On Top of Table Mountain

I want to get back into sharing about my time in South Africa over Spring Break as I ease back into making posts. I know a lot has been going on about potential new travel bans and a renewed restriction on travel to Cuba, but I’ll get into all that later. For now, I want to share some photos of my time on Table Mountain.

I’ve been to Table Mountain before – as a small child I went up the cable car of yester-year. I’m not entirely sure if this is the exact one I used back in the early ’90s, but it seems pretty similar in my head.

Nowadays, however, they have made massive upgrades. When we went to Cape Town in 2007 (and now when I went in 2017) we used the newer ones that are safer, hold more people, and rotate! It was such a pleasure to take them up (although my wife was a bit scared). On top there were amazing views of everything around us.

One of the coolest things about Table Mountain is how fast the weather changes. When we arrived, it was clear and sunny. Within 20 minutes, the “table cloth” had covered us and started to get denser. Then, 10 minutes later, it was gone. Below is a video of that taking place.

The view was amazing and the walks along the top are incredible as well. The next time I go I plan on hiking up!

Review: President’s Hotel in Cape Town

After a fine time flying SAA to Cape Town we picked up our new luggage at baggage claim (no wait this time) and drove out to the President’s Hotel for a four-night stay in the city. The hotel was suggested by my mother and had nice access to a variety of parts of the city while being situated in Bantry Bay, a neighborhood directly northwest of Lion’s Head.

We decided to splurge on a one-bedroom suite that even had a small refrigerator, microwave, and dishes. The bed was moderately comfortable (again, not the best in the world) and this time there was no distinction between shower and bathtub (they were one piece in the bathroom). That being said, we had a nice view of the ocean and very comfortable places to put our things. The bathroom was well stocked with towels and amenities and there were side table on either side of the bed. There was easy access to the wifi in the hotel and a TV with many channels.

One of the big selling points of the hotel was its included buffet breakfast. While it was Passover during our stay we could not partake in the ample bread-related products, but there were plenty of fruits, fishes, egg-dishes, and juices to satisfy us. It was such a lovely place to dine and the servers were quite attentive. The dining area overlooked the pool that we never got a chance to use but looked enticing.

One of the items we appreciated the most about the hotel was there easy-to-access room service that was pretty inexpensive, even by South African standards. We enjoyed our in-room meals immensely – we had two over the four nights! We do recommend the hotel for future stays although we might want to stay within walking distance of other places in the city in the future.

Baggage delay can ruin your time

As mentioned in the previous post my wife and I had a very unfortunate experience on our recent trip to South Africa: due to what I can only imagine to be many mistakes and misunderstandings over the course of five days our luggage did not arrive safely into the country when we did. Instead, we had to wait five full days (and spend much time during those days buying necessities) in order to get our bags back.

My general theory of what happened is what follows.

When we left the US we arrived at JFK airport with about an hour until our flight was scheduled to leave on its way to Vienna. We barely made it to the check-in counter in time but our large, filled-to-the-brim blue bag was accepted and checked onto the flights that would eventually end up in Johannesburg. During the 29 hour journey we had two carry-ons containing extra clothes due to our nine hour layover in Cairo. I had wanted to shower and change before our final flight to South Africa so we planned to shower and change beforehand.

Upon arrival into JNB airport we went through the exceedingly-long customs line until we were allowed to enter the country, only to find that the blue bag we were hoping to see on the other end was nowhere in sight. We waited for 10 minutes as the belt kept moving and then made our way to the EgyptAir luggage support services people who took me for a walk around the baggage claim area in search of the bag that supposedly took a different flight path (via Frankfurt) instead of boarding our plane with us. We couldn’t find it.

So for five full days my wife and I relied on the baggage delay insurance covered to us by the Citi Prestige card we used to pay the taxes on our award ticket from to South Africa. Due to an update in their rules we did not have to book the entire flight’s cost on the card – even partial payment would allow the coverage below to kick in:

While not as good as the Chase Sapphire Preferred in this regard (that offers $100 per day up to five days), it does provide you with some money to get supplies that you need. We did spend over that amount and so I also filed a claim for reimbursement from the airline itself. I am currently waiting to hear back from both entities on what we can get back from them.

In the end we had to buy clothing, toiletries, medicine, and a whole new piece of luggage to carry it all on our flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. I am a patient man and will make sure to get every dollar we spent back or make sure no one flies with this airline ever again…

 

Electronics Travel Ban

It’s been a week since Royal Jordanian Airlines let the cat out of the bag: both the US and the UK have officially announced bans on certain types of electronics on flights arriving in the United States.

The US Department of Homeland Security has banned electronics in carry-on luggage that are “larger than a cell phone/smart phone” and gave a list of examples. The UK ban restricts based on size of the device itself, as seen in this screenshot from the BBC’s website:

Devices subject to cabin baggage ban

While I understand the need for security on airplanes, this ban seems a bit odd to me, as it does for a few frequent flier bloggers out there.

  1. Since the US and UK share intelligence information like this, shouldn’t the ban match airport-for-airport or at least country-for-country? Instead, there is a lot of divergence, as you can see in this map below. Map of affected countries
  2. If the threat is so imminent, why were airlines given 96 hours to comply? Shouldn’t the ban go into effect immediately, as a similar ban of carry-on luggage occurred immediately after a terror attack on Christmas 2009 – when I boarded a flight to the US the week after I was not allowed any carry-on luggage at all.
  3. If the Department of Homeland Security was truly serious about this they would ban all flights into the US. It is quite easy for someone to take a one-stop flight from Istanbul and arrive without having these restrictions.

Airlines are dealing with this in interesting ways. Some are offering “gate-checking” of electronics. Others are making funny ad campaigns about what you can do with 12 hours without electronics (which is not even true because many of those have in-flight entertainment).

But, really, the explanation that has been given so far is substandard. This ban seems to be unnecessary and ill-timed. We need more allies out there in the world, not fewer. I hope this ban does not last indefinitely.

A new version of the travel ban?

I read this morning that a rogue tweet from Royal Jordanian airlines let spill the beans of a potential new version of a travel ban on Muslim nations. After only a few hours other media was also reporting on this and it spread like wildfire.

Apparently, what is happening is much bigger than one airline changing its policies. According to The Points Guy, the TSA has sent a circular to airlines from 13 nations requiring them to disallow any electronic devices outside of cell phones and health-related necessities. It seems that the days of doing work on a laptop or watching a movie on an iPad are over for people coming to the US from these locations (as of yet not released, of course).

This all comes on the heels of 45’s new travel ban being blocked by multiple judges, including one from Hawaii. Perhaps this is the next step in a method of reducing the likelihood that folks will want to come in from other countries?

Review: NY Times Travel Show

I recently spent two hours at the New York Times Travel Show hosted at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan and it was a fascinating blast. Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time as I had wanted to explore but I look forward to returning next year to discover more.

The first thing to note about this experience is that it was the first time I had earned a free press pass due to this blog. I first heard about the travel show in October and thought that I might be able to weasel my way in – it turned out I was correct! By just providing the details of this blog I was given a free entrance and a location to host interviews (of which I had none) and some free coffee, tea, and a place to keep my coat.

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The event itself is quite an incredible undertaking. There are hundreds of exhibitors from around the world advertising their destinations (Visit Florida! Experience Indonesia!), trying to offer travel services (I saw an award travel booking service I hadn’t heard of called AwardMagic), and just generally trying to promote the idea of leaving New York City and seeing the world. South African Airways was a Gold-level sponsor so I had a chance to sit down with some people from chambers of commerce, tourist bureaus, and even SAA itself to talk about a potential trip in the future. It was really cool!

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People go to these travel shows for a variety of reasons. While I was there it seemed like some folks wanted to learn about potential places to visit; others wanted to book particular trips; and still others wanted to learn about travel hacks and other deals. There were so many classes you could attend (I didn’t have time for any) to learn about everything and anything related to travel. I highly recommend going back (I will probably do so and bring my wife next time!).

A recent trip to Toronto

I recently took a trip to Toronto using Air Canada and was overall pleased with the service, comfort, with some oddities in how my trip occurred. Let me explain.

I booked the flight from LaGuardia to Pearson airport using my Barclaycard Arrival Plus Mastercard, a useful card if you want to get 2 miles for every dollar spent. These miles are quite versatile in that they can used for any kind of airline credit: ticket purchases, fees, etc. They are redeemed in quantities above $100, which is equivalent to 10,000 miles. So, after I paid for my trip using the card, I was able to immediately refund the money used. Here is what it looks like on my online bill:

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Very simple.

On my way there I noticed wonderful in LaGuardia: a pumping/nursing station! While I do not think breastfeeding needs to be a private thing (it’s a natural thing to do…), it is nice to have some privacy for those who want it. Apparently they were put there in May 2015 and are located in Terminal B.

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When I arrived at Toronto’s Pearson Airport I found myself on a huge and quick moving walkway. This was not the normal kind that simply rotates through – it actually extended and flexed in order to move people faster. I had never seen or experienced this before but it was fascinating! I took a video myself but the one in the article is better.

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Finally, a quick note about the actual plane travel itself. Air Canada is a professional carrier! Their in-flight entertainment aboard their small plane was quite wonderful. It was an Embraer 190 and had comfortable seats (if not an enormous amount of legroom) as well as wonderful cabin service. I got a hot tea and small snack on each direction of my journey.

The price of this airline is often more expensive than budget airline WestJet but that sometimes means it really is worth it. In this case, it definitely was!