The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Quiet week?

Not so much:

The joys of air travel in winter

It's just dawn in London, about five hours before my flight takes off, and this is the headline on the WGN Weather Blog:

Entire Chicago metropolitan area upgraded to winter storm warning

The entire Chicago metropolitan area is being placed under a winter storm warning effective from this evening through noon on Wednesday. Previous the winter storm warning had been in effect only for counties close to Lake Michigan where lake-enhanced snowfall was expected to boost snowfall total and surrounding areas were under a winter weather advisory. The warning area was expanded because strong winds are expected to develop gusting to 35-40 mph. The high winds will cause much blowing and drifting of the newly fallen snow creating very hazardous conditions that could result in near blizzard conditions in open areas.

Any bookmakers out there want to give me the odds of getting to Chicago tonight? I'm guessing I'll wind up in Raleigh, actually.

Halfway home

I've stopped briefly in London to take two days with no responsibility whatsoever. Along the way I got a brief glimpse of Kyiv, but tantalizingly the cloud cover started right over the city. (For the half-hour we flew over Eastern Ukraine the weather was perfectly clear.)

No, really, that's Kyiv:

I'm not entirely sure I'll get back to Chicago tomorrow, though. They're expecting a snowstorm:

The snow may cover the area over a 24-hour period beginning late Monday, according to the National Weather Service Web site. Much of the area is expected to get a total of 8 to 10 inches of snow, with higher amounts possible near Lake Michigan in Illinois and across Northwest Indiana where lake enhanced and significant lake effect snow might occur.

Now out to breakfast in London.

Delhi residency, day 4

A group of us went on a tour of Indira Gandhi International Airport today, including the unfinished Terminal 3 building. Sadly, the art and description will have to wait for a bit. My work has piled up (as happens mid-residency) and I have two items due tonight.

One thought, though: if the sun hasn't peeked through the clouds all day in Punxsutawney, how is it possible Phil saw his shadow? I think they're putting words in the groundhog's mouth over there.

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.

Ach, noo to the wee beastie!

The United States will shortly lift its 21-year ban on Scotland's national fruit, the haggis:

The "great chieftan o' the puddin-race" was one of earliest casualties of the BSE crisis of the 1980s-90s, banned on health grounds by the US authorities in 1989 because they feared its main ingredient ‑ minced sheep offal ‑ could prove lethal.

Some refined foodies might insist it always has been and always will be: in the words of Robert Burns, in his Ode to a Haggis, looking "down wi' sneering, scornfu' view on sic a dinner". But now, as millions of Scots around the world prepare to celebrate Burns's legacy tonight with an elaborate, whisky-fuelled pageant to a boiled bag of sheep innards, oatmeal, suet and pepper, its reputation has been restored, on health grounds at least.

... Nearly £9m worth were sold in the UK alone last year, the 250th anniversary of Burns' birth, up by 19% on 2008. Richard Lochhead, the Scottish environment secretary, was delighted. "I am greatly encouraged to hear that the US authorities are planning a review of the unfair ban on haggis imports," he said. "We believe that reversing the ban would deliver a vote of confidence in Scottish producers, and allow American consumers to sample our world-renowned national dish."

In other news, the Boeing 747 turns 40 this week, and the Economist has a link to its original story from 1970:

Apart from the very first flight of all, for which around 2,000 people applied for seats, and which would have taken off with a full load of 362 seats (the replacement aircraft that eventually took off to cheers some time after 2 a.m. the following morning was still as full as makes no difference), bookings for 747 flights have been relatively slow coming in. The well-publicised troubles with deliveries, air-worthiness certificates and, most recently, engines, may have something to do with it, but so also has a certain timidity about embarking in a vehicle that most resembles a small flying cinema.

Like cinemas, some seats are better than others. First class apart, with its lounges and spiral staircases, the premium seats are probably the block that runs two abreast down one side of the aircraft, but not those too near the tail, which has a tendency to swish about, nor the extreme front nor behind the engines, where the noise level is above average. Least attractive are the three abreast seats along the opposite wall. The large block of four seats in the centre, with an aisle on either side, turns out to be more comfortable and less cramped than it looks; big men packed four abreast passed an uncomplaining night mainly because the seats themselves are larger than average.

I sincerely hope the 747 I'm flying on tomorrow morning is somewhat newer.

United, others roll back fare hikes

After American Airlines raised fares last week, all the other majors followed—for about three days. Delta bolted first, and yesterday United and American caved:

The increase, which was from $6 to $16 round-trip, was initiated last week by AMR Corp's American Airlines and later matched by rivals, including Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines, said Farecompare Chief Executive Rick Seaney.

The airline industry has been groping for pricing power after demand for business travel sagged during the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009.

Seaney said Delta was the first to retreat from the hike, followed by American, Continental and UAL Corp.s United Airlines.

The price rise evidently reduced the number of seats bought past the point where it made sense. That's great for travelers in the short term, but in the long term, all the majors have serious financial problems. Low prices don't help much.

Still, American went ahead and released its weekly Net Sa'aver fares, including $259 Chicago to London, $323 to Brussels, and only $70 to Toronto (each way).

The Toronto route is on sale most likely because people (a) may not want a long weekend on the north shore of Lake Ontario in the middle of winter; and (b) the airline, at the TSA's insistence, has added severe restrictions on carry-on luggage to and from Canada. And that $70 fare? A round-trip with taxes is actually $205, which isn't bad, but it's not exactly a give-away.

Unusually nerve-wracking travel

I travel a lot, both in the U.S. and overseas. Last year I flew about 93,000 km, including three trips to the U.K., one to Ukraine, one to Dubai, and another dozen in the U.S. So I'm pretty sanguine about travel in general, and thanks to the American A'Advantage program, I get a few perks along the way that make it even easier.

Tomorrow, though, I'm going to India for the first time. This has given me a kind of pre-travel jitters I don't ordinarily experience.

First, most obviously, it's the farthest I've ever gone—12,000 km over the pole or 13,000 km through London—requiring 18 hours on airplanes and 5 at Heathrow.

Second, I've never traveled anywhere requiring vaccinations and doxycycline, where an errant mosquito can put you in the hospital for a month.

Third, I've never had to get a visa before arriving. Really, we Americans take that for granted, as we can travel visa-free to about 180 countries. India, it turns out, is one of the few that requires us to get one ahead of time. So do China and Russia, where I'm going in April and July, respectively. (Good thing I got a fat passport last time.)

I did learn an important lesson traveling for the first two terms, so I'll have probably 10 kg less luggage this trip. (I did not learn the lesson about having a long layover at Heathrow between long flights, though. I blame British Airways for that.)

So, I've got my passport, my visa, some cash, the afore-mentioned anti-malarials, a feathery 4 kg of books, one suit, a few changes of clothes, and a fully-loaded Kindle (including one of my course books). Now all I have to do is finish everything I have due this week within the next 22 hours and I'm good to go. Oh, and sleep. Some time between now and Saturday, I should do that too.

I hope.