Captive Audience


Southwest Airlines Flight 5427 from Houston to New York.

Cabin stewards Anthony, Clarence and Frank took away the blues everyone may have been feeling that evening.

It had been raining all day.  The weather was showing some solidarity with my mood.  I had flown from San Antonio to connect in Houston bound for New York.  I was leaving family members behind and heading Northeast, not knowing when I would see my loved ones again.  I was sad.

Due to a boarding  irregularity (the lights along the jet bridge not working) we were delayed with the hope that the matter would be resolved quickly.  With an hour to spare, I wandered aimlessly into the nearby shops browsing the shelves and began to wonder what would make people pay high prices for tchotchkes.  That is another blog posting for another time.

While waiting to board, airport personnel found a viable solution to the unexpected anomaly.  We were switched from gate 33 to gate 32.  In no time the boarding process began, everyone was seated and ready for take off.

Then the show began.

Our all male cast (stewards) made everyone on board forget about the delay.  They managed to deliver their safety monologue, a serious message, in a humorous way.  I believe they used their class act and humor to charm their captive audience.  It worked.  From the chatter and occasional laugh I could tell  there was a sense of ease the entire trip.

We were told that steward Frank was in training and that he was on the job just a mere four days.  If that was really true, he had found his calling.  His jokes caused outburst of laughter and many times received an applause (we were certainly off, off, way off Broadway).  Frank and his cohorts served the passengers with such flair that we forgot we were flying at an altitude of more than 35000ft.  I don’t recall experiencing any turbulence on that flight as I did on the earlier flight from San Antonio to Houston, but maybe I was to busy laughing that I may have missed it.

Even though we arrived at our destination one hour later than scheduled, no one was rushing to get off the aircraft.  People were still chatting with their neighbors and helping others with their bags from the overhead bins.  This particular Southwest flight crew deserve special mention and a huge thanks for making the journey a memorable and lighthearted experience.  Obviously they love what they do and that evening they took flight attending to another level.  Thank you guys.

Venezuela In Retrospect


Today starts my ‘retrospection blogs’ series of countries I have visited many years ago and possibly won’t get a second chance to revisit.  The first country I will reflect on is Venezuela.

Apropos, this embattled South American nation has been in the news for some time.  Information of inner turmoil, food shortages, educational neglect, anti-government demonstrations and political fallout have been reported.  The most recent diatribe is that they have been added to the list of banned nations whose citizens will not be allowed entry into the USA.  My recollections should not to be considered a political gambit or posturing.

My introduction to the Latin culture began when I studied Spanish as a second language.  The curriculum presented opportunities for interactions with the Venezuelan Cultural Center and its teachers which prompted my visit.  So off I went on a fact finding mission to Venezuela.

CARACAS

I arrived at the Simón Bolívar International Airport eager to find out more about Venezuelans, practice my Spanish and learn more about their culture.  En route to the hotel from the airport I could not help seeing the shanties.  Not the welcoming sight I expected, but that image would soon give way to beautiful boulevards, tree-lined streets, plazas, and pedestrian only avenues.   Even though my understanding of Spanish was good, not fluent, I wasn’t quite prepared for the onrush of the language.  I couldn’t understand a thing.  It took me a day or two to adjust to the accent and delivery speed.  After a while and for obvious reasons, I realized speaking with children was a lot easier than talking with adults.

I rode the metro train to popular places like Chacaito and Sabana Grande (pedestrian only avenues geared for fashionista shopping), Plaza Venezuela (a public square for relaxation) and Parque del Este (an oasis in the heart of the city) just to name a few.  I recall the very first time I exchanged US dollars at the cambio for Bolivars (local currency).  I received so much money I felt like I had become an instant millionaire.

CULTURE AND CUISINE

Outside a building I noticed a large group of people.  Curiosity got the better of me, so I inquired on what was going on.  I was invited to go inside and to my surprise I discovered it was a cinema.  We sat down to watch the film and every time I laughed the audience laughed a few seconds later.  I then realized while I laughed at the jokes in real-time, it took them a few seconds to read the Spanish subtitles.  Back then only English films were shown.

Venezuela paellaThe food was another interesting revelation.  Three major cuisine staples that were prevalent in most restaurants, or at least it seemed so to me, was Paella (rice dish flavored with mussels, seafood and peppers); Arroz con pollo (rice and chicken); and Arepas (a maize flour dough made into little cakes) eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Even McDonalds offered Arepas as a side-order.

I would often stop to watch young and old couples salsa dance in the plazas.  There I learned to perfect my salsa moves because of my willingness as a volunteer partner.

IN THE CLOUDS

Venezuela boasted a gondola lift (Teleférico de Cararas) which transported small groups of people to El Ávila Mountain.  It took about 15 minutes to reach the top.  The cable Venezuela Telefericooperator stopped the car I rode in half way up and allowed us to feel the gentle bounce on the cables for a few seconds.  The feel of the gravitational pull evoked an un-rehearsed unanimous gasp.  Scary?  Undoubtedly.  I must say we  we were given a heads-up, as well as, an adrenaline rush.  At the top of El Ávila the views of the city of Caracas and the surrounding valley below were breathtakingly spectacular.  Occasionally, clouds would descend and block the view below.  Telescopes along the perimeter allowed for a better view of the city and its neighboring communities like Galipán – known for its exotic flower industry, and Macuto.

My trip to Venezuela was short, sweet and unforgettable.  Indeed, recounting this particular travel has brought back fond memories.  Back then, I didn’t have an itinerary plan, cell phone, iPad, laptop or even a simple map, but only a Kodak camera.  Google and the internet were not a part of my travel experience.  I simply relied on communicating with the people around me.  I am sure many things may have changed since my initial visit many years ago, but for now, I will continue to keep alive the memories of the Venezuela I once knew.

Flying by the seat of your pants


Choosing your ideal seat on-board an aircraft is still a big deal, at least to some people.

We all know that whether you sit in first class, coach, right side or left side of the plane we will all arrive to our destination at the same time. So what makes one seat more prized over another?  One may never know the answer to this question since all answers would be subjective.  Aircraft seats are made of the same materials.  Therefore whether you are in first class or coach you can rest assured your derriere is sitting on the same floatation device that makes up your seat.

Then, what is it that makes the difference?  Barring all the individual amenities that now come with the average seat (TV screen, device outlets, entertainment, Wi-Fi access, etc.), there are still some basic irritants that still exists.

I asked a few friends who travel for leisure and business of their seating preference and the ensuing discussion led to varying points of view.  All agreed though, and I’m sure you Seating5would too, that the supreme preference would be a window seat in first class.  Well, only those who could afford these pricey seats on the passenger list would sit in those enviable spots, leaving the other seats up for grabs.  Being first is always a highly desirable position and every seat in first class is easily coveted by those sitting in coach.  As you pass through this section, these privileged passengers may already have drinks in hand,  laptops/tablets or books opened, appear to be relaxed and ready for takeoff.  Agreeably they paid a higher price and deserve to be treated to the best service, space, comforts and luxuries that money can buy.

So, lets look at the pros and cons of the seats in coach.

  1. The window seat is the number one choice of seating preferences.

Seating1Pros:  Being able to have an aerial view of the landscape at takeoff and landing is what every passenger loves to do.  You can prop to one side if you fall asleep without disturbing your neighbor.  Your control of the window shade is another privilege.

Cons:  The down side comes when the passenger next to you leans in for a better view too.  At inopportune times you have to disturb two persons to go to the toilet.  You have to reach across and invade your fellow passenger’s space to accept your food or hand over your garbage.

2.  Second runner up is the aisle seat.  This position has some benefits to it.

Pros:  More leg room if you nonchalantly extend your legs out to the side.  A clear path to the exit. You do not have to obstruct or disturb the sleeping ones next to you when you want to get up.

Cons:  You are always reached over, allowing the stewardesses’ body to possibly come to close to your face.  You may have to periodically get up from your seat to accommodate those heading towards the lav.  You may be bumped by a passing passenger, banged by the drinks cart or smacked in the head by the dangling foot of a toddler in arms.

3.  The middle seat is that seat everyone loves to hate.  Here are some reasons to support this.  You may have more.

Pros:  There are none!  Except if you are sitting among family or friends.

Cons:  You are sitting in close proximity between two complete strangers. This uncomfortable position can be further exacerbated when one or both passengers on either side begin to subtly fight you for the armrest space. Another is the neighbor who falls asleep and encroaches on your already limited space.  Sitting in the middle presents the likelihood that you will have to disturb your aisle seat-mate at some point in the journey on your ‘I had too much to drink’ relieve run.

I have had the privilege of sitting in first class, on both international and domestic flights but not as much as I would like. Of course I relished the luxury afforded me there, but whether in first class or coach, my ultimate choice is always the window seat.  I may not always get my desired seat, so no matter where I sit, to make my trip a positive experience and an enjoyable one, I practice these simple techniques:

  1. Smile.
  2. Assess my neighbors.
  3. Smile again.
  4. Introduce myself.
  5. Keep chatter to a minimum.
  6. Be friendly and kind.
  7. Offer help to a struggling passenger.
  8. Relax and enjoy the ride.

As an itinerary planner I am always interested in learning the seating preference of my clients.  It helps me to make solid recommendations so they too can have the best travel experience possible.  Please tell me in the comment section of your seating preference (aisle, middle or window) and why.   Mention a bizarre seating experience en route to your destination if you’ve  had one.  Would love to hear it all.

Safe travels!

Airport Peeves


Running through airports seems to be my thing.  No matter how early I arrive, I am always scrambling to get to my gate with just a few minutes to spare before boarding. There was only one time that I can recall, a thanksgiving day, when I leisuredly strolled to my gate and had the chance to sit and relax.  I guess everyone else was dining at their thanksgiving buffet while I was busy catching my flight.

What causes the delay?  Mostly the long lines I encounter at check-in.  I often feel afraid I will not make it through the lines in time for the flight.  I have witnessed instances where check-in personnel would come up to the line and ask if they were persons on line to Airport 2fast-track since their flight was about to board.  The up and down curving lines, sometimes three or four rows deep can be a bit daunting.  My theory is that the winding lines make you dizzy, and by the time you reach the TSA agent you are so confused from going around and around, if asked, you might just give them a wrong name.  Don’t read too much into this, it’s just a theory. 😀.

Seriously, I do hate the long lines.  Many airports have found the solution to this by using self check-in kiosks.  This is great, until you realize a few are broken, or there may be a cue for the few that actually work.  What a bummer.  Is it just me?  Do you notice these things too?  I am not painting every airport with a broad brush and certainly my suggestions below are not a one size fit all solution.

This year’s top 10 airports are truly wonderful (I have passed through half of them). They may be so ascribed for their abundant services, architectural beauty, preferred guest lounges, finest eateries, luxury retail shops, sterile clean restrooms (if there is such a thing), whatever.  These are all great, but since no one surveyed me, I would like to go on record to state what I would like to see at an airport when I arrive.  Nothing crazy or unheard of, but rather simple and should be a basic consideration at every airport:

  1. Airport 3Baggage claim should not be far away.  I shouldn’t have to walk two miles (exaggeration) to collect my bags before exiting the building.
  2. A local bus-stop or train station should be nearby for the budget traveler like me who may not be able to afford taxi or the overpriced hotel shuttles.
  3. Free welcome maps and booklets should be available.  I’m in your city, boosting your economy.  I shouldn’t have to purchase points of interest information in your city.
  4.  Information desk should be located near gates, and I am not talking about the Hudson News stores.
  5. Knowledgeable persons should be manning formation desk at all times.  Duhhh!
  6. 24 hour foreign exchange should be available for departing and arriving visitors.  And last but not least
  7. More pet rest-stops.  Man’s best friend needs to relieve themself too.  Do I need to say more?

My list can go on and on to the point where it may sound like I need a personal valet too. Lol.  I appreciate the finer things in life but I am not always in a position to afford them. However, I still need to give some credit to the check-in process, because I have always managed to board my flights for my destination on-time.

Fellow bloggers what are your airport peeves?  I may not have a solution for them but would love to hear them nonetheless.

Iconic Logos, Catchy Slogans


Almost every US state and most foreign countries have adopted a logo or slogan as part of their marketing strategy to entice prospective visitors to come to their locale.  You maybe familiar with catchphrases such as “Virginia is for Lovers” for the state of Virginia, “Live Free or Die” for the state of New Hampshire, and “The Last Frontier”  for Alaska just to mention a few.  I am not aware of a survey that quantifies how many tourist actually visit a country or state based on the logo or slogan they may have seen or heard.  Even though a slogan may be recognizable, I firmly believe that it is not what draws tourist to a particular place.  It is not even given consideration when planning itineraries.  In fact, many may not even know of the country’s tourism campaign until they arrive at their destination.

On some of my trips they have been a few logos and slogans that have caught my attention, mostly because they resonated with me in an appealing way.  Either the slogan captures the essence of what their country is all about in just a few words, and I get it, or the graphic is clear, effective and accomplishes its task in conveying the intended message.

Incredible India

  • On my first visit to India, when I landed at New Delhi airport I noticed the slogan, “Incredible India” written in big bold letters.  I thought this slogan was strange until I began to witness and experience the sights, sounds, and yes, even the smell of India.  Spicy scents wafted on the night air, especially curry.  Wherever I went from Delhi to Agra to Jaipur I encountered strange, different, or intriguing experiences which kept baring out the slogan and I would find myself saying  ” This is truly incredible.”
  • Another slogan that came to life for me was “Pura Vida” from the beautiful Central America country of Costa Rica.  Translated “Pure Life” it has captured the heart of the nationals and has overflowed even to every visitor.  It is evident in the lush rain forest, abundant fresh fruit and vegetables, scenic greenery, flowing rivers, natural waterfall and wild life.  Everyone seems to have a vested interest in maintaining their healthy eco-friendly environment.  I was impressed to see the slogan at every turn and to hear it as a greeting on arrival and departure.

Barbados Logo

  • The Flying Fish is prominently portrayed in one of many logos for the beautiful island of Barbados.  The fish is known to jump out of the water, spread its wings and fly for a very short distance before diving back into the water.  It is truly a sight to behold when you see a school of flying fish in action.  It is a local delicacy and served as part of the national dish Cou-cou and Flying Fish.

If you plan to visit the World Travel Market in London on November 6 – 8,  you certainly will get to see many logos and slogans, as well as, meet country representatives and possibly receive giveaways that will bare their subtle messages of enticements. It is estimated that 51,000 travel professionals will attend this year to promote their country’s tourism vision.  Over 5000 exhibit booths will display and showcase all things travel related.  Other regions worth visiting for the three day event that brings together the travel industry and trade networks are: Africa, Arabia Travel Market, Asia, and Latin American.

Travel Blogging – A Dream Deferred


Freelance travel blogging for companies or just blogging about my personal travels is something I’ve always dreamed about. One day I went to my former manager for advice on becoming a blogger. I thought I had potential and maybe a little talent too 😀. So, I got my courage up and went to his office. I knew I was placing myself in a vulnerable position as I outlined my personal interests and reasons why I wanted to become a blogger.

My boss was an accomplished writer and communicator. His work was respected and his opinion valued. The meeting was scheduled on his calendar for more than a week. As the date drew nearer, my anticipation rose to levels of excitement that I could barely contain myself. I sooooooo looked forward to that meeting. I thought for sure I would get some rock solid guidance and a firm nod of approval. After all, we both worked in the communications field.

His secretary offered me a seat in his conference room. We exchanged pleasantries until I felt it was time to introduce the main reason for my being there, which in my opinion, was to seek his expert counsel. In retrospect, it took some courage for me to express to him my interest in pursuing a different type of communication.
Blogging 8
What if he didn’t think it was a good idea. What if he fired me on the spot. I had not considered these scenarios and I’m glad I didn’t. Ignorance is truly bliss. I had placed complete faith and trust that my manager would be encouraging, would catch my vision, would possibly be my mentor or recommend one, and would give a tip or two on how to get started as a blogger. Instead, what he said to me caused my excitement to sink like lead in a hot air balloon.

“Blogging has become nothing but a lot of noise, he said. It is hard to hear anything worthwhile with so much noise.” I’m sure much more reasons were given that I can’t recall now, but after those fateful words I began to have second thoughts. Usually, I am not easily dissuaded. However, I was thrown into a capability funk which I could not shake for a few months. I was completely disappointed to say the least. You see, in actuality, I was questioning my skills and talent as a writer and needed some validation. Bad mistake. Since he was a seasoned communicator, and I believed, a visionary, I did not anticipate such lousy advice coming from him.

Suffice it to say, I have gotten over that inept counsel and have since become a blogger, a travel blogger at that, and loving it. Yes, my dream was deferred because of second guessing myself after that meeting. I do not share his views on equating blogging to noise, but he is entitled to his opinion. My blog is a way for me to express myself, share my opinion, and offer my expertise as an itinerary planner. Therefore, just so you know, I’m going to be making a whole lot of noise using my blogger’s voice.

Here are a few lessons learned from this experience:
1). Be careful whom you share your dreams and aspirations with, they may turn out to be nothing but dream-dashers.
2). Believe in yourself and your God-given skills and talent
3). It is okay to defer your dream but never give it up
4). Pursue your dreams and ignore the naysayers
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I have many travel stories to tell so blogging is the perfect forum for me. This month I will begin a blog series where I will highlight a country I visited, back in the day, before all this technology was available to me. I may be dating myself here, but that’s alright. Thank you for reading my blog and listening to my brand of ‘noise.’