The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Back in the land of my forebears

Actually, that's not true. I don't even have one bear. *rimshot*

I've arrived at Heathrow, taking advantage of another benefit from using frequent-flyer miles: the arrivals lounge. Shower, breakfast, tea, checking email. Also my second experience in two days of a government adequately staffing their immigration and customs checkpoints to get us through in just a few minutes. Thank you Canada, thank you UK.

All right: now to London.

The most disgusting thing in London

I can scarcely imagine how much a team of Thames Water maintenance workers enjoyed removing this:

Last week, officials at Thames Water removed a 15-tonne lump of lard from a trunk line sewer beneath the London suburb of Kingston. It was the fattest fatberg ever recovered from the London sewers, and by extension, probably the largest subterranean grease clump in U.K. history.

"A fatberg," says Simon Evans, media relations manager at Thames Water, "is a vile, festering, steaming collection of fat and wet wipes." Fatberg creation is a vicious cycle, according to Evans, who coined the term. "Fat clings to wipes, wipes cling to the fat," he explains. "They are the catalysts in this horrible fatberg game."

And—you know you want to watch this—Thames Water released video of the thing:

So remember, folks, don't flush your bacon grease or your wet-wipes. Or condoms, but that's another story entirely.

Also, this is probably the first literal use of the "Kitchen Sink" category in Daily Parker history.

Two "oh, dear" aviation stories just now

First, a Boeing 787 caught fire at Heathrow this afternoon; fortunately, no one was aboard:

Video footage showed the plane surrounded by foam used to quell the flames. The airport said in a statement that it was an on-board internal fire, but didn’t offer more details. It said the plane was empty, parked in a remote area and there were no reported injuries. All flights in and out were temporarily suspended Friday afternoon -- a standard procedure if fire crews are called out.

Ethiopian Airlines said smoke was detected coming from the aircraft after it had been parked at Heathrow for more than eight hours.

You can bet that Chicago-based Boeing will watch this story very, very carefully. Their shares dropped 7% on the news, for one thing.

In other unfortunate aviation news, the San Francisco Police have confirmed that one of the two victims of the Asiana 214 crash got run over by a fire truck, but they don't know yet whether she was alive when this happened:

Medical examiners will not release autopsy results for “at least two or three weeks,” San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault told NBC Bay Area on Sunday. Coroner’s officials are working to determine how 16-year-old Ye Mengtuan died.

Police officials confirmed that the girl was hit by the truck in the chaos that followed the deadly crash, which also killed her classmate and travel companion, identified by the airline as 16-year-old Wang Linjia.

The girl was blanketed in white foam emergency crews sprayed to douse the flames billowing out of the Boeing 777, police said. She was discovered in the tire track of the fire truck, police spokesman Albie Esparza told NBC News.

Not a good week for aviation.

Opaque airfares

Last night I poked around aa.com, musing about taking a pair of trips this fall. Two, because during the fall and early winter, airfares and hotels are cheaper than the rest of the year, at least in the places I like to go.

My original thought was to buy a trip to London and use miles for a second trip somewhere else, on the theory that with 8 daily non-stops between Chicago and London, fares would be lower than to somewhere that has only one daily flight. No, not so much.

For travel the weekend of 10-15 October, here are the best airfares I found on oneworld carriers:

Dublin5,910 km$776
London6,360 km$1,144
Honolulu6,826 km$808
Berlin7,099 km$889
Tokyo10,094 km$1,159
Hong Kong12,538 km$1,200

All of the options save London have one daily non-stop from Chicago. As you can see, they're in order by distance, and also as you can see, there seems to be no connection between the distance (a proxy for the cost to the airline) and the airfare.

To add more confusion, all of those destinations cost 30,000 frequent-flyer miles (except for Honolulu, at 22,500, and Hong Kong, at 35,000) each way in coach or 50,000 each way in business. I say "confusion" because now I'm trying to balance two competing miles forces and coming up with a deranged result.

The pressures are these: earn the most flight miles per dollar—flight miles are super valuable compared with other kinds—and spend the fewest flight miles per trip. As you can see from the data, it actually works out better if I use miles on the shorter trip (to London or Berlin) and buy my ticket for the longer trip (to Asia).

Just a little more figuring, including the cost of upgrading to business class on overnight segments and each city's hotel costs, and holding the dates constant, puts 10 possible trips in this order:

Quito, Ecuador; Honolulu; Hong Kong; Dublin; London; Madrid; Manchester, U.K.; Dusseldorf; Tokyo; Berlin; Paris; Santiago, Chile

How did that happen?

Quito is cheapest because without overnight flights, I won't upgrade from coach. And their hotels are really cheap.

Santiago comes out most expensive because both directions have overnight flights.

Hong Kong comes in so inexpensive because I can't use miles to upgrade on any airline other than American, British Airways, or Iberia. The Chicago-Hong Kong flight is Cathay Pacific. I will fly that route someday—but not all the way in coach. Fourteen hours on a plane is fine; but not overnight in coach.

Dublin looks like a back door into London, since flights from Dublin to London are around $150 round-trip; but London works out to be cheaper because AA runs a morning flight from Chicago. No upgrade needed.

I have to conclude the following: because of the insane airfares to Europe and the equally insane airfares to Tokyo, caused by the weak yen and European departure taxes, the cost-per-mile to Tokyo is about half the cost-per-mile to London. Ergo, buy the Tokyo ticket and get the London one for free.

Will I actually take these trips? I can't say. I hope so though.

Tottenham Court WTF?

While looking up a map of the Tottenham Court Road area of London just now, I saw...something:

Do you see it, just north of the British Museum in the northern corner of Russell Square? Look closely, or click for a full-size capture:

Looks like an A320, doesn't it? Can't tell whose. I just hope that it's as high up as I think it is.

London completes the circle

This morning, Transport for London opened a new branch of the London Overground, creating a circular line connecting many of London's less-affluent neighborhoods in a giant circle:

Until recently, substantial parts of London (notably the South and East) had limited subway access, relying instead on poorly integrated, less reliable commuter rail lines run by national train companies. Some of these worked okay and some were terrible – the notoriously unreliable one near where I grew up used to be called the Cinderella Line, presumably because while you were waiting eternally for some grand carriage to arrive, all you saw on the line were mice.

The Overground has taken these old lines and knitted them together with newly constructed underground trackways and new stations (mainly in the under-served South and East). A number of these stations also have subway connections, so this once separate network is now a fully integrated extension to the subway rather than a shoddy, second-tier alternative.

The Overground’s rolling stock is also a huge improvement. While London’s subway trains are constrained by narrow tunnels, the Overground’s single carriage trains are wider and higher, with space for bikes outside rush hour and air conditioning.

(The new London Overground, as of today.)

Delhi residency, day -2

Apparently it gets foggy in Delhi. My four-hour connection at Heathrow unexpectedly turned into a 13-hour connection, so I took my sleep-deprived self out of the airport for a while. Yep, definitely not Delhi:

And when in London, why not have a traditional breakfast?

It was as good as it looked.

Only one problem: my coat was in my checked bag, somewhere in the bowels of the airport. No problem: I now own a passably warm Reebok starter jacket, bought on sale for £22.

It's 3pm now, and my flight is rumored to start boarding at 7 for an 8pm takeoff. That puts me in Delhi by 9:30am local time. I hope to regain consciousness before classes start Saturday morning.

Update: It turns out, some of my classmates got diverted to Mumbai and had to spend almost 24 hours there. More details later.