I share my bite-sized financial advice and some additional resources.
I share my bite-sized financial advice and some additional resources.
After much trepidation, our day of departure dawned. Norwegian Airlines (or Air Shuttle, or whatever they want to call themselves) was a relatively new airlines, and we had read mixed reviews about them, including instances where the flight had been cancelled after the passengers reached the gate to board the plane. Besides, we had learned that a consortium of US and other airlines had sued to block them from US skies. With all that in mind, we were a bit sceptical that we would actually be on our flights without any issues. Thankfully, our fears were assuaged when we saw that the plane was ready at the gate a short time after we got there, and we started boarding.
Baab was thrilled at the sight of the Dreamliner, the first time we were going to be travelling in one. The boarding process was relatively straightforward and we got one (or maybe two) window seats among the four of us. It was nearly midnight (past 11 pm if I remember) that we finally took off amidst a light rain shower. My photos show the raindrops streaking across the windows as we took off.
Norwegian being a budget airline, there are no complimentary services enroute. We had brought onboard with us some burritos and sandwiches for dinner, which we had a few minutes after we boarded. I liked the barebones service. It would be great if the airlines would knock off a couple of hundred dollars and leave everyone to their own for the duration of the flight and have minimal stewards/stewardesses. I did engage the crew in conversation during a visit to the restroom. I was surprised to note that the crew were either from Thailand or from Indonesia. Having recently returned from a cruise where the majority of the crew was from Indonesia, I quickly figured out one of the means that Norwegian uses to keep their fares low! Basically, they were using the cruise model with the airlines … at least with respect to the attendants.
After a short while, all of us fell asleep. The flight was pretty uneventful, but for the fact that when I woke up, it seemed still quite dark outside while the smartphone (my first!) that I had brought with me indicated that the local time should be past nine am. It took a while before I figured out, thanks to Baab, that it is the effect of the Dreamliner. Instead of window shades, these windows were photocromatic and could be darkened (or lightened) by the touch of a button. So, I spent a few minutes figuring out those controls and, sure enough, I got bright sunlight streaming in!
I could see the ice and the fjords in the Norwegian landscape by this time, and the plane was starting its descent into Oslo’s Gardemoen airport. We landed on time, and had a few hours to kill before the flight from Oslo to Paris. After enquiring around, we found out that we could leave the security area of the airport, then get back for our outbound flight – and that there would not be too much of a queue to get back, so once we were done from our walk outside, we needed to allow only about 15-30 minutes to get all the way back in to the gate.
So, we decided to head out and see if we could walk about a bit outside the airport. Earlier, I had researched to see what our options were with regard to visiting the city. However, the four-five hours that we had appeared to be too less to try that out – at best, it would be a quick trip out and back with an hour spent in the city, which would not be much at all. So, we had abandoned that plan from the get go.
As soon as we came out of the terminal, the blast of cold air hit us. The temperature was about 26 degrees Fahrenheit. And though it was about noon, the sun was way far down in the horizon. I took photos of the longest shadow I’ve ever cast during the middle of the day!!
As I was cleaning up around the house and trying to remove traces of my packratism one paper at a time, I came across an unbound tome – it was my doctoral dissertation from more than two decades ago.
Some background aka “flashback”: Katya goes to a school whose director has his PhD. As a mark of respect, everyone refers to him as Dr. ___. It so happens that his daughter is Katya’s classmate. So, each time she refers to this gentleman, she uses “Dr. ___”; I, on the other hand, have never had anyone calling me “Dr. Porcupyn” so it is obvious that Katya has no clue. So, one day, I informed her that I too have a PhD and am within my rights to demand to be called “Dr. Porcupyn”. Katya laughed at me, “No you don’t! You are kidding.”
It took some effort on my part to convince her, though truth being said, I was never really convinced that she was really convinced.
Back to yesterday: Now that I had proof of my “Doctor”ness, I promptly took the sheaf of papers over to where Katya was and said, “Look, here is the dissertation I wrote that made me a PhD!”
Katya: “What is it all about?”
Me: About traffic studies.
Katya (rolling her eyes): Traffic? I thought you were into maths and science!
Me: Well, it needs maths and science.
Katya: Traffic? Who writes all that much about traffic?! Traffic needs maths and science?
Mrs. Porcupyn (coming to my aid): Yes, sure traffic needs maths and science.
Katya (disgusted): You got your PhD in (with extra emphasis) traffic? And I thought you were smart!!
Me (thinking to myself): At least Katya thought I was smart … though it is now in past tense! 😉
Counting down to our departure, with about three weeks or so left, Baab came home from school saying that one of his fingers was hurting. Apparently he had been playing throw-and-catch (American) football in school and one of the balls he was supposed to be catching had glanced off his fingertip. It’s been a while so I don’t remember whether it was the same day or the next day, but off went Mrs. Porcupyn and Baab to the local urgent care (maybe it was the same day, as I remember the urgent care). Diagnosis: Broken finger. They next went to the orthopedic doctors, who fashioned a splint for him to wear for the next four weeks.
As if that was not enough, within a week or so, Baab was rough-housing with friends at a friend’s house when his toes realized that a cylindrical pillar is as hard – if not harder – than an interior wall. After he came home in pain, a trip to the urgent care facility followed. Diagnosis: two broken toes. Unlike the fingers, for toes, there is not really any treatment – they are supposed to heal on their own. But the folks at the facility did give him an open-toed shoe (only one) so he could better accommodate his toes, which were bandaged together in “buddy wrap” as they referred to it, to facilitate their quicker healing and to prevent further mishaps.
And so it was that come flight time, Baab was digitally challenged in one hand and one foot. During the time leading up from when we decided to go on a trip, I had researched and found out the an open jaw itinerary starting landing in Paris and leaving from a few other candidate European cities would be about the same as a round-trip to Paris. Not having a good idea of how much we might like Paris, we decided to have an open jaw itinerary of MCO-OSL-ORY on the outbound leg and SXF-OSL-MCO on the inbound leg.
And yes, that meant a few things:
But we were looking forward to all of those, for sure.
Though we’ve been living in the USA quite a while now and visit India (our motherland) on a regular basis – once every year or two – which more often than not involved a transit via Europe (London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Zurich being the most favoured jumping points), we had never visited the Continent on vacation. One of the reasons was that the cost of an independent round-trip ticket from the closest airport (Orlando) to any European destination rivaled that of a similar ticket to India. We could not justify the (air ticket) expense of an India trip without visiting India. I put forth the suggestion that, every other India trip, we go on an intermediate Europe trip. Here is what I was suggesting:
All of us would fly to the Europe destination; after a week in Europe, one parent would return to the USA and the other would proceed with the kids to India, returning a couple of weeks later. That way, one parent would need to just take a week off work (though pay a premium airfare for the Europe trip) and the other parent (and both kids) would be on a three week vacation and the Europe stopover would be a relatively minor jump in fare. However, there was a lot of opposition to that plan because we would be taking our “India luggage” with us to Europe, schlepping which from one point to the other in Europe would supposedly require some doing. And with that, I had reluctantly resigned myself with not being able to do so until retired.
But I had not given up hope. So we (OK, I, the reigning travelnerd of the family) were scouting around for travel deals just to Europe when suddenly, into my mailbox plopped an email from Norwegian Airlines. They were offering what to me appeared to be outrageously inexpensive tickets to the continent. Specifically, tickets to Paris or London could be had for just around $600 per person. Never having heard of this airline before, I was a bit apprehensive. A little googling revealed that, though there were issues ever so often with a flight being cancelled or delayed atrociously, for the most part, they were a trusted budget airline. Yes, you’d have to pay for anything you got on the flight, water included! Air was free, though, thankfully!
Upon learning of the deal, Baab (our resident aviation expert, aka, planefan) was immediately elated.”Why?”, you might ask, like Mrs. Porcupyn and I did. Turns out that the TransAtlantic flights on both the outbound and inbound legs would be on Boeing’s new Dreamliner, a plance – incidentally – none of us had ever flown before. Baab went on a monologue of the plane’s design features and points of excellence. Mrs. Porcupyn was, albeit a bit reluctantly, sold on the idea.
And so it was that one fine Tuesday night, we were at Orlando International Airport (MCO). Though kids had the entire Thanksgiving week off, we were having the Annual Orlando Kannada Sangha Rajyothsava the Sunday of Thanksgiving week. As a result, though Norwegian flew from MCO to Gardermoen Airport, Oslo (OSL) twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays, the latter otherwise having been very convenient), we were able to leave only on the Tuesday flight.
[photos to appear here]
Next post: Charting out the itinerary and Baab’s digital handicaps!!
The flight from Los Angeles to Sydney was uneventful. The stewards and stewardesses were much more efficient and professional than the ones I had encountered on the Atlanta to Houston leg. That reminds me!
Typically, I like to get our seats in the back of the plane. Needless to say, this implies that we are the among the last passengers being served by the stewardess. As usual, we were waiting our turn and I had decided to request the “illy” coffee that was being hyped in the United flightzine. Halfway along the flight from Atlanta to Houston, we encountered some turbulence. At this point, the stewardess was in the process of serving drinks. After stabilizing herself, she continued along the aisle (coming towards our row, that is). I was still hopeful of getting my taste of “illy”.
But then the captain came on the intercom and said that he was expecting to hit some more turbulence up ahead and that he was calling for a suspension of flight service in five to ten minutes. Guess what? The stewardess shut shop rightaway. I had hoped that at least she would continue with her service until the captain’s next announcement, and so did some of the other passengers. But after that, we had nothing for the rest of the flight. In fact, when a couple of us stood up to go to the restroom, she sat us right back down, which was OK, had she been consistent in her behaviour. Oh well, illy coffee illa (no coffee here)!! To complete the tale, I did seek and get the coffee on the next leg, and did not like it. What an anticlimax!
Where was I? Yes, I was saying that the flight crew was much more efficient on the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney. Baab and I like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Maybe it is just me, but it does appear to be bigger than those on other planes. At least, I don’t bump into the walls as often when I am in there!
One nice thing about this flight was that I had the armrest entirely to myself. Thankfully, there were only two of us in the row of three, so both of us got two armrests apiece, without having to resort to elbow-wrestling 🙂
We encountered an issue with our food though. Three of our family got our Asian Vegetarian Meal, where the food is excellent Indian fare, but the dessert leaves a lot to be desired, as they go completely vegetarian on us, and more often than not, dessert consists of fruits. But the fourth, Mrs. Porcupyn, did not get the AVML that I’d requested. The flight crew informed her that she was not listed as having requested a special meal, which I did not really understand. Fortunately, she was able to get the pasta meal which was also vegetarian. I wondered if I had made a mistake and not requested an AVML for her – more on this later.
As I dozed on and off, I tracked our flight as it went past Hawaii’s latitude, then entered the Southern Hemisphere (a first for everyone in the family), then passed exotic sounding cities such as Nuku’alofa and Niue. After a long time – this flight rivals the non-stop ones from India or the Middle East to USA – I started seeing the coastline of Australia appearing on the map showing Cairns to the north and Melbourne to the south. Finally, the captain announced that we would be landing in Sydney shortly. I looked out and finally saw land for the first time since we had left Los Angeles.
We flew right over south east Sydney and I saw all the major Sydney landmarks that I had researched – famous beaches such as Bondi and Coogee (which I misidentified from the air), Watson Bay (and its lighthouse), the Double Bay, and of course, the famous iconic sights of the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The plane then banked steeply and turned left (south) and out into the sea once more. I could see the sharp cliffs that were being hit by the waves relentlessly. With one more turn, the captain aligned the plane for landing and we touched down just under half an hour late, not bad considering that we were delayed by over an hour ex-LAX!
On a Thursday, I came home early from work, by which time the rest of the family was already home. The kids, I repeat (though I don’t think I mentioned this earlier), were still not really thrilled as they would be missing their first week – plus two days – of school as a result of this Australian adventure. Rather reluctantly, therefore, they worked at packing their luggage. By the time we were all packed up and ready to leave, it was past seven pm, and we had originally planned to leave by five, so as to get to our Atlanta hotel by midnight.
As it happened, we did not get in there until nearly three am – and there is a reason why!! Given the latest advances in technology, which I had not embraced yet but DS had taken to like ducks to water, I neglected to look up Google Maps before leaving to note down a back-of-the-envelope (literally!) map that I typically draw when I am driving to an unfamiliar destination. Instead, I had asked Baab to get the travel route all sorted out, which he did. Once we got into the general Atlanta area, it was about 2 am. We were still on I-75 in the general neighborhood of the hotel. At this point, the GPS informed us that the destination was about 30 minutes away and indicated that we should be leaving the interstate.
We followed the directive. What followed for the next 30 minutes were right turns and left turns and right turns … you get the point! We were driving around on little side streets in the middle of the night with not a soul (or house) in sight that we could see even on a moonlight night! We called the hotel’s number but the clerk was not really sure if we were on the right track – she could only read us out the official directions which required us to take an exit off I-85!! At this point, we got severely nervous as we had no clue what we would do if the car developed an issue. Fortunately, it didn’t and, like I said, we reached the hotel almost at 3 am. Though the GPS was exactly right, looking at the map later, I realized that I was right in guessing that the hotel was somewhere in the V-region formed by the two interstates. Instead of taking us all the way to the junction and bringing us back, it decided to take the shortest route (based time or distance or both), but it was not the most inhabited route for sure. Oh well, lesson learned … almost. Why? Read on in later posts.
At Atlanta and Houston, we saw a lot of different airlines:
For now, we were in Atlanta and all checked in – we had one check-in bag between the four of us and four carry-on bags and four back-packs. The idea was that we would dump all the food (TV dinners, cookies and the like) and warm clothes in the check-in bag while travelling, but then – once in Australia – rearrange our stuff and leave the nearly empty check-in bag with friend in Sydney. Two things were making us a bit nervous – the first was Australian immigration and the second was our flight connection at LAX.
In researching Australia, I had chanced upon some YouTube videos of folks being caught taking undeclared food (a big No No) into the country. In addition to losing their food item(s), the passengers had to pony up a significant amount for fines. Some visitors were deported back for not adhering to the rules of the visa that they came on. I also read about shoes being banned from Australia as they had dirt on them. Needless to say, we were worried that we might fall foul of the law with the food items that we were carrying and also that our (hiking) shoes might not be clean enough for Australia, as we had worn them in Switzerland last year.
Then there was our flight connection – so careful I was in getting our flights on the right dates, that I did not pay enough attention to the actual flight timings and connection times. As a result, we had over six hours of connecting time at Houston International (IAH), followed by 45 minute connection in Los Angeles (LAX). I called United, I talked with an agent at a booth in a mall in New York – everyone assured me that as it was a published connection, we would not miss it. However, researching the flights online, we noticed that the IAH-LAX flight we were on routinely late. To add to our worries, Baab informed me that there would be quite a bit of walking involved across terminals in LAX, and we were unsure whether we would be subject to another round of security as well. All in all, we were antsy even though the research also indicated that the LAX to Sydney (SYD) flight was also late on the days when the IAH-LAX flight was late! To add to our worries, a couple of days before we were flying, Delta had major issues with their computer systems and a lot of their flights were grounded in – of all places – Atlanta!
As it turned out, we were vindicated (a little) for our concerns. ATL-IAH was on time, and we spent the long transit time just hanging around (three of us) and checking out planes and taking photos (Baab). Baab and I went from the domestic terminal to the international terminal and back in the shuttle trains within Houston. However, the IAH-LAX plane took off a bit later than its time, though the pilot assured us that the flight would be reaching on time. And he was right, as we landed at LAX ten minutes ahead of schedule. I was so glad that I heaved a sigh of relief. Not so fast, buster! We taxied for a few minutes then ground to a full stop on the tarmac, well short of any gate. Then came the announcement that our gate was occupied by a plane and we would get there as soon as the gate was available.
After ten minutes more of waiting (now we were past the scheduled time and so, officially, we were late), another announcement followed which mirrored the previous one. Now, I was positively worried. I called the flight attendant and asked her if she knew anything about our flight out to Sydney. She went back to check and came back in a couple of minutes to tell me that it was on time. As we had still not started moving, I requested her to arrange it so we could leave the plane early as we had a really tight connection. She said that she would make an announcement.
Sure enough, when we finally got to the gate nearly 30 minutes behind schedule, she requested folks to make way for families behind them (we were almost at the last row) who had to rush to catch a flight. To no one’s surprise, nothing like that happened. Not only us, but also another family immediately ahead of us who also claimed that they had a tight connection, was able to get ahead of the crowd. And so, when we finally entered the terminal building, it was almost time for the Sydney flight to take off. Leaving the rest of the family to walk slowly, I almost ran all the way to the Sydney flight (gate 74 in Terminal 7, IIRC) from our gate (85 in Terminal 8, I believe).
When I got there, I was relieved to see that the door to the jetway was still open, though there was no sign of any of the other passengers who had obviously all gone in and occupied their seats. As I had the passports and boarding passes for everyone in the family, I quickly got them all verified by which time, the rest of the family showed up and we were able to get in the flight. As an anti-climax, we had to wait for another half an hour or so – and more passengers to come in – before the flight finally took off (though the pilot blamed the delay on some mechanical issues).