Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Airports (page 1 of 3)

Santa Rosa Airport Expands to Meet Crushing Demand

Unlike our local Arcata-Eureka Airport, passenger demand at Charles M. Schulz Airport has seen an huge increase over the past several years. Which has been met by a noticeable increase in both flights and airlines serving the small airport.

What hasn’t changed much is the size of the airport. And it needs to. Badly.

Expansion plans have to be altered

Currently, Santa Rosa/Sonoma County Airport is way too small for the number of passenger passing through on a daily basis. Contrary to the loss of service that has been experienced by many airports, Sonoma County has seen strong and steady growth. Numbers jumped this year as more airlines added service after the airport’s $55 million runway expansion project was completed. The airport is poised to see at least a 20% jump in passenger numbers in 2017.

This unprecedented increase has prompted changes to the plans that were initially proposed for the STS expansion. The plans had to be redrawn to deal with both the influx of new service and more passengers. A temporary tent structure will accommodate the crush of passengers until the terminal expansion is completed. Financing for the new expansion project was approved by the County supervisors in September.

STS is a great option for Humboldt travelers

Santa Rosa isn’t all that far away in the scheme of things. Given that the Willits bypass is now in place, you can typically make it nonstop from the Eel Valley to Sonoma County Airport in about 3.5 hours. Sure, it’s a lot longer than the 45 minute trek to ACV. But there are definitely benefits.

First, fares are *much* cheaper. If you’re a family of 4 looking to travel to D.C., you could save upwards of $300 per ticket versus flying out of ACV. Sure, you might save even more flying out of SFO, but you’d be adding another 90 minutes to your drive and more in parking fees. Not to mention generally more in hotel if you’re planning to stay the night.

Second, you have options. Charles M. Shulz Airport is served by Alaska, American, Sun Country, and United. It used to be served by Allegiant on a couple routes. Now that United flies the shortest flight in the U.S. to SFO, a huge United hub, Santa Rosa Airport really is a gateway to the world. You can connect to many destinations across the country and across the globe with only one stop.

Conclusion

I’ll definitely admit that I didn’t like my last experience flying out of STS, and things may be painful in the interim as the airport goes through it’s planned expansion. But looking ahead, I’d say that Sonoma County is an great option for people flying out of northern California.

Our First Time Flying with Kids

On Saturday my wife and I *finally* returned to the U.S. with our kids. The adoption trip was long, and we almost didn’t get to come home on the Southwest flights we booked. But in the end it all worked out exactly as we hoped.

The trip was our first time flying with kids. We’ve traveled plenty as a couple, and at this point the process is routine. But traveling with three children is an entirely different experience. We were a bit worried how our kids would react to their first time on a plane. Overall, our trip went quite well, something for which I am extremely grateful.

Much of our success is likely due to the fact that our children (thankfully) didn’t have any severe anxiety about flying and are well behaved on the whole. But part of our success can likely be attributed to some proactive measure we took. Here is the rundown on our first time flying with kids.

Combating kids’ fears of flying

Our kids were a bit nervous about their first flight, but they were also excited. I tried to play off the latter as much as possible. Over a few weeks before the trip, I took some time to show them some photos of us on previous flights, some YouTube videos of takeoff, and pictures of airports.

Even with those measures, they still expressed some doubts and fears. The question at the forefront of their minds was the safety of the experience. They seemed a bit incredulous when I explained to them that flying is safer than driving in a car. That age-old issue of perceived versus actual risk.

Since statistics are impossible for them to fully comprehend, I switched to relying on personal experience. I told them that I have flown a good amount (LOL – a mere 120,000 miles) and have never been on a flight that has had serious problems. My one diverted flight doesn’t really count since it was due to a medical emergency.

Checking all the baggage and navigating security

We arrived at SJO airport with our six checked bags, one carry on, and five personal items. This was waaaay more luggage than I’ve ever wanted. We brought FOUR checked bags to Costa Rica. Sadly, we had to buy one more to fit all our kids’ stuff. Adding in my mother-in-law’s bag finished the half dozen. I hope to never, ever travel with this much luggage again.

Fortunately, we were flying Southwest, so the ridiculous amount of luggage didn’t cost us anything. The kids were eager to roll around a bag, so that took one off our hands. The toddler worked against us, though, as he insisted on carrying the backpack we’d (over)packed for him, but needed mom to help hold it up with one hand.

The kids curiosity morphed into restlessness at the check-in counter since things took so long. One bag was 55 pounds, so we had to do the last-minute shuffle with the contents (I’m sure everyone else in line hated us). Since the three kids were pretty much only getting in the way, I finally had them go wait with grandma. This is when I reminded myself that I needed to talk them through everything.

Taking time to explain things

Kids definitely do best when you explain the plan to them ahead of time. It was amazing how much better things went once we got all of us into a routine during our stay in Costa Rica. Knowing what is coming next helps them immensely.

When we are about to do something new (such as flying), I try to explain the situation and experience as much as possible. I also try to brief them on potential problems we may encounter. This is a great thing to do for activities beyond flying, but it definitely helped us during our first time flying with kids.

As we navigated the airport and plane, I did my best to explain each part of the process to them. First, it was the security experience. Then waiting at the gate (or going on little walks in the terminal) before boarding. Finally, boarding the aircraft. Talking them through things really helped everything go smoothly and made our first time flying with kids much easier.

 

Boarding our first flight!

One of the benefits of flying Southwest is the family boarding process. Even though we were assigned boarding positions in the high Bs, we still took advantage of the Family Boarding offered between the A and B groups. Our kids were 3, 7 (barely), and 10, and going by the book, they should have only let one of us board with the youngest. However, the gate agent was very gracious, and we all boarded together.

The kids were super excited as we walked the jetway.

first time flying with kids

I was ecstatic that this was the dominant reaction instead of fear.

Since there were plenty of empty seats when we boarded, we were able to settle into a single row across the plane. Arranging seats as a group of six on a 737 is easy. I sat with the older two while mom and grandma managed the toddler.

first time flying with kids

The kids oohed and aahed a bit at the other planes, especially any they saw moving. San José airport isn’t all that busy (compared to say, SFO), so we only really got to see one other plane take off.

Taxi and takeoff

The kids’ excitement went up a few more notches the instant we started moving. They were both glued to the window. I was just as excited, but more so because taking off meant we were actually headed home.

Our three-year-old was hands-down the most excited. He didn’t take his eyes off the window. Every single plane he saw as we taxied was just as exciting as the previous one. He probably shouted “avión!” a dozen times.

No, he was not seated like this for takeoff

The looks on the kids’ faces was priceless when the plane started accelerating down the runway. Like with everything else, I tried to give the kids a little heads up that we were about to take off and what it would feel like. When the engines spooled up and we started hurtling down the runway, they were all smiles.

Once we were airborne, there was even more excitement as they pointed at the buildings below and at the hills of their beautiful country. With all the change that had happened to them in so short a time, I was thankful to see them smiling and laughing.

Soon we’d climbed into the clouds. With nothing left to view, the kids started digging through their bags for stuff with which to play.

What can you pack besides electronics?

This may be a hard road, but we’re trying to heavily limit our kids’ electronics intake in general. We had an iPad on hand with a couple movies loaded on it, but we hoped the kids could entertain themselves with other things for most of the flight.

My wife packed all three kids’ backpacks with various toys, drawing pads, and snacks. We made sure to hide them so that they would be a surprise for the trip. As we were leaving the hotel, we gave them the backpacks. Even then we made them wait to open them until we were seated at the gate.

The whole idea worked quite well. They *loved* discovering what we had packed for them, and their new toys kept them entertained for quite a while on our flight to Houston. I did break out the iPad for music.

A definite winner was the Boogie Board drawing pad (which I guess is technically electronic). The kids could draw as much as they liked, but without the hassle of pens or pencils and paper. It even allowed us to play several rounds of tic-tac-toe and other games.

In the air – our first time flying with kids

My biggest concern was our *very* active three-year-old who has trouble sitting still for anything. Two 4-hours flights might have been a very long day.

Things started out well.  The little man had two adults to help entertain him, and he had snacks to eat. I got my hopes up that it might be smooth sailing the whole trip.

Alas, this was too much to ask. About an hour into the flight we had our first round of tears. He was getting squirmy, and mom finally had to hold him for a bit. How upsetting that is. Luckily, he doesn’t usually throw a fit for more than minute or two, and soon he was back to playing with his stuffed dinosaur.

There were a couple more incidents of excessive squirming and a few more bouts of tears due to making him sit so long. Fortunately, his crying is subdued enough that I wasn’t worried about it bothering other people too much. It wasn’t an intentional choice, but we’d also managed to sandwich ourselves between two other families, one of which had a lap child. I’m sure they understood completely, if they even noticed.

When a patch of turbulence hit, I got a bit worried. I thought our kids might freak out. But they really didn’t react at all. Granted, it wasn’t all that strong, but I was thankful that this wasn’t an issue (NOTE: on our second flight, a patch of turbulence did end up making our ten-year-old scream). The more frequent comment we got was that it didn’t feel like we were moving at all.

The fact that Southwest also loaded us up with snacks every chance they could (I don’t remember this from previous experiences?) really made the kids’ day. Sure, we didn’t think that a diet of chips and coke is the best thing for them, but hey, we wanted them to enjoy the experience.

My daughter did remark that she enjoyed flying much more than driving (yay!). Why? Apparently, it was because I wasn’t telling them “I can’t talk right now” at all. San José traffic and Costa Rica’s mountain roads often required all my concentration, and this is my standard response when they barrage me with questions.

Teaching our kids basic flying etiquette

I couldn’t help myself on this one. As things seemed to be going smoothly enough (i.e. our first time flying with kids was in fun mode and not survival mode), I figured it would be good to start teaching the kids good flying etiquette.

We ran through the basic stuff first: getting out of the aisle, stowing under-seat luggage, not reclining the seat before takeoff. I also ran through seat items such as seatbelt use, air vents (I had to help them, obviously), and the reading light and flight attendant call buttons. I instructed them not to tough the latter.  The older two listened well and did just fine.

Later on, I tackled some other items, such as being gentle when opening and closing the tray table and not using the seats in front of you as a hand hold getting up or down. The latter is a major pet peeve of mine. It turned out that the kids never asked to recline the seat (nor did the people in front of us), so we didn’t have to deal with that at all.

They did well, and I’m sure they will get even better on subsequent fights. But on Day 1, I already feel like they are air travel all-stars.

Landing in Houston

The kids became excited as we started to descend. This quickly turned to a bit of anxiety for our eldest. She did *not* like the feeling of descending in the airplane.

We had a brief freak-out moment as the plane touched down, but this quickly turned to relief as we were now back on terra firma. I failed to explain that taxiing and waiting to deplane part, so we did endure some complaining about not getting off the airplane all that quickly.

We did end up with a dirty toddler diaper on the final part of the flight. I figured we could change this quickly before we got to customs. We had no such luck. As this was our kids’ formal entry into the U.S., the process took quite a while. Customs at Houston Hobby Airport is still worlds better than customs at George Bush Intercontinental. I’m thankful a 3-hour customs ordeal was *not* part of our first time flying with kids. We’ll have to save that for later (or get them all Global Entry).

The final part of our adventure included navigating security, chowing down some pizza, and then rushing to catch our connection to the Bay Area. Five hours later we touched down in California. I never thought I’d ever say I was happy to be back in Oakland.

Final thoughts

Overall, our first time flying with kids ended up going about as smoothly as I’d hoped. We prepped them pretty well, and it paid off. The older two thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I’m certainly not afraid to take our toddler on another flight, either.

Most of all I hope that this means they’ll all quickly become great little travelers!

Centurion Lounge SFO Review

Back in 2016 I was the lucky winner of a MommyPoints giveaway, scoring a Centurion Lounge Pass. I used it, in combination with a United voucher from a voluntary bump, for a super quick overnight flying-for-the-heck-of it trip. The easiest location to visit was hands-down the Centurion Lounge SFO.

Little did I know that I’d be back to visit this particular lounge several times over 2017.

Accessing the Centurion Lounge SFO

To visit any Centurion Lounge, you must be an American Express cardholder. However, with most Amex cards, you’ll have to purchase a day pass to access the lounge, to the tune of $50. Day pass access is also not guaranteed, as the lounge is capacity-controlled. Considering that the Centurion Lounge SFO is often packed, you may have difficulty going the day pass route.

The other way to access the Centurion Lounge network is being either a Platinum or Centurion cardholder. Since a Centurion card is out of the question for most people, the best way to access the lounge is via either a Business Platinum card or one of the many flavors of the Personal Platinum card.

As I have a business incorporating a couple side gigs, I decided to pull the trigger on a Business Platinum card when the sign-up bonus was increased to 100,000 Membership Rewards points (SEE: 6 Best Amex Transfer Partners). The card carries a hefty $450 annual fee (personal version costs $550). But, it’s a write-off.

Arriving at the Centurion Lounge SFO

The Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International Airport is located in Terminal 3 near gate 74 . Since Terminal 3 is connected to International Terminal G via a post-security walkway, you can access the lounge from either of these terminals.

If you’re not flying United or one of the StarAlliance partners that uses International Terminal G, accessing the Centurion Lounge SFO will be a bit more of a headache. You’ll have to pass through security (probably explaining to the TSA agent that you are visiting a lounge) into Terminal 3, but will have to exit and go through security again into terminals 1, 2, or International A.

You really can’t miss the entrance to the Centurion Lounge SFO. The front is all glass, and you’ll see the stairs and elevator heading up to the floor above. The lounge itself overlooks part of Terminal 3 below, but you really don’t get any views of either the terminal or the tarmac, unless you sit right up next to the window. My favorite lounge view so far was (amazingly) at the McCarran United Club.

Seating at the Centurion Lounge SFO

There is a great variety of seating at the Centurion Lounge SFO. The lounge is essentially divided into two parts. Near the bar and food area there are a number of tables where many people tend to eat. I avoid this side of the lounge since it tends to get crowded.

There is a middle area across from the front desk. I’ve never found it to be an appealing place to sit, either. I guess it would be if you’re highly interested in the news. The coffee station is also located here.

Personally, I much prefer the other side of the lounge with it’s variety of seating. There are a couple couches, some armchairs, and some different booth-style seats for 1 or two people. If you’re trying to be productive, I’d pick the large table with a number of outlets to keep your laptop and other devices charged.

Centurion Lounge SFO Review

Today we picked one of the small wall couches along the far side of the lounge.

Family area

The Centurion Lounge SFO does feature a kids play room. Unfortunately, American Express has totally socked it to families in terms of lounge access, so we probably won’t be enjoying the kids room with our family. It would cost another $175 per year. We likely won’t be passing through SFO again anyway on this trip, but it’s a bit of a bummer of the future. This change might also might result in me dropping the card next year.

Centurion Lounge SFO family room

The kids area features toys, a TV, and seating for parents. I’d say it hits capacity at only two parents with a couple kids each, so it’s not all that big. But then again, there typically aren’t that many families with young children passing through the lounge at the same time. I only saw two with young kids during our three hours there.

Food at the Centurion Lounge SFO

While I haven’t visited all that many domestic lounges, the food at the Centurion Lounge SFO is far better than any of the other lounges I’ve visited. All of the United Clubs I’ve visited have had meager food offerings. But free is free (when you’re using a complimentary one time pass), so I’m not really complaining.

The food at the Centurion Lounge SFO, however, is great. Dinner often consists of chicken, pork belly, rice, and some other great dishes. I’ve been through here 3 or 4 times in the evening, and the food has typically been the same offerings.

Breakfast is good as well. Unlike other lounges that only offer light options like fruit, yogurt, and pastries, the Centurion Lounge SFO actually has a full breakfast. Today the selections included breakfast sandwiches, frittata, eggs, as well as fruit and pastries. It was a good start to the day, especially after having hardly eaten since we woke up at 3:00 a.m.

Centurion Lounge SFO food

There is a full bar at the Centurion Lounge SFO, and from what I understand, it’s a rather good one. They have a selection of wine, and plenty of other options. I’ve never sampled any of it, so I can’t really report on this aspect. 😉

Crowding at the Centurion Lounge SFO

The lounge has been typically crowded most of the times I’ve been here. Occupancy is usually highest in the evening, while this morning was relatively quiet. The longer we’re here, however, the more people arrive. Now the place is hopping at almost 10:00 a.m.

The worst experience was a night when there were numerous delayed United flights. The Centurion Lounge SFO was completely packed, and it was extremely hard for me to find a single seat. I had to wander for a while before someone finally got up and left. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, I might keep a couple United Club passes on hand (if you have the Explorer card) to see if any of those are better.

Other amenities

Like most lounges there are boards showing flight departures and a couple TVs showing the news . It’s also nice to have very clean bathrooms rather than the high-traffic ones in the terminal.

The Centurion Lounge SFO also offers free WiFi, of course. I find it very handy that the password has not changed the entire time I’ve been visiting, making it easy to just remember the network on my phone and type it in each time. While SFO offers free WiFi in the terminals, the internet speed at the Centurion is far better.

Conclusion

The Centurion Lounge SFO is a nice oasis if you’re flying in or out of the Bay frequently. While some people might not be able to justify the $450 annual fee for a Business Platinum card, if you travel enough, the other perks of the card could make it worth obtaining.

SFO map image and Business Platinum card image courtesy of American Express. 

Getting the full pat down from the TSA at Arcata Airport

Thus far in my flying career, I’ve had very few notable incidents with the TSA. Sometimes the giant millimeter wave machine will erroneously say I have something in my back pocket or on my chest, and the Mr. TSA man will have to make sure I’m not carrying a hidden box cutter. Lately, security has actually been fairly painless when I’ve traveled.

But that all changed yesterday morning. I started things off with a full pat down from the TSA.

Of course my bag appears suspicious

I was headed off for a 5-night stint in Australia, eager to experience my first flights in a true international premium cabin. I had even managed to book seat 1A in the nose of a Boeing 747-400 (so geeky, I know). I was flying SFO to Seoul Incheon (ICN), and then ICN to Sydney, Australia (SYD). To start it all off, though, I had to make a quick connecting hop from our local Arcata-Eureka airport.

I arrived at Arcata-Eureka airport with about 50 minutes until our scheduled departure, and about 20 minutes until boarding. Security at the airport is a single line for the single departure gate, and is usually very quick and easy.

But not yesterday. I put all my stuff in the bins as usual, careful to leave my laptop in a bin by itself. The first TSA agent asked if I had any liquids, and I said yes, and that they were really tiny. She said that was fine and ushered me through.

I had no problems passing through the metal detector, but I knew something was up with my bag. The lady manning the x-ray machine stared at it for a long time. When it did come out, another agent promptly took it aside. Not good.

No, I don’t have explosives in my bag

After identifying it as mine, the TSA lady opened up my bag. My wife had packed me a substantial amount of homemade snack food, and she asked what a few items were. It was understandable, considering the homemade fruit roll ups do look a little suspicious.

She did an explosives swab of one of the bags, and I could tell it came back negative by the sound the machine made. After pulling out a second paper, she did a swab of the interior perimeter of the bag and inserted it into the machine.

Which set off a series of beeps a few seconds later that I had never heard before. Great. That can’t be good.

Another TSA agent came by, explains that my bag had tested positive for explosive residue, and informed me that he had to give me a pat down and that my entire bag would have to be searched.

At this point I was screaming inside my head, “Really, people?!?! This is the tiny Arcata Airport! Do I honestly look that suspicious to you?”

But instead I just said, “OK,” keeping my explosive reaction to myself. I wanted to say, “OK, whatever, this is why I can’t stand you guys,” but I kept my feelings to myself.

So I just stood there, holding my arms straight out to each side while TSA man gave me a full pat down while TSA lady searched my entire bag for the explosives that I supposedly had stashed in their somewhere. If there were any, I wasn’t aware of them. Maybe my wife makes explosives in her spare time and somehow forgot to inform me of her strange hobby.

The entire ordeal lasted about 12-15 minutes. A few people were staring at me, but by the time my full pat pat down from the TSA man was over, I didn’t care. I just wanted my bag back with enough time to pack it neatly before having to run onto the plane. It was almost boarding time. I hadn’t expected to burn this much time or have this much difficulty getting through security.

Fortunately, we were soon airborne, leaving my TSA troubles far behind.

Ok, I guess I should be thankful for the TSA

I do understand the need for airport and aircraft security. I really do. But the methods of the TSA often boggle my mind. And their statistics on what gets through them are less than stellar. Undoubtedly, they were just following protocol, but I didn’t have to like it. This is the first time I had ever set off the explosives scanner, and I hope I never do it again.

I have heard so many stories of people’s hands causing false positives for the explosives screening, especially if they have been on or near a farm. The whole thing is really a farce, anyway, since the TSA doesn’t even check everyone’s hands, just a random sample.

What about you? Do you have any crazy TSA stories?

The Tea Police: British Airways Apologizes For Its Lounge Hostess

Tea is as iconically British as it gets. But apparently a British Airways hostess at a BA London Heathrow lounge didn’t care for a guest making his just how he liked it, with two tea bags. The hostess approached the man, who was aware that she was watching him closely, and informed him that he could only use one tea bag at a time.

British Airways apologized last night for the actions of the hostess, emphasizing that there is no policy on tea bag usage.

I have to admit, this is one of the more petty things I have read in regard to lounge usage. I can understand limiting the free booze, but tea? Really?

With the way British Airways is trying to slash costs, maybe the hostess was just doing what she could. Every fifty cents counts, I guess.

Story originally reported in the Telegraph. Header image courtesy of Aeroprints

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