Sunday, October 7, 2018

Air Travel in the Modern Age

We have just completed the air portion of our trip home from the Philippines to the USA. We flew approx 13,200 miles, in 5 legs, stopping in 6 intermediate cities (Singapore, London, Southampton/Portsmouth (by car), Edinburgh, Reykjavik, and Annapolis). The total cost, per person, of our airfare was $1,140 USD, including tax, airport fee, and bag and seat selection costs.

Beginning our Journey in Davao

We are now pretty much halfway around the world from where we started, and do plan to continue flying west on our return trip to the Philippines. So this year's home trip will end up being "Around the World in 80 Days".

In London, the Cutty Sark Museum

For this part of the trip, we picked mostly budget airlines: Silk (Singapore Air budget subsidiary), Norwegian UK, easyJet, Wow, and Southwest. It was quite an effort booking the flights (all online) and trying to maximize comfort while minimizing expense. And getting the airports sorted out, as there are about 4 airports around London, 2 in Scotland, and 3 around Washington DC. Most budget airlines do not fly in and out of "primary" airports, due to the cost.

Flight Costs, one way, per person including seat selection and 1 checked bag and 1 carry-on:

Davao-Singapore - Silk Air - $154 USD
Singapore-London - Norwegian UK - $235 USD
London-Edinburgh - easyJet - $239 USD
Edinburgh-Baltimore - Wow - $410 USD
Washington DC-Atlanta - Southwest - $100

As our trip is for 2 months and several different climates, plus we had a few boat parts to bring home, we chose to travel with one checked bag each, and one smaller "rollie" bag as a carry-on. The budget airlines all have different rules about what is included or excluded in the price of that amazingly-priced ticket, so you have to research the policies on EACH AIRLINE carefully to make sure you don't get any surprises on check-in.

Outside London, we visited Stonehenge

For example, if you pre-book "checked luggage", it may cost only $25 per bag. But wait until you check in at the counter at the airport, and that SAME bag will cost you $75. And usually the second checked bag costs more. And on some airlines (Wow, for example), if you don't also book and pay for a carry-on, they will force you to check the carry-on, at a substantial cost.

An Airport Transit in Iceland

The worst airline, in my opinion, was WOW, based in Iceland. We flew Wow from Edinburgh, Scotland, via Reykjavik, Iceland, to Baltimore Washington in the USA. The price of the ticket shown online included a seat (you can't pick the seat, however), and a "personal item" (small backpack, purse, briefcase), and nothing else. The service on the plane was ALL "pay for", even water (and we forgot to refill our water bottle before we boarded the plane). We pre-paid for a $15 sandwich on each leg, and they wouldn't even serve us a free cup of water to go with it (but you could buy a $3 bottle of water if you wanted). I was really surprised that there wasn't a coin slot on the toilet! The base cost of the flight is very very cheap, but beware the cost of add-ons, most of which you don't find out about until you are most of the way through the booking process AND reading the fine print.

We did, for most bookings, have to pay for our 1 checked bag, and on some airlines, for our small carry-on (specifically size and weight limited on most legs). Most of the budget airlines also make you pay if you want to select a seat. And the price of the seat selection varies by how comfy it was expected to be. Since Dave has such long legs, I usually chose to book a slightly upgraded seat (exit row, or similar). But on short legs, I just booked aisles across. One airline, Norwegian, which I booked through Expedia, I didn't make a seat selection at booking, and I could never figure out how to make a seat selection afterward, even after I created an account on their system. And even if I was willing to pay for it. However, the seats assigned by the system were fine, and that flight actually turned out to be a nice one (new airplane with built-in free entertainment, as long as you brought your own headphones).

One airline I would stay away from, even though they had an amazingly cheap flight for London to Dulles (Washington, DC) is Primera Air. We booked what we thought was a great flight from London Gatwick to Dulles, and then made all our arrangements for places to stay, rental cars, etc around that booking. A week later, Primera emailed me and said that that flight was cancelled, and I could either get a refund, or rebook on the next available flight (2 days later). So then I had to scramble to find an alternate budget booking to/from the same airports.

We ended up opting instead to take a short side trip to Scotland on easyJet, and flying from Scotland on Wow into a different airport in DC. Fortunately I was able to change my (pre-paid, budget) car rental reservation to fly into BWI without additional cost, but I had to pay an additional $90 one-way fee to pick up our rental at BWI and drop it off at Dulles (Alamo via Subsequently, on a travel Facebook group, several other people mentioned getting cancelled by Primera. I suspect this airline is running on very thin margins, and if they have problems with only one airplane, they have to cancel a bunch of flights.

At least they warned us ahead of time, rather than cancelling at the last minute, as they did to others about 6 months ago!! Note, I was trying to pull the logo off the Primera Air website, but it won't come up! Maybe we are lucky we got cancelled in advance as the airline may have tanked in the last few weeks.

The booking site I used for airfare mostly was I hear good things about Scott's Cheap Flights, but that's a whole nother way to book budget travel, so I haven't used SCF myself. We also got some amazing car rental deals on, almost to the too-good-to-be-true stage. (Late Nov 2018 note: Alamo refused my pre-paid rental through on 11/27 at LAX because of the fact that I am a US citizen with a US driver's license, but I got a full refund from and a good deal on a rental at the desk at Alamo.)

My still-most-favorite American airline is Southwest. Budget prices, no charge for checked bags or carry-ons, a cheap way to get a good seat (Early Check-in), very friendly crew, and free bring-your-own-device TV on some flights. I ALWAYS check for US flights on Southwest before I check anywhere else.

Our flight home from Tampa to Davao is already booked. Southwest to San Diego to visit family, then LAX to Davao on Philippine Airlines. We have flown Philippine Airlines before and know them to be a good long haul carrier, with 2 bags and seat selection included in the price. The one-way cost per person is right around $1,000 USD for the total trip. It is $100 higher than normal because our flight from Tampa to Davao is right after Thanksgiving. We're set to get back to Davao on Dec 1, so we get going on next year's adventure to Papua New Guinea, on the favorable winter winds.