FAQ About Flying Post Covid-19

You are probably not ready to get on a plane as yet, but are thinking about it. Like me, if you are feeling trapped at home for way too long, you are day dreaming of your next getaway. As soon as it is safe, you will get on an airplane and jet set to see your friends, family or just chill at the beach or one of the national parks.

The fact is, the entire process of traveling is going to change. It will be somewhat different that what we are use to. Airports and airlines are already publishing their new flight protocols. Although this may evolve in the coming weeks, here’s what I think will happen…

Airline Tickets are Going To Get Expensive

Say goodbye to all those crazy sweet airline deals you see on discount travel websites. Grab them while you still have the chance because airfares will go up eventually. Now, this is partly due to reduced load factor, meaning airplanes are not going to fill every single seat. Some are stating they will keep the middle seat empty. Others’ are charging passengers extra if you want to have no one sit next to you. Xi’an, China based Air Changan is selling up to 8 extra seats per passenger for social distancing. Secondly, there will be fewer flights and schedule reductions. This is because of capacity reductions. Most airlines will downsize after September once the Cares Act expires. Thirdly, airplanes will be disinfected and treated after each flight. Therefore, turnaround time for them will be longer and cost per flight, higher.

Travel Insurance Will Be Important

I have always traveled with insurance, whether through VolunteerCard (for Go Eat Give trips), or Allianz Travel. With the frequency of travel I do, it is inevitable that I may loose a bag, miss a flight, or need to visit a doctor when away from home. There are a few times I have had to file a claim and the insurance has more than paid for itself.

Going forwards, more travelers are going to recognize the importance of having travel insurance. You can purchase a per trip policy or have a yearly one in place. Make sure to also include coverage for “cancel for any reason” if you are worried about recovering your travel costs.

That being said, most airlines and tour operators are going to offer flexible cancellation and rebooking, so definitely check their policy before booking.

There Will be Longer Wait Times at The Airport

It is safe to assume you will need to arrive at the airport earlier to allow some time for health screening. There are going to be fewer lines with more distancing. Some high traffic airports say, give yourself 4 hours. Think of pre 9/11 when you could just walk into the airport and go to your gate directly. There was no security screening and people without boarding passes could see you board the plane. We adjusted to that change, didn’t we?

You Will Get Tested

UAE-based Emirates started rapid testing all their passengers for antibodies (not COVID-19) from Dubai in mid-April. Others are testing flight attendants and employees. Long term, if this is going to be blood tests, infrared tunnels, temperature monitoring, or a quick Covid-19 test, may depend on the airline. If you test positive, you will be denied boarding and would need to go back for self quarantining.

International boarders will require self declaration of where you have been in the last 14 days, if you show symptoms, who you have been in contact with, etc. Currently, many countries in Africa require you to show proof of vaccinations (such as Yellow Fever) before letting you in through, and this procedure may be adopted globally.

New Carry-On Recommendations

Starting May 4, most airlines will require you to wear a mask at the airport and on the flight at all times. Small children are exempt. Though wearing a mask is not a full proof way of protecting yourself, it helps ensure that your respiratory droplets don’t fall on surfaces and on other passengers. I have been wearing travel masks long before Covid-19!

Also, you should carry sanitizing wipes or gels onboard. New TSA requirement allow one liquid hand sanitizer up to 12oz per passenger. This will be screened separately at security checkpoint, so keep it in separate zip lock bag from your other liquids and gels. If you don’t have a mask or gels, some airlines will provide this to you for a small fee.

There is going to be some trial and error in the coming months, so make sure you stay calm and oblige with airport officials. Also, check the destination’s health guidelines ahead of boarding, so you can alter travel plans as needed.

Important Links to Keep Handy:

COVID-19 confirmed cases by airport

Which USA states are open

CDC’s travel advisory

Air New Zealand Offers a Couch in Air

This year, I have taken some of the longest flights in the world (over 15 hours nonstop) and many of them have been in Economy class. So when I got an opportunity to try out Air New Zealand’s Skycouch category, I was intrigued.

Air New Zealand claims that its Skycouch product is the world’s first economy class that can be turned into a couch. In the air! How does it work? Here’s my firsthand review from recently traveling on Air New Zealand from Chicago-Auckland and Auckland-Houston.

Skycouch looks like normal Economy

What is a Skycouch?

When you book your economy ticket online, you have the option to add on a Skycouch under seat selection. At this time, you can choose a Skycouch for 1 or 2 adults, or a family of 3, which is a supplement cost. Basically, you are getting a seat plus access to row of seats.

In my case, I had a Skycouch for 2 adults, which meant there were 3 coach seats reserved to share between me and my husband. Now, these are no ordinary seats. There is an entire cabin configured for this. Only the sides of about 8-10 rows on the airplane have a special design feature that allows you to bring up an extension that makes the 3-seat row broader. Think of a pull out couch. As a result, there are a limited number of Skycouches on each flight and these are marked ‘Reserved for Skycouch customers.’

Skycouch folds out. Image via SmarterTravel

Skycouches come with normal size pillows, warm blankets and a white couch padding. Even if you have the Skycouch booked for 1 person, you will get 3 sets of pillows, blankets and headphones.

After boarding, the flight attendant brought us a laminated card with instructions on how to use the Skycouch and said she would come and assist in setting it up once we are on board, but she never did. It took me a couple of attempts to figure out how to adjust the footrests, though the seats wouldn’t recline when I had the couch configured. All the armrests folded up to create a lounge space.

Cuddle belts are required for when lying down.

We were also given a heavy duty set of “cuddle seatbelts” to use while sleeping, but they were bulky and uncomfortable. I did see some families using the cuddle belts for little kids.

The footrest foldout made sitting a bit uncomfortable as it blocked the under seat area. When pulled open, it was 29 inches wide, and 5 feet 1 inch in length.

You need to stow your bags, bottles, shoes, etc, under the bed and won’t be able to reach them when the Skycouch is extended.

Skycouch is ideal for lounging. You can sit against the window and stretch out your legs to read a book or watch TV. You can also sit cross legged.

Lounging in Skycouch

The Skycouch seat description shows photos of adults with their legs stretched out, lying on their backs. At 5’5″, I could not stretch out my legs without getting on the way of flight attendants and other passengers hitting me every time they passed by the isle. I had to bend my knees at all times to stay within the Skycouch length. The good thing was I was able to rest my back and get some sleep, rather than sitting upright in coach.

I can manage to sleep with my knees bent.

As a couple, we had a very tight sardine-like squeeze to lie down at the same time. We had to stay in a locked down position and synchronize any movements. You have to be really, really close to the person you share your couch with if you are going to do book a Skycouch for two people.

A couple of other Skycouches were occupied by families. I saw a mom and kid adjust quite well as the kid folded into the mother’s arms. Another Asian couple managed to squeeze in the couch with their baby (only the baby could lie down).

The Air New Zealand Experience

Despite the stellar ratings, I had mixed experiences with Air New Zealand’s customer service. The on flight crew was courteous and smiled. At Queenstown airport, the agent would not check in my luggage for my connecting Air New Zealand flight unless I was a Star Alliance Gold member (I am Silver). So I had to disembark in Auckland, collect my luggage, drag it to the international terminal (through a badly designed airport), print luggage tags, recheck my bags, then go through security again. I barely made it to my gate on time.

At Auckland International Airport, there were no manned counters for Economy check-in. I wanted to ask about lounge access and my connection from Houston-Atlanta, but it was a complete self check-in operation.

Food was not very good on most of my flights. We were given same options as Economy passengers, which were only 2 (beef or chicken), and inaccurately described. The chicken curry was sweet (like Japanese curry), the cheese omelet tasted like rubber, and canned fruit.

On my way back, I special ordered Hindu Vegetarian Meal, but instead got a bland Vegan meal.

Mid-flight I went to the galley looking for snacks but all they had was one kind of sandwich and water for passengers. There was a display of fresh fruit, cookies and chocolates right next to it, but it was only for the crew.

The entertainment system was decent, with plenty of foreign language selections. You could even order New Zealand wines from the screen and have them delivered to your door.

Shop for wine from your seat and get them delivered to your doorstep.

There was a USB port at each seat. There was no WiFi available.

Pros

  • Skycouch offers more comfort than an Economy seat. You can stretch out to a certain extent.
  • It is cheaper than business class ticket.
  • Air New Zealand markets their Economy Skycouch to younger client, which makes perfect sense for families with kids, so they can stretch out and play. Two children can also lie down side by side and share a Skycouch.

Cons

  • The Skycouch makes sense for one adult or one adult+ a child, but it is not made for 2 adults to sleep in at the same time (unless they are hobbits).
  • Since Skycouch is popular with families, you are more likely to encounter crying babies, then say in business class.
  • There are no other perks for booking Skycouch. You don’t get any priority boarding, lounge access, or even a toiletry kit on board.

2018’s Best Frequent Flyer Programs

Airline loyalty is hard to come by. Most travelers are willing to jump to another jet for the slightest of discounts. Yet roughly 7% of flights are paid for with points or miles, according to PWC. So there’s obviously value in committing to a carrier. You just have to find the right one.

To help you earn more free flights and other assorted perks, WalletHub compared the 10 largest domestic airlines’ loyalty rewards programs across 23 key metrics, ranging from the value of a rewards point or mile to blackout-date policies.

Here are the best frequent flyer programs:

Frequent Flyer Program Overall WalletHub Score
Delta SkyMiles 64.14
Mileage Plan 50.87
HawaiianMiles 49.38

Main Findings

Delta SkyMiles is the best frequent flyer program for the third straight year, earning an average WalletHub score of 64.14% in the three usage scenarios.

Hawaiian Airlines offers the most rewards value ($19.95 per $100 spent), with Alaska Airlines coming in a close second ($19.87 per $100 spent).

Four of the 10 largest airlines offered more rewards in 2018 than in 2017, sweetening the pot by an average of 20%.

Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways are the only two major airlines whose miles do not expire because of inactivity.

Airline miles cost an average of 62% more than they’re worth when purchased rather than earned.

This comparison was based on three hypothetical annual airline budgets: Light ($453), Average ($4,088) and Frequent ($7,722). But you can customize the results to match your own airline budget using a tool. Read the full airline study on WalletHub.

Who benefits more from airline rewards programs: consumers or the airlines themselves? Leave your comments below…

~ By Alina Comoreanu, Senior Researcher. This article was reprinted with permission from WalletHub

Fly to Africa in Comfort and Get Access to the Best Airport Lounge

Which airline would you pick for a long haul flight to Africa? Last month, I flew business class on Turkish Airlines (TA) from Atlanta to Tanzania and returned via Kenya (Thank you TA for the free upgrade!). This was my first time flying business on TA. Here’s what I experienced…

Seats

There are 28 seats in business arranged in 2-2-2 configuration. Each seat is quite spacious covering almost 3 windows to a person. There’s enough leg room to do yoga in your space! The seats recline 180 degrees to become a comfortable flatbed fitted with a thin mattress, pillow and comforter arranged by the flight attendant when ready to rest. There is also a chair massage setting, though you can barely feel it vibrate.

A bin in front of the seat made it convenient to store purse and shoes.

Amenities

From Atlanta – Istanbul, I was given a Bentley amenity kit with the basics (socks, eye mask, dental, lip balm, masculine scented lotion), from Istanbul – Dar, Cerruti toiletries, and during the return, a Furla kit. Pretty inconsistent with branding partners.

I did like how slippers were presented in a cloth bag (to store your shoes as well) and there was a note about how in Turkish hospitality you take off your shoes when you enter a home.

Food

One of the ways TA distinguishes itself from other airlines is by its cuisine. There was a chef on board who took orders and added finishing touches to the dishes.

The bar is in front of the seats in business class cabin, thought not always manned. Welcome drinks were non alcoholic (fresh lemonade and orange juices), while pre dinner drinks were offered a long time after takeoff. A variety of tea’s are also offered to help with jet lag, bloating and stress.

There were no Turkish food options available on Atlanta – Istanbul and Istanbul – Dar legs. Plenty of American and Italian choices, with the same 3 veggies popping up in every course. I had a healthy grilled shrimp and veggies salad and very dry and flavorless swordfish with Tuscan vegetables for dinner. The dessert tray was a huge contrast. There was chocolate mousse, lava cake, hazelnuts chocolate tart, cheese and fruit trays. I was tempted to taste them all, and they were delicious!

Food was generally well presented on a tray with white table cloth and a fake candle that looked like a Turkish lantern. It was nice touch to place the candles as nightlight when everyone had fallen asleep after dinner.

We gave our breakfast orders as soon as boarded and were served before landing in Istanbul. I had sliced fruit, room temperature coffee, tart mango juice, greasy croissants, and a rubbery feta cheese omelette. Yilmaz, the chef noticed that I did not care much for the food. He told me that they did not have a Turkish chef in Atlanta, which is why they weren’t able to offer any Turkish cuisine. (TA has not been able to find a good chef in the 18 months it has operated in ATL?)

The dining experience on the 7-hour Istanbul – Dar Es Salaam leg was no different. This time, there was a small Turkish salad with olives and cheese, grilled vegetable salad (tomatoes, eggplants, mozzarella), and entree of a tangy vegetable casserole (exact same veggies).

Snacks were generally a cheese sandwich (quality may vary) and sour cherry cake (TA does a good job with desserts).

On my return from Nairobi, the food and service were much better. Breakfast had fresh baked breads, olives and assorted cheeses. The sandwich had fresh slices of lettuce, green bell pepper and feta.

The Istanbul – Atlanta flight was perhaps the best one out of all four that I flew over a period of 3 weeks. An appetizer cart presented soup, salad, seafood and Turkish meze, along with warm simit bread. I enjoyed the lunch of eggplant, tabbouleh and beef wrap, and dinner of chicken brochette with spinach and rice with a glass of red wine. The seabass in parchment was well presented but the fish was thick and dry. I picked a slice of tiramisu for my dessert this time, which was amazing.

Entertainment

Business class seats are equipped with large screen TV’s and passengers are provided Denon noise cancelling headsets which are collected 30 minutes before landing. Movie and TV selection is decent, with Hollywood, Turkish and world movies. Having a remote with built in screen makes it much easier to browse than touching the screen (which is 2 feet away).

Turkish-American celebrity, Dr Mehmet Oz partnered with TA to talk about how to stay healthy on a flight. He says to “drink a lot of water and stay away from alcohol” in one of his videos. I found it rather difficult to get water on TA though. They ran out of water bottles on one of the flights (though business class was only half full) and I had to ask the flight attendant for a refill in my tiny glass every 30 minutes (on a 13 hour flight).

Free WiFi on board was a great feature, especially for the long haul flight. I was easily able to log in and had pretty good speed during my ATL-IST-ATL legs. There are USB chargers at each seat, though they don’t always work. I had to try 3 seats in business before I found a place to charge my phone.

Service

Service was rather mixed across board. The attendants at Atlanta airport were nonchalant, and the attendants on board addressed me as “lady.”I thought it was imperative to get to know the last names of passengers in business class, but that wasn’t the case 🙁 Only the Istanbul – Atlanta flight attendants (all women) regularly smiled and addressed me by name.

Wheelchair passengers may not find it convenient to fly TA as they have to get on and off the flight using outdoors staircases on the tarmac and get into a bus to reach the terminal in Istanbul. There is no separate entry/ early boarding for business class passengers and I did not see assistance for children, heavy bags or people who can’t climb a lot of steps.

Lounge

The highlight of traveling TA is their lounge at Istanbul airport (it deserves a separate post). This may be the best airport lounge I have seen! Two floors of comfortable seating, endless dining options, free flowing liquors, multiple coffee shops, a movie theater, library, kids play area, games and much more. I scanned my boarding pass to get in the lounge, stored my bag in the free locker, and took a hot shower in private bathrooms equipped with bathrobes, towels and soaps.

Then I scanned the 10 or so food stations to see what I was in mood for – Thai, pasta, meze, Turkish pizza, fresh fruits, pastries, Middle Eastern sweets? Too many choices and everything looked delicious!

A part of the lounge looked like a solarium with lots of greenery, sunlight pouring in and a piano. There was free wi-fi to catch up with emails, while sipping on made to order cappuccino.

TA lounge in Nairobi was pretty small and located at the end of the terminal that looked like a warehouse space. The interior was modern with wooden beams and old fashioned green couches. There was only one shower with no amenities, a prayer/ ablution room and a quiet room for people to sleep (in chairs). Attendants were not friendly at this lounge (perhaps they didn’t speak English) and the food was mostly American breakfast fare (pancakes, sausages, eggs, etc). American music played in the background and sports on TV. Barring the TA sign, nothing in the lounge indicated that there was any Turkish affiliation.

Have you flown on Turkish Airlines? What was your experience like? Share it with our readers in the comments section below…

Show Up at a Destination Without Lost Luggage

Have you ever arrived at your destination and discovered that your luggage never made it? Travel can be stressful as it is, and if your belongings don’t show up with you, it adds to the stress. Though sometimes things may be beyond your control, you can take these precautions to avoid lost luggage on your next trip and know exactly what to do in case you do encounter such as situation.

Pack a Carry On

Though you may want to travel light, I firmly suggest a small backpack to hold valuables, such as passport, money, jewelry, camera, tickets, credit cards, copy of itineraries and important documents. Many hotels require you to show a passport to check in, so if you lose your bag you may not be able to get a room. I also keep a copy of the documents (passport, drivers license, itinerary, tickets, etc.) on my phone and laptop (backed by Evernote) in case I lose my backpack.

Additionally, keep a change of clothes and medications. One time I flew to Omaha for business and my luggage did not arrive till the next day. I had to sleep in the oversized Delta branded t-shirt and go in to work wearing jeans, t-shirt and sneakers. Looking back, it would have been nice to pack clean underwear, slacks and dress shirt in my day bag.

Track Your Bags

Left your purse in the bathroom or a laptop in the sleeve of your airplane seat? I am guilty of it. Many of new luggage brands have built in tracking devices. I attach a Homing Pin ($10) on to my laptop, backpack and check in suitcase. That way, I can track your lost bags even if they weren’t lost by an airline and have them delivered to me for a small fee.

Check In On Time

Also, make sure to check in at least 1 hour before departure to give the airline enough time to load your luggage on to the aircraft. Take a photo of the bag, note its weight and contents before handing it over to the airline agent. Customize tags for your luggage and save the luggage tag carefully as it is the only numbers you will be able to use to communicate with the airline about lost or delayed luggage. On one instance, my luggage did not arrive to India for 10 days and Air France could not track it. Apparently, it was lost at Sharles de Gaulle airport along with 80,000 bags during a snow storm. I had to give detailed descriptions of the contents in my check in for the airline to reimburse.

Be Smart About Booking Tickets

As a rule, if I have more than 1 flight changes or less than 1 hour between flights, I do not check in any bags. The chances of losing a bag goes up significantly if there are multiple carriers involved or if they don’t have enough time to move them between connections. You really can’t blame the airline for this. Often times, busy airports require loading up to 200 bags per aircraft in just a few minutes.

Have you gotten a good deal from another city and then bought a connecting flight on another ticket? Even though both the airlines may share systems (Skyteam, One World, etc.) they don’t necessarily talk to each other. On a recent trip to Japan, I traveled on Delta from ATL-LAX, got out to get my luggage and rechecked it at China Souther for LAX-TOK. Though it is inconvenient, it ensured that I got a luggage tag from the last carrier and if anything were to happen, I will not be shuffled back and forth between Delta and China Souther to find out who made the goof up. With connections, try to book all legs on one ticket.

Report Immediately

In case of lost or damaged bags, report immediately to the Baggage Claim Customer Service of the airline you flew and don’t leave the airport without addressing the matter. After a one hour flight from EDI-SHN on Aer Lingus, I found the handle of my checked in bag was completely broken. It was clear that it had been mishandled. I went to the customer service counter of Aer Lingus in the baggage claim area and reported it. At first, they told me that “wheels and handles are not covered” but I stood my ground and refused to leave unless a solution was found. I was heading off on a 12-day trip around Ireland with a broken bag. The agent went to the back room and gave me a brand new American Tourister of about the same size for no charge.

Get Insured

If you paid a baggage fee (for checked bags) the airline is required to issue you a refund when your bag does not arrive with you. Your luggage is considered lost only after 21 days. The airline may reimburse you for the contents and the expenses occurred during the delays, but don’t expect too much (average comp $100/ day). It is better to have a back up travel insurance such as Allianz Global Assistance. An Annual Deluxe Plan costs $350 and reimburses up to $1000 for Baggage Loss/Damage and $200 for Baggage Delays.

This is the suitcase I carry when I travel. It is easy to identify at the luggage carousel, hotels and especially when traveling with groups. Get your own personalized luggage on UGO Bags. Use discount code “sucheta20” to receive 20% off until November 15, 2017.

Review of Air Canada

Recently, I got a chance to fly on Air Canada, one of the largest airlines in North America. I took two flights making my way from Atlanta – Toronto – Tokyo and back. Fortunately, I was upgraded to business class (thanks to Air Canada’s PR!) which made the 24-hour long journey relatively easier to get through. Here is my unbiased review.

Planes

The E175 plane between ATL-YYK was very old, with 1-2 configuration, small seats even in business class, and outdated TV screen (ones where you see a mouse pointer and a rotating wheel each time you select a tab).

Between YYK-HND, the Boeing 777-300ER plane was newer and more spacious, with a total of 40 seats, spread across two cabins.

International Business Class cabins had a 1-2-1 configuration, each of the Executive Pod seats equipped with 18″ touch flat screen TV’s and flat beds. The firmness of the mattress on the chair could be adjusted using a touch screen comfort system, though I could not feel the difference. There was also a chair massage but I could barely feel it vibrating. The pillow and comforter were quite comfortable for a good night’s rest. There was also an adjustable armrest and a foldable tray table.

Air Canada provided a Canadian-brand Escents Aromatherapy amenities kit for business class passengers with just the basics – socks, toothbrush, ear plugs, lip balm.

The business class cabin had a total of three restrooms, including two between business class cabins, and one at the very front. The restrooms were standard size, and didn’t have especially nice finishes or amenities.

Timeliness

3 out of my 4 flights were delayed by at least half hour. One of the flights was related to a typhoon in Japan, others did not have an explanation.

Entertainment

Noise cancelling headphones were given to the passengers in business class cabin. The selection of movies and TV shows included French, English, Japanese and Hindi, though not as many as I have seen in some of the other airlines. I had seen most of the new releases two months ago on Delta. Also, the ‘search by category’ was rather funky, resulting in English movies when I selected Hindi language.

A selection of premium newspapers, including route-specific titles were offered before takeoff.

Each seat had a personal power supply and USB port for charging electronic devices. It’s always great to arrive at your destination with your cell phone fully charged. There was no Wi-Fi on any of the planes.

Duty-free selections could be accessed from the screen monitors as well as the inflight magazine. Most products were standard, with nothing new or exciting.

Food

The food on board was quite good on Air Canada. Drinks and salted nuts were offered soon after takeoff, though a generous pour of champagne was served in a regular glass.

Meals were served 60-90 minutes after takeoff. For lunch, I had a fresh mixed greens salad, poached tiger prawns with marinated artichokes, grilled eggplant and zucchini lasagna, cheese tray and a decadent dark chocolate fondant with hazelnut praline and cherry compote. This was the best dessert I have eaten in air!

Plentiful snacks were stocked in the galley for between meals, and water bottles were passed out at regular intervals. Since I was flying between Canada and Japan, there were Japanese menu options also including dim sum, noodle soups, congee, chicken teriyaki wrap and yakitori chicken.

The menus on Air Canada are created by celebrated Canadian Chef David Hawksworth.

Service

I have mixed feelings about the service provided by Air Canada. Only on one of the flights, the cabin attendant introduce himself before takeoff and asked for my order. At other times, nobody bothered to even bring a welcome drink before takeoff. Service during the flight was courteous and to the point. I didn’t feel like anyone went out of their way to make me feel special.

The on-ground staff was a bit more courteous and smiling.

Prior to landing, the flight attendant passed out enveloped asking for donations of left over currency for the The Air Canada Foundation, a registered charity focused on the health and well-being of children and youth. I thought this was a great idea since I hate bringing back foreign currency coins, which I eventually lose or never use again.

Lounge

I visited Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge in Toronto on a Friday evening. Though parts of the airport are quite modern, the lounge looked outdated with uncomfortable brown and blue leather chairs and dirty tables. Limited food and drinks were offered to guests. At dinner time, there was only mac n cheese, nachos and salads. They did have kids play room, a loud entertainment room, and a business area. I was also able to use complimentary shower facilities where they provided a towel, but no toiletries. Also, there is no place to hang your clothes in the shower rooms so leave your jackets outside.

Air Canada is Canada’s largest airline and the largest provider of scheduled passenger services in the Canadian market, the Canada-U.S. trans-border market and in the international market to and from Canada. Air Canada is among the 20 largest airlines in the world and employs 30,000 people. Its corporate headquarters are in Montreal, and four major hubs are Toronto (YYZ), Montreal (YUL), Vancouver (YVR) and Calgary (YYC).

In my opinion, Air Canada can be best described as ‘safe, reliable and no frills’ airline that prioritizes serving the people, environment and community.

Flying Qatar Airways Business Class

Honestly, I am jealous of my friends in the corporate world who get to jet set when they fly for work. They relax in their flatbed seats while sipping on a glass of champagne served in real crystal glass, while I am squeezed in the economy middle seat for up to 30 hours at a time. As a freelance travel writer, I have to more then often cover my own airfare when going on assignment, which is every month. Usually, I am scrambling for cheap fares, using my miles, or negotiating with airlines for discounts.

Not using your airline vouchers or miles? Donate to Go Eat Give so we can bring you more informative stories from around the world. 

So when I had the opportunity of traveling Business Class on Qatar Airways (QA), I grabbed it!

qatar airways

I booked a round trip flight from Atlanta, GA to Yerevan, Armenia, both of which are new hubs for QA. In May 2016, a launch party featured a private concert by American singer and actress Jennifer Lopez at Atlanta’s historic Fox Theatre, which enraged Atlanta-based Delta Airlines. Grow up Delta! Read more about their reaction to it.

The online booking process was easy. QatarAirways.com website gives several options of flights for each day and shows a calendar of low fares through the week. You can pick any combination of flights based on schedules and prices.

Checking in at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airport was strange as the attendant at QA counter did not know recognize the city Yerevan, or the country Armenia. He said he worked with the airlines, but perhaps a geography lesson wasn’t included in the training.

I got access to The Club At ATL lounge at Atlanta airport, which is a far cry from any VIP lounges I have seen before. It was crowded, the wifi was slow, and there was hardly anything to eat at the buffet table.

Once I boarded the plane, things got a lot better. An attendant escorted me from the entrance of the flight to my seat and helped me stow my carry on bag. Soon, the cabin attendant addressed me by my name and made polite conversation about my journey. I got a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice right away and was feeling relaxed already.

qatar airways

I was on the 777-200 airplane which featured fully flat horizontal beds in a 2-2-2 configuration. The maroon (official color: Qatari red) leather seats were equipped with massage functions and I had over 6 feet of legroom! Sorry coach people. I had the biggest individual flat screen TV screen I have seen on board (estimating 17 inches) which was programmed with over 3,000 hours of entertainment in 30 languages through the award-winning Oryx One system. Some of the flights also have WiFi but neither of my legs (Atlanta-Doha-Yerevan) did.

qatar airways

Next they brought out amenities – A Giorgio Armani toiletries bag with a perfume and lotion, cozy PJ set (in my size) which contained a long sleeve shirt and pants, along with slippers, fluffy pillow and comforter. Once I changed into my lounging clothes, the attendant asked to make my bed for the night. She flattened the seat to 180 degrees, laid out bedspreads and tucked in the comforter, a left a chocolate flight on my pillow. I felt like I was getting a turndown service at a hotel.

qatar airways

QA business class features a Dine On Demand style of dining, meaning passengers can order whatever food and drinks they want whenever they feel like it. The drink menu had a great selection of wines and champagnes from around the world. One could chose from Australian Shiraz, Spanish Mencia, French Bordeaux, Tawny Port, as well as spirits, cocktails and teas.

The food menu offered a good selection of vegetarian and regional choices.   I had a fresh salad of butternut squash and goat cheese on a bed of arugula; a flavorful paneer tikka masala with herbed rice and lentils; and individual size carrot cake and chocolate tart for dessert. Just before we arrived in Doha, I ordered my breakfast – kadak cardamom chai, kippered salmon with capers, muffin and croissant. The sun shone in from the large windows as I sipped on my strong hot tea and read the morning news.

qatar airways

Another thing I really liked about my QA flight was the attention to the bathrooms. During the 15-hour long service, the toilet was always clean and well equipped with toothbrushes and hand lotion. One of the attendants made sure to clean the toilet after every single use.

If you have a 4 hours or more layover in Doha, Qatar Airways offers free city tours. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to avail this opportunity. The airport does have a hotel, art displays, spa, lots of shopping and dining, as well as VIP lounges.

Doha

Qatar Airways is commitment to giving back to the community. You will see some of their projects featured during the in-flight entertainment and  announcements are made on board asking for contributions. Read more about QA social projects here

Would I fly QA again? Absolutely! In my opinion, QA delivers a lot more than it’s counterparts when it comes to seat comfort, food and entertainment, making it an overall much better flight experience. And the best part is, you would probably end up paying a lot less for a business class ticket on Qatar Airways versus some of the US-based airlines.

Qatar Airways is the national carrier of the State of Qatar. Launched in 1997, QA flys to over 150 destinations worldwide. It was named Airline of the Year by Skytrax in 2015 and Business Class of the Year by Skytrax in 2014.

The Airline That Makes Sense

New York City to Oslo for only $150 round trip! If your first reaction to that is, “Great price, but I’m sure I’ll get what I pay for” you think like me. For years, I have frowned upon discount airlines for fear of the unknown. I would rather pay a few extra bucks to know that my flight will arrive on time, in one piece, my luggage will get there safely, and the ride would be somewhat uneventful.

FAST AND AFFORDABLE

Little did I know that Norwegian Air is not only cheap, it is even better than many of the well known brands in the airline industry. I flew the brand new 787-9 Dreamliner from New York to London in only 5 hours earlier this month! The flight was so quite and smooth that I didn’t even realize when it took off. Normally, I have to wear ear plugs on the plane because of the loud noise, but not on the 787 Dreamliner. The 787-9 Dreamliner is a faster airplane that consumes less fuel. The best part is, Norwegian decided to pass the fuel cost savings to their consumers.

norwegianSTRETCH YOUR LEGS

There are only two classes in Norwegian – economy and premium. The main difference between the two is the number of seats per row, allowing for extra room, as well as superior meal service. The Premium seat (there are only 5 rows) I was in, reclined enough to stretch my legs and each seat had its own charging area with USB and electric outlets. There was also a lot more room in overhead for carry on bags, so there’s no hassle of shoving your bags under the seat.

norwegian airlines

SAY NO TO JET LAGS

The interior of plane is designed to reduce jet lag and keep the air well circulated. Clever cabin lighting system changes with the time zone. Electro chromatic window system allows each passenger to control how much light they want to come in. If you wish to take a nap, you can block the sun out completely and make the window appear dark. The viewing area is also 65% more than other planes.

FLAT AND TOUCH SCREENS

Norwegian claims to have state of the art entertainment system, which is somewhat true. Flat screen televisions are touch screen enabled, though the selection of movies and games is very limited. Most other airlines now offer hundreds of hours of inflight entertainment, which also includes many foreign features.

norwegian airlines

HEALTHY MEALS

Food on the flight was decent. I had the vegetarian section which included salad, fruit, rice cracker, and pasta with vegetables. Fresh and healthy, unlike most airplane food that is overloaded with carbs and cheese. Why do you need so many calories when you are not moving about?

There was red and white wine as well, though only one kind each. You need to pre order your food in short haul economy. Snacks were also available for purchase (Visa and MasterCard only) and could be ordered through the tv monitor. norwegian airline

The duty free selection was very limited, offering a few cosmetics and alcohol. The items were displayed on the entertainment system for a short duration of the flight.

FREE WIFI

Perhaps the biggest perk for 21st century travelers. The Norwegian flights within Europe offer free wifi to ALL passengers. I used it on the London-Helsinki leg and had no issues connecting with my iPhone and laptop.

NO FRILLS

Do you feel left out when you pass by the elite business section and trail your way into the back of the plane? Those who normally travel business or first class and look for ultra luxury may be a bit disappointed. There is no champagne on arrival or TUMI amenity kits. You can expect to get a cozy blanket and headphones – thats it. Equality (mostly) for everyone!

CARE FOR THE PLANET
Norwegian Air started in 1993 and is voted the best value environment friendly airline. They are the third largest low-cost carrier in Europe with 5,500 employees and operate over 400 routes to more than 130 destinations across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Thailand, the Caribbean and the US. Norwegian is remarkably dedicated to the environment and focuses on how airlines can contribute to less pollution and emissions by flying new and fuel efficient aircrafts.
Would I fly Norwegian again? In a heartbeat! I believe in 2016, we must support businesses that care about sustaining the planet foremost. On top of that, if you can get there faster, cheaper, safer and without jet lag, then thats the best way to travel.
To learn more or make a reservation on Norwegian Air, click here.