Category Archives: Travel

Review: Gate8 Trifold Cabin Bag – Part 2

For a long time I’ve struggled to look past the SwissGear and the Wenger kit for my choice of bag. From laptop bags to backpacks and on to rollaboards I’ve found them to be robust, well build and very capable of fulfilling my needs – except for one – carrying suits. Discussing (debating really) with John one evening he suggested I try the Gate8 Trifold Cabin Bag to see if it would work for my needs.

Once I got it I could see immediately that the key plus with this bag is its ability to fit my clothes for an entire week including spare suits and all while fitting in main cabin storage on every domestic flight. I travel to a number of remote regional airports and frequently find myself on puddle jumpers where anything bigger than a back-pack ends up valet checked at the gate (adding 10-15 mins to your wait at the destination gate).

Gate8 Fits easily on all planes

Gate8 Fits easily on all planes

The Gate8 Trifold is perfect for these scenarios and I’ve not had a single gate-check since I started using it.

Packing the Gate8 Trifold Cabin Bag

Packing this thing wasn’t easy the first few times and perhaps I was missing some key instruction cards that John forgot to pass on but in the end I figured it out and wow was I impressed. Take next week as an example, I’ll fit 3 x suits, 5 shirts, spare shoes and various other small bits into the bag which kit me out perfectly for a week at TechEd 2016. All told I can fit all the clothes I would need for 5 days at a customer site with very little problem. It takes a few tries to get used to but now that I have my system worked out I am incredibly comfortable packing for a week including spare suits, evening-ware and of course gym kit.

The Laptop Case

The Gate8 Trifold gets two negative marks from me, some issues around the handles as you’ll see later and the laptop bag. The accompanying laptop bag is a big let down in a lot of ways. Firstly it is designed to zip onto the front of the bag to create one unit. Since I got the bag I have NEVER used this feature for a number of reasons:

  • I normally use my laptop and charger etc. in-flight so having it attached to the bag in the overhead bin is not necessary. I prefer to place it at my feet as it takes up little/no space and can be placed upright between the floor and seat leaving ample legroom.
  • When full with a spare suit, shirts, spare shoes etc. the main bag becomes a bit bulky with the front becoming slightly bow shaped so that getting the laptop bag onto the main bag is nearly impossible to do easily. I prefer to carry the laptop bag on top of the main bag latched onto the telescopic handle.

Secondly I have found the laptop bag to be a disappointment for me in general. Don’t get me wrong, it works and I have been using it but you could change a little to make it a LOT better. Take for example the front area for smaller items. What I look for in a bag is smaller individual compartments to hold items such as:

  • Passport
  • Business Cards
  • Headphones
  • USB storage keys

I’m probably a bit picky on this but if a laptop bag is going to carry my day’s worth of kit (laptop, charger, notebook and other smaller bits) I need it to have a bit more structure and have something similar to the Wenger laptop briefcases. The search for a combined laptop bag and main tri-fold has very clearly led to trade-offs in the laptop bag and creating an underwhelming experience.

Build Quality

For the most part I can’t fault the build quality of the Gate8 TriFold with a single exception. Unfortunately the leather-like handles of both the bag itself and the accompanying laptop bag began to flake and fall apart after using the bag for just 5 weeks straight and now, almost 3 months later, there is no coating left on the handles.

Handle Issue with Gate8

This isn’t the end of the world as the bag itself is so good in other ways however its very annoying to be carrying the bag and then look down to find pieces of the handle covering your hands – not good and easily fixed I would think. Otherwise it is well build and I haven’t seen any other problems.

Accessories

As John mentioned in his post, the bag comes with a number of accessories such as the 3-1-1 bag which is excellent as well as triangle zip holders which fit excellently into the main area of the bag for carrying socks and other things. I haven’t got the shirt holder yet but I’m certain an investment in that area will be happening in the future.

Conclusion

In all honesty, the only thing I can say about the main bag is that I love it – I only have the two negatives I mentioned above as my bug-bears. For the laptop bag I can see myself replacing it with another of my laptop bags in the near future. I’ve forced myself to use the one that came with it until now but realistically it’s just not for me. On the handle front, I’ll have to look at my options to get those replaced if I’m going to continue to use the bag.

The Gate8 Trifold is perhaps the best bag I’ve used to date when it comes to traveling for work for 3-5 days. Its size, functionality and overall design make it my go-to bag for weekly travel and I can’t see that changing. A big thumbs up to the guys at Gate8 for creating this well thought out bag.

My parting suggestion for the future though – don’t try to be all things to all people. I would give up the laptop bag aspect of the design and concentrate on it being an awesome consultants dream-bag for living away from home for 3-5 days a week.

Review: Gate8 Trifold Cabin Bag – Part 1

Everyone has to have a hobby, and one of mine is bags: I’ve got a cupboard-full of different bags for different travel occasions. So when the Chief Bag Carrier from GATE8, Alaister, got in touch and offered me up a bag in exchange for a review, I happily accepted.

Yes – for full disclosure, this bag was provided free of charge, and GATE8 didn’t pay me anything for my review, or indeed ask for editorial rights.

I’ve immediately got a soft spot for GATE8, because they are a small UK-based company, and their story on their website reads “Gate8 began when a British IT consultant got tired of wasting time in airport queues and spending money on excess baggage fees on business trips”. By the way, they seem to interchangeably use GATE8 and Gate8. They do have a distribution center in the USA, and they offer free 5-day Group Shipping.

Shipping and Unpacking

The bag got a tracking number and arrived 24h later from their distribution center in New Jersey. It was very well packed in a cardboard box, and I’m not much of an amateur photographer so here’s a photo of what it looks like from their website:

Gate8 Trifol

The thing you don’t get from the photos on the website: this is a big bag! You can easily pack a week’s worth of clothes in the bag, including an extra suit and dress shoes.

If you want lots of photos, and a great detailed review, head over to arjunrc’s review on FlyerTalk. It’s a great read.

Use Case

The use case for the Gate8 TriFold is quite straightforward: you travel for business, want/need to carry a suit or jacket, don’t much like a separate laptop bag (maybe you’re worried about losing it), and hate to check luggage.

What sets this bag aside is that it will fit in ANY plane. Not just the regular Boeing 737s and Airbus A321s, but all the less pleasant options. Even the hated Canadair CRJ-200, which we affectionately call Flying Sewage Barges or FSBs. You might need to unzip the laptop bag when you get in, if you overpacked the TriFold, but it will fit in.

What’s more, if you’re traveling in Europe/Asia, this bag not only fits the hand luggage requirements on size, but since the laptop bag is zipped on, fits the requirements of only having a single bag. Then you can get to your hotel, hang your suit, unzip the bag and go to your meetings.

This bag serves a very specific use case, and if you fit this, you will probably love it.

Build Quality

This is really only something you can figure as a factor of time, but the build looks pretty good. This is the second generation bag, and they have clearly taken into account the feedback from the first generation. The nylon is good quality and looks durable, and the telescopic pole looks nice and solid. I’m sure this bag will last well, and Gate8 are well known for having great customer service if you have any issues.

The laptop bag is pretty big, taking a 17″ laptop and swallowing my 15″ MacBook Pro whole. It’s a bigger bag than I’d choose, but then it spends much of its time zipped on, which is very convenient.

Accessories

This bag comes fully loaded, which is pretty convenient. It comes with a suit carrier including a hanging system which means you can pull the suit out, and hang it immediately. It’s not as elegant as Lat56’s Suit Protection System, but it’s nice enough.

It also includes some little bags, including a neat clear 3-1-1 bag that you can use for your toiletries. Since it comes with a laptop bag, this is really a neat bag for all your flying needs.

In use

On a Sunday night, I typically look at the week ahead, and decide what bag I’m going to carry. If I’m spending 3 days at one customer, I will need 2 suits and 3 shirts, whilst if I’m going to California, I might just need a spare pair of jeans and a few T-shirts. Different trips require different luggage.

That’s where I found out that the Gate8 TriFold isn’t for me. I tried packing it a few times on a Sunday, and I found it was just too much bag for my needs. Many of my trips are 1-2 nights, and this is a 3-4 night trip bag. I’ve had the bag for 4 weeks and haven’t found the right trip for it yet.

I’d strongly encourage you don’t take this as indicative, because I’m a super-light packer who takes the bare minimum and who is most often only away for 2 nights at a time.

Consultants

I work for a global consultancy, and I have a lot of consultants who travel with 22″ carry-ons and a big laptop bag. Quite often, I tease them as I slide through the airport with my much lighter luggage. They tease me for my bag habit. That’s just how it goes.

Truth be told, a full-size 22″ carry-on is too much luggage. I can pack for 2 weeks in my Tumi International Carry-On. I actually usually check it, since I’m traveling with family when I’m going for that long. Yet many consultants and road warriors continue to fill up planes with oversized carry-ons.

And so I spoke to one of my consulting leads, Brenton, last week when he was in Philly. We were out to dinner, and I said hey Brenton I’ve got a gift for you, the gift of a new bag. I’m not sure he was thrilled that he was now carrying a full-size carry-on, a laptop bag AND the Gate8 TriFold back to Boston at 6am the next morning, but I’m sure he’ll survive.

Gate8 Trifold

So this is where this review ends… for now. The Trifold has left my care and Brenton will be seeing how it suits his needs (no pun intended). I’m pretty certain he’s going to love it, because he predominately travels to a single customer for 3-4 nights, and this is the perfect bag for this use case.

One thing we both struggled with was how to fit both a spare pair of dress shoes, and gym shoes. If you’ve done this in the Trifold, do share how it’s possible!

In short, the Trifold isn’t the right bag for an ultra-light traveler, but if you leave home every Monday morning and land home on a Thursday night, and need an extra suit, jacket and laptop, I’m pretty certain you’ll find this bag is perfect for you. Just imagine if everyone did this, how much space there would be left in the planes, and how much faster we’d board!

Let’s give Brenton a few weeks… he has his own blog, but I’m planning to convince him to write a guest post here… Part 2.

Happy Traveling!

Gifts for Business Travelers in 2015

Last year, I wrote a post Ten Best Gifts for Business Travelers 2014, and it seemed appropriate to follow up this year with some of the things I’ve seen or purchased to make travel a little easier. So here are my recommendations for gifts for business travelers in 2015

If you have a loved one that you don’t see often enough, feel free to put one of these in their stocking this year!

iPhone 6S Plus

The Apple iPhone 6S Plus is the true business traveler’s companion. It has an all-day battery, is quick as anything, has a great big screen, which means I’ve re-gifted my iPad Mini, and takes AMAZING photos. To add to this, the iPhone 6S Plus is reportedly ruggedized, and can take some beating!

No longer is there a need for an external battery pack, I get a full day of charge with no stress. Plus, Apple have the iPhone upgrade program which gets you AppleCare, and a new phone once a year. It’s awesome.

Bedtime Bliss Sleep Mask

Thanks to Lloyd for this tip, the Bedtime Bliss Sleep Mask is a great $12 gift. It’s the best night’s sleep you will get on a plane and I carry it even for small trips, as it’s great in hotels that don’t have good black-out blinds.

The key with this mask is it’s contoured so it doesn’t touch or bother your eyes, plus it folds up into a tiny package. It comes with some earplugs, but I prefer noise-cancelling headphones personally.

Bose QuietComfort 20i

The Bose QuietComfort 20i headphones are great in-ear headphones for travel. I have the QuietComfort 25, but they turn out to be quite bulky to travel with. In retrospect I wish I had bought the QC20i, which are much smaller.

That said, I’m hoping Bose shortly comes out with a new, improved version of the aging QC20i, which might support Bluetooth? That would be awesome.

Lat56 Red-Eye Garment Bag

I bought the Lat56 Red-Eye a few months back and whilst I don’t carry it every week, it’s awesome when I need it. It measures a diminutive 22″x10″x10″ and I can carry a spare suit, 2 shirts, jeans, 2 t-shirts, spare shoes, gym kit and underwear and come in under 10lb total.

Everyone asks what it is, and I get comments between gun cases and musical instruments, which is a great talking point. This isn’t a bag for everyone, but it has a specific used case – which is the amazing roll-up suit carrier that sits inside it, and allows a suit to come out unwrinkled. Perfect for 3-4 day trips.

Calvin Klein Air FX underwear

Last year I also recommended Calvin Klein underwear, but they have come out with a new Air FX line this year which is an air mesh, and dries faster. This is awesome. They wash and dry quickly in a sink, and pack away tiny.

CK also have a line of other things in underwear, including T-Shirts.

Perry Ellis socks

I don’t rate the CK socks as high, and the Perry Ellis ones from Macy’s are my pick for travel. They wash and dry easily and you can use a hairdryer to dry them if you’re in a rush (put the clean wet sock over the hairdryer and turn on COLD). Don’t ever use the heat, I melted one sock this way…

Adidas Adizero Boston Boost

You may wonder how I pack gym gear into such a small bag, and these Adidas sneakers are part of the reason. They weigh a mere 8.4oz each, and pack down into almost nothing. Despite this, I can run a good distance because of the amazing cushioning that Adidas have.

Note that the Boston is a neutral shoe and your running style may require something different. Please get advice and gait analysis from your local running store before buying sneakers!

Pocket Monkey

This awesome little friend packs a bunch of things into the size of a credit card. I leave it in my laptop bag (or did, until someone stole it!) and it’s super-handy for tightening glasses, opening a bottle, or fixing/cutting stuff.

It’s TSA-compliant so no worries about getting extra searches during your travel!

Travel-size containers

One thing you will realize when traveling is that you don’t need full-size containers. I can travel for 2 weeks just with a 1 quart 3-1-1 bag from Tom Bihn. But don’t waste your money on travel-size cosmetics.

Instead, buy small containers like these for hand creams, hair gels and pills and spray containers like these for deodorant and starch. Buy them in bulk because they break periodically and need replacing.

iClever USB Wall Charger

Hotels never have enough power connectors, and the iClever USB Wall Charger gives a full 2×2.4A charge to two phones or tablets. With the iPhone 6S Plus, you’ll appreciate the speed it charges with.

Also it’s nice for in the office, so someone else can share a port, when you steal the last charging spot in the room!

Final Words

If you’re buying for a business traveler, don’t just buy them some junk that will add to the weight in their bag. Most blogs on this subject recommend things that are pretty much useless, because they add weight and bulk. Most of us that travel daily want to carry the bare minimum.

If you can find a little gold for people that allows them to carry less, or substitute two things for one, it will make a huge difference to them.

Things which cut the weight of clothes, or like the iPhone 6S Plus mean they don’t carry an extra battery, or combine chargers… these are all amazing gifts for someone who carries 20-30lb around every day of the year.

Happy Holidays!

What bag to carry on a Regional Jet

As a part of my job, I get to do a good bit of travel. I suspect that some people who don’t fly a lot imagine this is glamorous like Jennifer Aniston’s A380 Emirates advertisement!

In reality, a good amount of it is being crammed into a 50-seater Regional Jet, especially when doing short 90-120 minute hops in the USA. In fact, American Airlines uses American Eagle as its regional carrier, and has 290 small jets which were acquired in a spree of consolidation over the last 20 years.

Many passengers hate them, but I’ve come to quite like them. However, they don’t have any WiFi and they can’t take a full size 22″x14″x9″ (2772 cubic inches) carry-on bag in the cabin.

The Gate Check

If you’ve been in Zone 5 in an American Airlines flight, you will have experienced the loathed Gate Check, where they take your bag off you at the plane entrance, and you pick it up at the baggage carousel at your destination. For frequent flyers this is highly frustrating, because we hate waiting for anything. This is one of the major reasons that keeps flyers loyal to an airline: if you fly more than 50,000 miles a year with that airline, you start to get perks like priority boarding, so that does’t happen so much.

The Regional Jet

The Regional Jet, or RJ, is a set of planes with 50-60 seats, usually, like the Bombardier CRJ-200, configured in a 2+2, or like the Embraer ERJ-145, a 2+1 seat config. Some, like the Bombardier CRJ-700 and CRJ-900 (formerly Canadair) and Embraer ERJ-175, have a 1+1 first class at the front, but most are all economy. The bin sizes vary on all these jets, and if you want to get really specific, there is a nice thread here which discusses the varied overhead cabin sizes… but the short version is that 19″x14″x8″ (2128 cubic inches) is the largest bag that will fit in these jets – and that is tight.

Also note that they will almost always valet check any rollaboard bag, regardless of size (unless it’s really small, see later on). That’s dependent on the cabin crew, who have final say.

The Valet Check

The valet check first appears similar to the gate check, but instead of a full luggage tag, you get a valet-like cardboard receipt when you give the bag to the luggage handler when boarding your flight.

 

When you get off the flight, you line up on the jetway and wait for your bag to be returned to you. This typically takes 5 minutes or less and is pretty convenient. But for some reason I don’t like to valet check. When I get to my destination, I want to get out the airport and on with the day.

So what do you do if you don’t want to valet check? You find a bag which works for you! Here are my top suggestions.

Tom Bihn TriStar

These two bags from Tom Bihn are designed for the 1-3 night flyer. The TriStar is a really tight fit on a CRJ-200 at 1976cuin and they have the Western Flyer (1812 cuin), which will fit easily.

The TriStar is not inexpensive at $315, but frequent flyers seem to love it.

Tom Bihn TriStar

The TriStar has 3 fold-out pockets and can take a spare set of shoes and gym kit on one side, shirts on the other, and a laptop in the middle. Don’t believe it? Check out this video. It also converts into a backpack. Tom Bihn bags are made in the USA and only available on their website.

Red Oxx Air Boss

I was in JFK airport a few months back and saw a guy carrying two of Red Oxx’s signature bag, the Air Boss. Honestly, he looked like he was going to collapse under the weight, because these things overpack to be huge! At 21″x8″x13″ it is on the high-end of being able to fit in a CRJ-200, and if you overpack it then it just won’t fit.

But if you want a full-size carry-on that can carry anything, this bag might be a good fit. At $255, it’s a little less expensive than the Tom Bihn option, and also made in the USA.

Air Boss Carry-on Bag Designed for 1 Bag Business Travelers by R

Gate8 Trifold Cabin Bag

I don’t know that I love the design of the Gate8 bag, but it’s a cool invention. It fits a suit and clothes in the main bag, and it has a zip-off laptop bag.

Gate8 TriFold Cabin Bag

When fully packed (watch this video to see how), you can’t fit both into the overhead bin of a Regional Jet. Instead – just unzip the laptop and put it under your seat. This makes it a super-convenient option and at $235, it might be considered good value since you get two bags for the price of one!

Tumi Arrivé LaGuardia

The Tumi Arrivé LaGuardia has been replaced by the Norwich, and I own the older model, which I bought deeply discounted (the original $1000 retail price is insane).

At 17.5″x16.5″x8″ it is a very tight fit in the smallest Regional Jets, and you have to remove the laptop and put it wheels out! I assume that the Norwich would also fit (it’s the same, but has spinning wheels), but you’d need to check this, and they have a 30-day returns policy in-store.

Tumi Arrivé LaGuardia

Incredibly, it will fit a spare pair of shoes, gym clothes, 3 shirts, jeans, underwear, washbag and a laptop, when packed to a bulge. It’s the bag I use for 2 night trips, when a single suit will suffice.

The nice thing about this bag is that it looks like a laptop bag, so you don’t get challenged when boarding the flight (remember to fold the handle and carry it on, not drag it!), and it also looks quite nice with its leather and chrome. The latest version is generally available on discount for $700, but deeper discounts are available periodically.

Lat56 Red-Eye

The Lat56 Red-Eye is the latest addition to my collection. It’s an interesting bag because it has a unique feature – a supposedly wrinkle-free suit carrier which fits in the lid.

Lat56 Red-Eye

Here it is, filled with a 4-day trip of clothes (Spare suit, 3 shirts, spare shoes, t-shirts, jeans and gym kit).

 

Lat56 Red-Eye

At a claimed 21.5″x10.5″x7.5″ it should neatly fit in a regional jet (I reckon it’s closer to 22″x11″x9″) and because it’s so light at 2.4lb, you can easily carry it fully packed.

It does require a separate bag for your laptop, and since it doesn’t have external pockets, it’s necessary to put your wash bag in your laptop bag (no big deal for me). If you want a wrinkle-free spare suit with you, there are precious few options. It looks indestructible and at $299, it’s pricey but not insane.

Packing

This requires a whole separate blog, but oftentimes, people ask me how I can pack in such a small bag. The short answer is by packing only what I need. There are several themes here:

  • A 3-day trip only really needs 2 changes of clothes. I wear Monday’s clothes, and pack for Tues/Weds.
  • Personally I like to carry gym clothes and casual clothes for the evening (jeans and a t-shirt).
  • Transfer things like hand creams into 1oz containers or less. This way you can fit all you need for a week of travel into a small TSA-approved cosmetic case.

I never carry anything I don’t use, so everything in the bag has a purpose. I’ll blog on this in more detail some time!

Final Words

I am aware that all this time spent on the humble travel bag could be considered a little neurotic, but traveling efficiently has become a bit of a fun obsession for me. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this and if you fly frequently on the Regional Jet (dubbed the flying sewage pipe by many customers) then you might consider putting away the full-size carry-on rollaboard and go lighter.

Also if your preference is to check a bag, or valet-check a carry-on, then that’s all good. The world is made up of preferences!

Happy Travels!

The Shrinking Airline Seat and Expanding Passenger Dilemma

I saw sat next to a very large person on a flight some years back. I was jammed into a seat, and the passenger next to him sat down. He splutters and coughs:

That’s disgusting. When did you last smoke! You stink!

Without skipping a beat, she responded:

When did you last eat?

He didn’t have anything else to say.

The shrinking airline carry-on

When standing waiting for a flight, airlines will measure that your luggage fits inside a metal cage. If your luggage is deemed to be oversized or overweight, they’ll ask you to pay to check the baggage, and it will go in the hold.

Airlines started to charge for checked baggage, and this led to a decrease in carry-on sizes. Airlines realize that they can derive greater revenue from more checked baggage, and also that 200 passengers with carry-ons and gate-checked baggage increases the time to board the plane. In the airline industry, time is money.

I don’t mind these rules because in the US there is a pretty clear set of rules – a carry-on is up to 22″x14″x9″ or 2700cuin, plus a personal item of 16″x14″x8″ (this depends on an airline, but it covers a handbag or laptop bag). If they run out of space, they will gate-check the bag for free. Yes, these sizes vary by airline but those sizes are a good guide to fit on any flight.

In Europe this is much rougher, with a lot of airlines offering only one item sized 19″x14″x8″ and a 16lb limit.

Either way, whether you like it or not, you know where you stand, and if you need more space, you can pay for it in the hold of the plane at agreed rates.

The Shrinking Airline Seat

Incredibly, airline seats have been shrinking over the last 10 years as they try to fit more passengers in a plane. I’m currently sat in a standard 18″ economy seat with a 32″ pitch. It’s cosy, but some international flights have 17″ or even 16.5″ wide seats.

Now the average male shoulder width is 18″. I’m a little above average and that means that my shoulders extend past the seats, which is fine, so long as I have an aisle or a window seat. In addition, the 32″ pitch is fine for my 34″ legs, so long as the person in front of me doesn’t want to recline.

But yes, many airlines have reduced the seat width now to be smaller than the average male.

The Expanding Waist Line

In parallel with the shrinking airline seat is the expanding waistline. A Gallup Poll reports that self-reported weight has increased 20lb since 1990. If you believe the CDC, Americans are 1″ taller and 25% heavier than in 1960.

This means that expanding passengers are stuffed into narrower seats that are smaller than the average person.

The seat sizes are driven by the economies of flying, as well as the fact that an increase in seat sizes would mean fewer seats, thereby dramatically driving prices up during peak periods. During quiet periods, center seats are often empty, solving the problem.

What size person is fair to sit in a seat?

If you buy a seat on a plane, you should feel entitled to have that seat. But since the seat is smaller than the average person, if you put three average, 5’9.5″, 195lb males in three adjacent seats, they will be very uncomfortable.

I’ve been in a flight wedged between two very big men and I can attest it is very miserable. There’s no room for elbows, arms, shoulders.

Should we have people size cages?

One solution to this would be to have size cages but for people. If you can fit in, then you’re on the flight. Otherwise you have to pay for a seat (or seats) that can fit the larger passenger.

Writer and director Kevin Smith was thrown off a SouthWest flight for this reason, though it’s not clear just how big he was. As an aside, he has since lost a load of weight.

Some people would argue that weight is a personal choice, and therefore if you choose to weigh more, you choose to need to buy a more expensive seat.

What about for those who are genetically taller? The average American is 5’9.5″, but there are many that are 6’3″ or even taller. Should those people who don’t have a choice on their size also have to buy a bigger seat?

Difficult ethical questions.

What about the person next to them?

As for the person next to them, they also paid for their seat and rightly feel entitled to the space they paid for. Unfortunately, since the seats are only sized for an average-sized person, any above-average size person will eat into the seat next door (or the window area or aisle).

That person probably feels understandably cheated of the space they paid for, and as friend Leonardo De Araujo said:

And what about recliners

Whilst we’re there, we should discuss recliners. British newspaper The Telegraph makes the case for banning them altogether.

I’m actually in favor of this because there’s always some poor person who has an exit row or back seat that won’t recline, and they are the ones that suffer with even less space. Since reclined airline seats are lower than when they are upright, the average number of cubic inches per passenger reduces when all the seats are reclined. And if the person in front of you reclines, you are more or less obliged to.

Free Market Economies

The capitalists amongst us would argue that in a free market, consumers will buy tickets from those airlines who provide comfortable seating, but in reality, consumers buy tickets based on a number of factors, including price, convenience and available routes, loyalty programs, overall customer satisfaction. In many cases there is no choice of carrier, and where there is a choice, there are other factors that may affect a purchase.

What should be done?

One thing is for sure – something has to change. Some advocate regulation of airline seat sizes and there is some sense in this, when a market is unable to self-regulate for the overall best interests of the customer. Others advocate that customers should pay for a whole seat and get a whole seat. This would drive passengers that don’t fit into a regular seat into obesity seating, which presumably would attract a charge, as you would get only 5 seats wide instead of 6, so would cost (at least) 20% more. Steve Rumsby put it simply with:  

In parallel with this needs to come a pragmatic seating policy from airlines. There are aways bulkhead seats available, and many airlines now offer “premium economy seating” for domestic flights which have 2-3″ of extra leg room. Why not use these seats to the best interest of the overall traveling populous?

What do you think?

Ten Best Gifts for Business Travelers 2014

I travel somewhere almost every day of the year, and I’m always amazed by the bizarre lists that online magazines put together as gifts for business travelers! Wooden iPhone speakers, really? Do these people really travel? Other lists include things like MacBook Airs and iPads, which are downright obvious.

If something is going to be added to my travel bag then there are three things it’s has to achieve: it has to let me travel better, lighter and achieve a specific purpose.

So here is a list of things that achieve this, at all budgets. If you have a traveler in your household then they may well appreciate one of these as a stocking filler this holiday season!

1) Improved 3-1-1 washroom equipment

I always carry my washroom in my laptop bag, for easy access at security and because with a little work, you can easily carry kit for 2 weeks in a 1-quart bag. The awesome GoToob containers ensure that nothing gets spilt, and are super-easy to refill! There are packs between $6.99 and $25.99 and they are worth every penny.

I have been using Ziploc bags for years and they wear out every few weeks. If you do this, make sure you use the branded Ziploc bags rather than a generic – they last much longer. If you want an upgrade then consider the Tom Bihn 3D Clear Organizer Cube. Note that whilst it is a quart in size, TSA officials can in theory ask you to move the contents into a Ziploc bag. It’s yours for $30.

2) Socks and Underwear

I can’t recommend this enough! I used to wear cotton socks for travel and they end up soggy, heavy, and difficult to wash. Switch them out for Calvin Klein Micro-Modal Trunks and you will never look back. They retail at a steep $26 a pair but you can buy them at a discount – $18 at Amazon and even less if you wait for sales.

The same works for socks – $22 for 3 pairs at retail, and $11 if you shop around.

3) Scrubba washing kit

The Scrubba is a 5oz, $55 washing machine that can wash your microfiber undies in 3 minutes flat. Make sure you fill a GoToob with a little hand wash liquid and you are set for those times when you are stuck away an extra day.

4) Travel Towel

I always carry a Sea To Summit Small Towel when I travel. It’s perfect for when you need to shower in the office after a long flight. It costs $16.95 and mine is 10 years old. I dry it on the back of a chair and wash it when I get back home. It weighs 2.2oz and packs down to nothing!

5) Noise-Canceling Headphones

I’m not the biggest fan of the Bose sound but the Bose QuietComfort 25 Headphones are mandatory for every business traveler. They pack down small, and get rid of all the noise on a plane. Just awesome, but they have a $300 price tag.

Some people asked about using these for phone calls. Honestly, I just switch out to the Apple headphones for this. They are so much better.

6) Travel Pillow and Blanket

There are many discussions on the best pillow but for me the Cabeau Evolution Pillow is by far the best. It’s super-comfy, and packs down into a small bag for transportation. It’s $37 at Amazon or $29.99 in most major airports.

At around $70, the Cocoon Silk Travelsheet is a luxury, but as you snuggle down for a good night’s sleep you won’t regret it. Buy the blue rip-stop version and get it dry-cleaned periodically.

7) Mophie Power Pack

It amazes me how many people don’t have one of these! Right now I’m writing this on an iPad, charging it with a Mophie. Pick of the draw is the Mophie powerstation plus with its built-in cables, with versions from $80 to $150. I prefer the smallest version, it’s enough for 2 full charges of an iPhone.

8) A new carry-on bag

Be very very careful when buying a new bag. Maybe even just provide a cash, because bags are very personal and many of the best are only available from the manufacturer.

For 2-3 day trips, the Tom Bihn Tri-Star is a great one-bag solution. If you are doing 5-10 day trips and want to follow the One-Bag One-World movement then consider the Red Oxx Air Boss.

If you like rollers, my favorites are the Tumi Alpha 2 International Wheeled Carry-On and the Briggs & Riley @ Baseline Luggage Baseline International Carry-On Wide-Body Upright Suitcase. Both are great for extended trips.

Either way, don’t buy a bag for someone unless you talked to them first!

9) Umbrella

We have all been caught out in the wet and bought 20 cheap umbrellas through the years that are good for a single use!

The Davek Solo is a thing of both beauty and practicality, though it is steep at $99. If that’s too much for you then the EuroSCHIRM light trek is available for around $50. It doesn’t look as businesslike, but the price is less than 10 cheap one-use umbrellas and they are both light enough to drop in a laptop bag!

10) Wallets

For everyday use, I have a small 4-card holder wallet that can slip in any pocket.

When I travel I like to split my plastic and I carry a second wallet which means if one is stolen, I’m still OK. The U.S. has drivers license and ID cards which are useful as you can put one in each. The Bellroy Travel Wallet is a nice option which also carries your passport, ticket and includes a pen and cardholders.

If you are worried about security, consider the Saddleback Leather Passport Wallet with RFiD Shield for protection against identity theft.

Final Words

There are a bunch of things notably missing from this list. In no particular order, these are things you shouldn’t buy a business traveler!

– Cameras and Torches. It’s 2014, there’s smartphones.
– Knives. You can’t carry on a knife, silly, and we don’t check bags.
– Speakers. Hotel rooms have iPod docks, and there’s always headphones.
– Tablets. Doesn’t he/she have one? If not, buy the WiFi-only Apple iPad Mini Retina.
– Laptops. We already have a work laptop, that’s enough to lug around thank you!
– Pens. We lose them routinely so better to keep a cheap plastic one in the laptop bag or use the Belroy pen.

By the way if you are buying anything, I highly recommend visiting The Wirecutter. They have original research and great no-nonsense reviews.

I hope this helps someone over this holiday season and I’m interested – what did I miss? Let me know!

10 tips for dealing with Immigration

This one is for @NeilRaden, whose family member is having problems at UK Customs & Immigration in London. In my experience – and I’ve spent my fair share of time in immigration – there are a handful of things to do to make your life easier. Too late for Neil, perhaps…

1) Dress Smart

It doesn’t matter if you’re going through on a tourist visa to a one-off country, but if you are a frequent traveller or you have a working visa, then appearance matters. I happen to like to travel business-casual anyhow, and always wear a jacket. Don’t pre-dispose someone to judge you because you look sloppy. First impressions matter.

2) Drink coffee, not booze

Need I say more? It may be tempting to have some nerve-calming drinks on the flight, but you need your wits about you at immigration, especially after a long transatlantic or overnight flight when you will be tired. Have a cup of tea or coffee to wake you up.

3) Get prepared

If you turn up to the gate without your forms filled in, or filled in incorrectly, they will send you back to the end, and will judge you. You need to do everything you can to make the immigration officer’s life easier. He or she has enough hassle in a day. Turn up with your forms clearly and correctly filled in, and ask for help if you need it!

What’s more if you are coming on a stamped visa then bring documentation. You don’t have to slap it on the counter up front, but bring it all. Bring a letter from your company stating what you are doing. Bring a letter from your immigration lawyer if you have one. Memorize this information.

4) Wait your turn

So many times have I seen someone walk up to a counter without the immigration officer beckoning them – which often makes them really grumpy. Stand behind the line, wait your turn and they will beckon you.

5) Engage and be friendly

I always start by looking them in the eyes with “Good morning/afternoon/evening sir/madam, how are you today?’. Curtesy goes a long way. Usually, they smile and respond. All of these little things make a difference and predispose a human being towards you.

6) Remember that any border control officer can deny your entry to the country

I took this from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed and it is always important to keep in the back of your mind. It doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong – they have the power to deny you or allow you in. Your behavior will control their discretion if there is a grey area. I have had situations where an immigration officer has said “I will let you in this time, but next time you need to do X”.

7) Always answer the question simply, clearly and do not offer excess information

When they ask you a question: “Why are you coming to this country”, answer it with the minimum information. “I’m going to the following conference”. Be specific, clear and brief. Whatever you do, don’t offer them your life story. They want you to go through as fast as possible too and if they need more information, they will ask for it.

8) Never, ever, think you are an immigration expert

Especially if you are coming in on a business visa, be very careful when you are asked the question “Why are you coming in on this visa?”. The answer is: I am doing X (the truth!) for my company, and this is the visa they applied for on my behalf.

9) If they send you to secondary inspection, smile and move on

If you travel a lot, you will go into secondary inspection. The primary officers will refer anything they are unsure about. If you’re not doing anything wrong, don’t worry about it. It’s a process and it can take anything from 30 minutes to 5 hours or more, depending on how busy they are. If someone is picking you up, text them when you land and let them know you are going into immigration. Let them know that you will text them when you are out and not to worry.

10) Be mindful of what is on your cellphone/laptop/social media/luggage

If you go to secondary inspection then never get your cellphone out. It’s forbidden in most countries and they hate it. But also be mindful that they may confiscate your cellphone or laptop and read the contents. So be mindful of what you text and email – even jokingly. I’ve seen people get in big trouble over this.

I added social media and luggage, which I should have pointed out. Neil’s family member had posted “Living in XXX” on Facebook and had a utility bill. If you’re a non-immigrant, these are a fast-track to getting deported. It doesn’t matter what you believe your intentions are, it matters what the immigration officer believes you intend to do.

11) Bonus tip: Never, ever, lie

I’ve spent my fair share of time in secondary inspections in various countries and there is a pattern. Every time I’m sat there, I overhear the same conversation. It’s someone who is lying about their travel and reasons for entering the country. Trust me – the immigration officers – especially the very experienced ones in secondary inspection – know their stuff.

They can see your travel history in most cases. They know everything you told them in the past. And they see people like you every day. So don’t insult them by lying or pretending you don’t speak their language when you do. They get really angry and usually deport those people.

Final Words

I hope this helps someone, some time. What are your tips?

 

Did British Airways pay off Kim Kardashian for her stolen luggage?

I promised this blog that I would update on my customer experience with British Airways and I’ve been hassled by a few people for taking my sweet time. Apologies – rightly, or wrongly, I decided to give them a while longer to respond. And in the meantime I have reflected on the experiences I have seen in the media. I hope you enjoy.

Corporate blogs with poor experiences

It’s not just me that had problems. Friend and blogger Dennis Howlett has suffered at the hands of BA too, and wrote it up in a sequence of 3 blogs on ZDNet entitled “British Airways Customer Failures“.

Is it not time for a fundamental rethink about what these systems deliver? Is it not time for some of the mega brands to recognise that what served them well in the past will no longer cut it?

Friend and colleague – and manager of a very large business unit – Anthony Leaper, SVP and General Manager of LoB Customer Solutions at SAP, wrote a Forbes article entitled “You can’t keep saying “It’s not our fault” forever.“. Anthony is an expert on customer loyalty management and he nails some points home:

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matterwhose fault it is. Every company owns the responsibility for its customers’ experience, whether it likes it or not.

Then you can just take the hilarious “BA is Shite” blog which acts as a content aggregator for this stuff.

But there is a serious point here – Howlett, Leaper, and others – have serious influence. Leaper has influence over the travel decisions of a $18bn business, and perhaps wider. And yet, BA does not take them seriously. Why is this?

Lack of understanding of modern media

After I wrote my last blog “How British Airways Broke This Camel’s Back“, I was contacted by a media employee of BA called Michael Johnson. After a few exchanges, he very interestingly responded:

As much as I would like to keep chatting with you, I’m afraid I need to restrict my contacts to the media and that’s my job…

I had a similar experience with BA’s Twitter handles. They either ignore, or let you know that customer relations will be in touch. But customer relations are never in touch – and even if they are, they say things like:

Checked-in luggage has to pass through various hands on its way to and from the aircraft.  So on the rare occasions when belongings go missing, it is virtually impossible to pinpoint what happened.

And this to me shows a complete lack of understanding of modern media. Most organisations do not now differentiate between different types of influence – be it corporate bloggers, media types or influential social media people. If you influence, you are worth engaging with. But not to BA. Unless of course your name is…

Kim Kardashian

Now she does have 14m Twitter followers to my 2.5k and Howlett’s 9k and Leaper’s 34. But when she lost her luggage and Tweeted:

“Very disappointed in British Airways for opening my luggage & taking some special items of mine! Some things are sentimental – irreplaceable”

Then BA managed to respond:

A British Airways spokesperson said they were looking into the claims.

I tweeted Kim to ask her if she got any response but I’m guessing she did, and they offered her a pay off in return for her silence, because the media went strangely quiet. Let me know if you know anything more on this. It reminds me of when they lost Victoria Beckham’s Louis Vuitton luggage in 1998. Stories suggest that BA paid her £100k in damages.
So what’s the outcome?
Well our frustration is reflected in the stock price – parent company IAG’s stock value is down 50% in the last year from a high of 23.25 to 12.53 today. I have no idea what it will take for them to listen but I, for one, am shopping elsewhere.

How to travel like a pro – 10 tips for frequent flyers

As a frequent traveller it is easy to be scornful of those that don’t travel so often, so I thought I’d open up my box of secrets. This might help you if you are like me, a frequent traveller for meetings and conferences – or also if you are a consultant travelling Monday through Thursday.

1) Shop around for a good carry-on

For me the Zen of travelling is the Tumi International Zippered Expandable Carry-On but others prefer Briggs & Riley. They have a few things in common.

  • Maximum size for carry-on = maximum capacity
  • Ability to carry 2 or even 3 suits
  • Expandable if you need it for long trips (but must go in the cargo of the plane)
  • Expensive (sorry) – $350-$600

But, this is a one-off purchase. Briggs & Riley offer a lifetime guarantee. My Tumi has been going for 5 hard years. The expense will offer you a huge degree of comfort and if you shop around in the sales, you will find one at a 30-50% discount.

2) Choose an airline group and become a frequent flyer

You have roughly 3 choices:

  • Star Alliance: Adria Airways JP, Aegean Airlines A3, Air Canada AC, Air China CA, Air New Zealand NZ, ANA NH, Asiana Airlines OZ, Austrian OS, Blue1 KF, Brussels Airlines SN, Croatia Airlines OU, EGYPTAIR MS, Ethiopian Airlines ET, LOT Polish Airlines LO, Lufthansa LH, Scandinavian Airlines SK, Singapore Airlines SQ, South African Airways SA, SWISS LX, TAM Airlines JJ, TAP Portugal TP, THAI TG, Turkish Airlines TK, United UA, US Airways US
  • One World: Air Berlin, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Mexicana, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines
  • Skyteam: Aeroflot, AeroMexico, AirEuropa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, CSA Czech Airlines, Delta, Kenya Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Korean Air, TAROM, Vietnam Airlines

Figure out which one serves your home location and destinations best and stick to it. Always log your frequent flyer number. You will get benefits (cheaper miles flights) and upgrades. US Airways are particularly good to their frequent flyers in terms of upgrades, and the One World group has free lounges for Silver members and above.

3) Purchase travelling suits and shirts
This is very budget dependent so take your pick. Austin Reed, Ted Baker, Zegna and Prada all have travel-specific cloths which are a great idea. Avoid linen suits and very expensive suits as they do not travel well. Go for dark fabrics and heavier cloths and you will spend less time with an iron.
The same applies to shirts. Look for “wrinkle free” or “no iron”. This isn’t true but it will reduce the amount of work you have to go to! I prefer to travel with plain white shirts because they match any suit. This improves your combinations.
4) Choose your clothes carefully!
Here is the list of what I fit in my bag (yes, this all fits in a carry-on!):
  • 1 Pair black shoes and belt (I wear the black belt on the plane)
  • 1 Pair tan shoes and belt
  • 1 Grey Suit
  • 1 Navy/Black Suit
  • 5 White Shirts
  • 7 Pairs of Underwear and Socks (Black)
  • 3 casual tops
  • 1 pair denim jeans
  • 1 Washbag (see below)
  • 1 Pair Sneakers & workout clothes (see below)
There is no room for waste when you are travelling.
5) Learn to pack your bag and never check your luggage
Here’s how to pack it:
  • First lay the shoes in the base, toe to heel. Fill them with underwear and socks. Fill your sneakers with the workout clothes.
  • Fit the belts into the gaps
  • Then lay the casual tops and denim on top.
  • At the last minute, put the suits and shirts in the suit carrier and fold it over into the bag.
  • Press down hard and zip it up!
Now you can pack a week’s luggage in a carry-on, you will never need to check your luggage again. This means you don’t have to worry about losing your suit for the next day, or wear your suit on the plane (yuck).

6) Don’t forget your workout clothes

I always pack one set, use them wherever I am and wash them in the shower and hang them out to dry for the next day. It’s not perfect but it’s a reasonable compromise.

7) Be frugal on your wash bag

Remember that you’ve only got a carry-on now, so you have a 100ml (1oz) limit per item and 1 litre (1 quart) overall limit for your wash bag. So go and buy a 1 quart clear wash bag in Acme or Boots and buy travel sized toothpaste, hair wax etc., but always a full sized toothbrush.

I never pack shampoo or soap as I always use the hotel variants. Suit yourself if you want to!

Then I always put my wash bag in my laptop case. This way it is easier to get through security as you don’t have to unzip your bag and you have no worries about spillages.

8) Travel in comfort

First, shower before you fly. I don’t know how many times I have been sat next to someone with bad body odour or halitosis. Don’t be that person!

I always wear loose jeans, smart sneakers, a t-shirt and a jacket. Smart enough so you don’t look out of place if you get upgraded, but not so smart that I’m uncomfortable.

Once on the plane, I always ask the attendant to hang my jacket – which I carry mostly so I have something to wear in the evenings if I need it.

9) Choose your laptop bag contents carefully

You may have to put this under the seat in front of you, depending on the flight, so I pack a small laptop bag with the bare minimum. Here’s what’s in it:

  • Laptop with travel charger and adapter for my destination
  • iPad – great for browsing in the hotel room
  • USB phone charger for iPad and iPhone
  • Adapters for network and VGA display for presentations
  • Camera
  • Noise-cancelling earphones to cut out the screaming kids
  • Washbag
  • Pen (for immigration and customs forms)

10) Learn how to get through security

This is so easy and people make it so hard. Here’s the trick:

  • Put the contents of your pockets in your jacket pocket, take your belt off and put it in your bag and take your shoes off (if required).
  • Get 3 trays.
  • In the first put your shoes, jacket, empty laptop bag and wash bag.
  • In the second, put your laptop and iPad if you have one. And watch this tray because items can  be stolen.
  • In the third, put your carry-on.

Then, when it all comes out, you put your shoes and jacket on, put your wash bag in your laptop bag, then your devices come out to put in it and off you go. Put your belt on later.

Final notes

I hope this helps you – I know it took me some while to learn my formula. What are your travel tips?

How British Airways broke this camel’s back

I’m not sure why but the straw has broken the camel’s back. I am currently crammed into a centre economy seat. To the left is a passenger with no concept of personal space and a serious case of halitosis. To my right is another passenger who has ordered the fish menu and has opened it up for me to enjoy the smell.

In front is someone I know that works for BA, who has been given an upgrade to business class. The plane is packed and somehow I feel jilted that BA look after their own employees rather than rewarding their frequent flyers.

I fly a lot with British Airways. Somewhere in the region of 250k miles a year. Mostly economy with a mix of premium economy, business and the occasional first class ticket, depending on who is paying.

By contrast I fly much less with US Airways, though enough to be a frequent flyer. And they treat me curiously well. For instance on a trip to Costa Rica some months back, both myself and my partner got complimentary first class tickets both ways – including a 6’6″ flat bed. In fact I’ve had some sort of upgrade on over half of the US Airways flights i have flown this year.

Because I fly a lot, I get some problems. This is more or less expected and these problems in the last year have included:

  • Destroyed luggage
  • Theft from my luggage
  • Items left in planes never returned to me
  • Crashed planes causing serious delays
  • Being downgraded
  • Flights booked on the wrong dates by agents who refused to change them

What shocks me, and continues to shock me is threefold:

First, I know that BA have a policy of trying to retain their top customers. I’ve been told on multiple occasions that I am such a customer. However the behaviour that they display is in complete conflict with this.

Second, much of the time there are spare seats in a cabin ahead. What is the opportunity risk of upgrading your loyal customers to reward them for their loyalty? I buy the best cabin I can afford and by not upgrading me, BA will not make me contemplate paying more.

Lastly, when there is a problem, there is no worse resolver group than BA Customer Relations. I have contacted them multiple times, filled in surveys and complaints. And never, have they ever offered me compensation, good will, or anything else. They just ignore it.

By contrast I have had equivalent problems with US Airways and Qantas, and both airlines have been helpful and offered me something for my inconvenience.

So I have resolved to do something today. I am going to post this blog and then fill out one last customer survey. BA, you have one last opportunity to do something about it and I am expecting a big gesture. Otherwise, you have lost me, and everyone I have influence over, as a customer for life.

There it is, I have thrown down the gauntlet. On the 1st June, I will post an update, either way. We shall see if BA is capable of engaging its customers.