs that said United and lit-up the video monitors with the logo. They are obviously contracted workers, not United staff, and they are obviously only paid to be there three hours before the flight. But the fact that there was no indication of where to go or where to stand was just ridiculous. I won’t even try to detail the shift left –no go right – no head to the end movements these idiots made us make. I finally got through the document check process at about 8:45 – almost two hours of wasted time I could have been using to get through the process at a leisurely pace.
· One of the few remaining benefits of my United Million Miler status is lifetime Premier Access. It was nice to find out that that entitled me to use the fast-track security entrance. Of course, no one told me that and there were no signs to indicate that. I just tried it, honestly telling the agent that I didn’t know if I qualified. She didn’t either, but tried it and the reader turned green. That’s a ‘good to know’ for the future. There was no equivalent of Pre-Check that I’m aware of, so I removed my liquids, computer, and belt (that always seems to set-off the detector) but not my shoes, and put everything is a separate bin. It all went through smoothly, and I was on the other side re-packing pretty quickly.
· The Barcelona airport / BCN can best be described as a human version of one of those hamster habitats. Passengers have to go up, down, up again, over, around, all in constant circles to get through everything needed. I found it odd that after security I was in a huge duty-free area, but then went to approach my gate area and had to go through another passport check, and then found – you guessed it – another duty-free store. This time one had to walk through the store to get to the gates.
· When we went to board the aircraft we were lined-up by group so each line could follow the last. It was actually very organized compared to the rest of the day. Boarding was smooth.
· Arriving back at EWR we were assigned a gate in terminal B, so we had to go through the old international arrivals space. It’s stunning how much Global Entry has improved since I first joined the program. No more placing your passport and scanning your palm print. It just asks you to line-up your face for a picture, recognizes you from facial ID, and prints your exit receipt. The only painful part of the return was earlier while we were waiting for our assigned gate to be cleared by an empty aircraft that had to be towed to terminal C. That process turned a 35 minute early arrival into a 10 minute late arrival.
Had I been aware of all of the information in this week’s and last week’s blog I’d have had a more enjoyable, better prepared trip. For one, I’d likely have stayed at the Hilton all week – the extra fifteen minute taxi ride was ultimately meaningless. I also would have exchanged far less currency before leaving the US – there isn’t a single opportunity to pay where cards were not accepted. I hope these tips help you if you have to travel there. I’ll soon compile them both into a single guide for future use.
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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