I spent way to much time on the road in June flying back and forth from the west coast 3 times in 4 weeks. Thanks to a combination of short notice trips, flight credits and great fares I ended up in first class on all 6 flights on 3 different carriers. I’ll detail each experience, include photos and deliver a verdict. NOTE: For 7 years I was a United 1K flying ~200K miles a year, the majority of it in domestic first class and international business class.
Washington Reagan National Airport (DCA) to LAX to DCA
Hard to ever turn down a flight from DCA to the west coast. Avoiding Dulles at any cost should be all travelers’ goals. It was my first time on Alaska Airlines and I was looking forward to flying them after hearing friends’ reviews who live in Seattle.
The seat was not super comfortable. It was hard and the recline was limited.
WiFi was great. It was faster than I had experienced on Virgin America and the cost was less than VA. The inflight entertainment was on a digi handheld player. The content was decent, the device cumbersome but was better than watching an overhead monitor on a United 757. The biggest downfall is that there are no outlets at the seat making it impossible to charge your device. It is strange that you can offer WiFi but no outlets. My laptop barely made it powered on the outbound flight.
Crew on both flights were happy to be there, professional and worked the entire time. They addressed each passenger by last name and thanked us all for our business.
Washington Dulles (IAD) to SEA to IAD
Back in a familiar setting with my family as we traveled out to Seattle to see friends. The outbound flight was on a 757 and the return was on a former Continental 737-800. The contrast was quite stark in the experiences on each flight. And that sums up one of my bigger gripes with United is the inconsistencies.
The 757 seat was leather and still was super comfortable for me. Perhaps my body has adapted to the seat after all the miles I have previous flown on United. The 737-800 seat was nearly identical to the Alaska Airlines seat and by the time I got off the plane by back hurt.
United has come in last place on technology for years and nothing changed on this trip. The 757 had overhead screens and no power adapters. The 737-800 at least had power at the seat and DirectTV making the flight bearable, but no WiFi on any United flights kills any productivity.
Breakfast on the outbound was the predictable hockey puck, highlighted with horrible coffee. Why did United get rid of Starbucks? I am not a coffee junkie nor a Starbucks addict but what they are serving on United is awful.
United’s biggest inconsistencies start with their crews. The outbound flight crew was impatient, did the bare minimum and disappeared as soon as the trays were picked up only to reappear right before landing. The return crew was terrific. They went out of their way to help when my daughter wanted a snack, since she could not eat the airline food due to allergies.
Washington Dulles (IAD) to SFO to IAD
I want to like Virgin America. All the hipsters love them but I can’t help but feel they try so hard to be cool that they forget some basics.
The seat on both flights was easily the most comfortable. Built in lumbar massage, foot rest, not bad.
Virgin America was the only airline that hit all three checkboxes on my must haves. WiFi, power outlets, and live tv. The price of WiFi was more expensive on Virgin than Alaska by $3.00.
This is always where Virgin loses me. They tend to try to hard to cater the flight with fancy, hip food which you can’t pull off on an airplane. If they only could keep it simple like Alaska did with their breakfast. This flight I settled for the simple fruit plate with granola which was really good.
Both crews were average. Every Virgin America crew I have had does their job, keeps everyone well fed and happy but they are not the most personal. I don’t need small talk, or to be addressed formally, but the crews I had this trip were like automatrons.
And the winner is…
For people who care about miles and status, it is a no brainer, Alaska wins hands down. Virgin America has a weak loyalty program called Elevate, but Alaska allows you to earn miles on Delta, American and has their own program.
If you don’t care about miles, then Virgin wins in a squeaker. Better seats and better technology put it ahead of Alaska. United is not even on my radar at this point. I am done flying them. Personally, I dislike flying from Dulles, so when Virgin adds a flight from National Airport later this summer to SFO it puts them over the top. Power at the seat and live TV with the added convenience of National make going to SFO a breeze for me.
Late in June I was in San Francisco for Google I/O. I had a few spare minutes to capture some of my favorite iconic images of the city. My trip started with an early morning visit to Washington Dulles International Airport.
No trip to the SoMa district in San Fran would be complete without a trip to Blue Bottle Coffee.
The Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco is one of the most green buildings in the world. Their energy consumption is shared with all hotel guests in the lobby.
It has been a crazy 96 hours of weather and power outages here in DC. Flying back from Google I/O last week it was clear based on our flight path that we were avoiding a massive storm in Indiana and Ohio. It was incredible to watch how a storm in Chicago ended up traveling over 900 miles and wiping out power grids along the way.
The derecho knocked out power at the SumOfTheWeb’s office in Maryland along with over a million others in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia). Tons of content has been created about my particular power company and their ineptitude. Thanks PEPCO for all you do. Data courtesy of AddThis of course.
- Pepco Lobbyists Visited D.C. Officials Almost 100 Times In 2011
- MontCo to assess Pepco’s storm performance July 19 | WashingtonExaminer.com
- Dupont Circle Photo Gallery | Pepco Announces Power Restoration Timeline
- D.C. power outage update: Pepco
- O’Malley burned by Pepco blowback – POLITICO.com
Of course life could definitely be worse. We got power back 80 hours after the storm today. We are lucky, we could afford to refill our refrigerator and stay in a hotel while the power was out. Some are not as fortunate. And some folks in Richmond are about to experience an incredible heat wave followed by a chance of Godzilla. Thanks to the news team in Richmond for injecting some humor into this crappy weather pattern.
Yesterday Google introduced the crowd at Google I/O to Google Glass by having people wearing the glasses jumping from a plane, biking across the roof of Moscone Conference, and rappelling down the side of the building. Well in the words of S.R. Hadden from the movie Contact:
First rule in spending: why build one when you can have two at twice the price?
So today we were treated to a second attempt at the stunt. While the crowd in the convention center may have been rolling their eyes at seeing the stunt again, I was in a very different location. By chance I was walking back from a meeting at the StumbleUpon offices when I noticed the same blimp hovering above Moscone. A minute later the sky divers jumped and by the time I made it back to the convention center I watched two people rappel down the side of the building. Here is what the stunt looked like from outside the convention center.
It was a lot of fun to watch. Also worth mentioning today Google opened up the goodie bag again today and gave everyone a Chromebox.
Google’s developer conference is known as Google I/O and in its 5th year Google uses this event to launch new updates to products such as Android and to introduce new technologies such as Google Glass. It has been a couple of years since I was at Google I/O so I was glad to be walking through the doors at Moscone West to see what the 2012 version of Google I/O had to offer.
I was not very impressed with the first half of the keynote. The crowd was very tepid, not a lot of clapping and the speakers on stage seemed to be impacted by the lack of energy. It doesn’t help that Google’s team lacks to bravado of some of Apple’s exec team either. What started off weakly finished on a very strong note.
Vic Gundotra was in the middle of introducing an update to Google+ when Sergey Brin updated the presentation to introduce Google Glass. This wearable computer and the way it was introduced will go down as one of the best product intros. Google Glass allows the person wearing the glasses to broadcast a 1st person experience, and in this case a blimp high above the city set the stage for a live Google Hangout of a sky diving team to broadcast their dive from the blimp to the roof of Moscone. Incredible.
The keynote wrapped up on a high note with Google giving all the conference attendees a free Nexus 7 tablet, Nexus Q and Nexus phone. I left the keynote with a positive vibe after the initial letdown early on.
Why does Google Glass matter so much to me? Everything Google announced today aside from Glass was a retread idea. Tablet? Yawn…we have seen a few tablet announcements this year. Android 4.1, aka Jelly Bean? Yawn…with the number of Android devices stuck on old operating systems how excited could I be knowing that only a sliver of the Android users will actually get this update. Google+? Yawn for the most part…Events was interesting. Google Glass? Awesome…something innovative and different from all the rigamarole from Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook. We need to move the needle and even if Google Glass is not it, projects like it are great to see us as a human race trying to solve.
Bullish on Google
I won’t hide the fact that I am an Apple fanboy. I have an iPhone, iPad and numerous other Apple hardware. After today’s sessions, Google continues to be dedicated to Google+, continues its transformation from a software company to a software AND hardware company, while continuing to innovate on new projects.
In October 2009 ESPN ran the first in a series of documentaries celebrating the first 30 years of sports coverage at ESPN. The documentaries were produced by filmmakers like Ice Cube and Barry Levinson. Some of the documentaries were good, but others were captivating. In my opinion ESPN was robbed of either a Primetime Emmy or a Grammy for best documentary.
Today ESPN announced it is kicking off a new 30 for 30 series this fall and winter. I can’t wait to see what the next set of documentaries is going to cover.
Here are my top 5 favorite documentaries from the first 30 movies produced by ESPN:
5. “The Band That Would Not Die” – My dad grew up in Baltimore and was a huge Baltimore Colts fan. Watching the Colts slip out of Baltimore in the middle of the night was heartbreaking to him and other Colt fans. In this film, we are introduced to the Baltimore Colts Band and how they never lost faith in bringing a team to Baltimore.
4. “The U” – Lots of people, including myself, forgot how University of Miami went from an afterthought in football to winning multiple national titles. The Hurricanes won with moxie and let everyone know it.
3. “Catching Hell” – I am cheating a little since this film was not part of the 30 for 30 series, though originally it was. Getting into the exact details of what happens when an innocent Chicago Cubs fan gets in the way of a Cubs’ outfielder catching a foul ball costing the Cubs a chance at returning to the their first World Series since 1945.
2. “Once Brothers” – This story moved me the most. Vlade Divac, the former LA Laker and Serbian goes back home to try and find closure over his broken friendship with former NBA star and Croatian Drazen Petrovic. Their relationship was similar to brothers, but was torn apart when civil war broke out between Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s. Unfortunately, Drazen Petrovic died in a car accident before the friendship could be repaired. We should never take for granted the relationships we have in life.
1. “The Two Escobars” – This should have been made into a full length movie. ”The Two Escobars” shown the spotlight on the lives of two men with the same last name, Escobar who’s lives inexplicably collided. The first Escobar, Andres was a star soccer player in Columbia who accidentally scored an own goal that caused Columbia to lose to the US in the 1990 World Cup. The second Escobar, Pablo, was the drug kingpin from Columbia who controlled almost all the cocaine in world. Where the worlds collide is that both Pablo and Andres were from Medellin and it was there Pablo, who was a huge soccer fan, funded the Columbian soccer team. Unfortunately it was the same cartel that ended Andres’ life in 1994 for retribution of that own goal in the 1990 World Cup.