How to Fly Standby on Delta Airlines

Is it an art form? A science? Or just a lot of good luck charms and mysticism?

Personally I believe in the last option…

It’s not shocking that I have far more experience regarding the logistics of flying down under than I do domestically in my own country. For domestic travel I’ve been flying Southwest Airlines exclusively for the last few years, mostly because of the flexibility in their booking and re-booking options. For overseas travel I’ve used Qantas and Air New Zealand, and Jetstar (a subsidiary of Qantas) for travel between and within Australia and New Zealand. I am planning to travel the rest of the world in coming years, especially Japan and Europe, and am looking at other options for affordable travel with flexible options.

Airlines such as Delta can not only get me to just about any city or country in the world, but also have rather luxurious First or Business class sections on most of their flights, especially those overseas. My grand fantasy was to be able to use a Delta Buddy Pass to fly a red-eye from Seattle to New York City, on any date that I wished, in a comfortable, fully-reclinable first class seat and get fantastic rest so I could greet the early morning sunshine and the hustle and bustle of a fresh new day in Manhattan. The world would be at my finger tips, and I would be right there ready to conquer it. Like a boss.

My good friend and fellow outdoor-enthusiast, Danielle, the one who procured said buddy pass, is by now very used to my fantastic and glamorous views regarding my life, but didn’t want to burst my bubble right away. Unfortunately the buddy pass was not Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket I had been dreaming of. Instead of being greeted with cocktails and red carpets, I barely got to New York at all that night. I got a window seat, but I forgot my pillow and how cold airplane walls get, so I slept horribly and felt miserable and stiff when I arrived. Since my father had driven out to Long Island the morning before (so much for flexibility with my travel plans), I had to spend another hour and a half alone in transit getting out to see my relatives instead of bursting with energy and romping around in the busiest city in the country like it was my playground. Oh, and it was raining.

On the way back to Seattle I wasn’t able to get on the 9:30am or the 12:30pm flights from Albany to Detroit, but fortunately I got the very last seat on my only option from Detroit to Seattle. I had never been so happy to sit in a middle seat for five hours straight in all my life. I suppose my travel plans weren’t as flexible as I originally thought. I just wanted to wait until the last minute to confirm them. I clearly went about this all wrong, and I intend to learn from my experiences and do it the right way next time!

Rules for Success Regarding Standby Delta Travel:

1. Obtain Buddy Pass from close friend who is willing to check standby lists any time between 5am and midnight to see if going to the airport is even worth your while.

2. Dress well, look presentable and be polite.

3. Do not carry excess luggage. If possible, try not to check bags.

4. Don’t fly to Atlanta, unless your final destination is Atlanta.

5. Do not fly out of any airport from which you can see cows and pastures – this normally is an indication of smaller planes, and thus fewer total seats leaving the airport on any given day.

6. Try to have several exit strategies before leaving your home airport, to avoid having to pay for a hotel in a hub city.

7. Carry a good luck charm at all times. Personally I use a good luck lady bug that my mom gave me before I went to New Zealand.

8. Always be flexible with travel dates and/or destinations. If all other flights are overbooked, be willing to fly to Brazil. Hey, life is an adventure.

Autumn in New York, Part III

The adventure moves northward…

… through the perilous and infuriating traffic of Long Island, along the Belt Parkway towards JFK, around the Aqueduct Race Track, through the local streets of Queens, over the Throgs Neck Bridge, past the affluent northern suburbs…

Not long after leaving the boroughs of New York our course is set on the winding Taconic Parkway, a road designed for the enjoyment of the sights and sounds of the country, and maintained as such by state troopers every few miles. The fall colors become more pronounced as we drive north, and give visual texture to the haze of fog surrounding us. The day so far has taken what little energy I had out of me, but as we leave the thick, oppressive urban air behind us, my stress and anxiety melts away. My father and I settle in to our drive and ease our minds by doing what we do best: putting them to work planning our next trip to NYC.

We make a quick stop at Taconic State Park. I put my feet in the cool water of the lake and squish them into the soft brown sand. Across the water is a hillside with an impressive display of fall foliage, and in the distance the lake continues to the north.

On our way back to Albany we take the scenic route, the ‘motorcycle route’ as I call it, through Valatie and stop at Golden Valley Farms. The expansive display of apples in crates and buckets can only be compared to a perfume section of the department store. Each varietal has its own texture and flavor, many of which are crosses of each other, with their own unique charm. I wade past classic New York varieties and finally arrive at my objective, the macintosh apple, the grandest of all apples, tart and sweet, like the personality of the New Yorker enjoying it. When I reach the counter I can’t resist a sugar cider donut fresh from the oven. It and my apple strudel, cold cider and two apples are my first meal of the day. Well worth the wait.

We continue our drive through the gentle upstate New York rain storm towards Guilderland. As it is approximately 4:30pm, we hit ‘Albany rush hour’ on I-90, a slight delay of about 2-10 minutes, depending on time of day, where your car may go below 25mph, but most likely not, unless you are merging onto I-87.

Still in a bit of a mental haze, I arrive at my mother’s house and get myself sorted. I make my bed upstairs and have a slice of my mother’s apple pie, fresh out of the oven. I’m home.

411 on San Francisco

I’ve always proclaimed that San Francisco is my favorite American city, and I still believe it is. However, I learned two very important things about San Francisco today:

1. It is not a driving, nor a biking city. It is a walking/metro city.

The public transportation (at least during the day) is fantastic. I’ve been to San Francisco a few times, twice for meetings of the American Society for Cell Biology, and been able to walk or hop on a quick bus or cable car to everywhere I’ve needed to go, within minutes. The distances between Fisherman’s Wharf and the financial district, as well as over to Little Tokyo, are pleasant jaunts, and the hills are good for the butt.

It’s not that the city isn’t bike-friendly, but most of the blocks are short and require frequent stops for traffic and pedestrians, or they have an incline rivaling some of the slopes that I ski in the winter.

2. San Francisco only has one season, and that season is autumn.

No wonder I fell in love with it immediately. Autumn is my favorite season, despite the fact that I have skipped over it for the last 3 years consecutively. Even in July the highs seem to be in the 60’s (Farenheit – regularly less than 20 Celsius). Everyone here dresses in sweaters and long pants in summer time (except for the guy down at the wharf who missed the memo). The cool and mildly humid air feels fantastic on the skin.

Personal Journal: Pre-Season Reflection & Anticipation

As I return to my home area in Utah my blog updates are progressively more personal and less travel-related. It’s been almost ten days since returning to Park City and I have been extremely busy getting re-oriented. A few things have changed since I left, but for the most part I am falling back into the groove of being ‘home.’ This season is going to be a fair bit different from past seasons, however, because I will not be committed to a full time instructor schedule for the entire season, and my aim is to balance my life with skiing, dancing, traveling, and learning some new skills and languages. Continue reading

November 28: Otra Vez

Things to remember: It’s not a rubbish bin, it’s a trash can; it’s not a chemist, it’s a drug store; look left when crossing the road. Ok, it’s spelled Center – I’m definitely in America.

Yesterday was perfect, but today I must have woken up on the wrong side of the air bed. Perhaps it’s my alternate reality Monday, or just Monday. As I type this, the Giants are losing. Definitely not my day. Continue reading

Kelvin Heights Track

In my five months living in Queenstown last year I didn’t make it to Kelvin Heights. Thanks to the 7-day Connectabus pass I bought this week the trip out and back was included. I took a walk around the peninsula and enjoyed an afternoon in the sun before heading off to the Aquatic Centre to swim.

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Spring Snow in Queenstown

This is nothing new, but I figured I would post anyway! I woke up at 5:30am to the sound of cool pelting rain outside my window and a light mist hanging over snow-covered trees on Queenstown Hill. When I came back from breakfast I had snow flakes on my sweater, and when I walked into town around 1pm I was still getting snowed on! I managed to get to the aquatic centre to swim, but used the bus to get out to Frankton ($5 on Connectabus) and hitch hiked back to town. I took my time swimming laps and relaxed in the hot pool while watching the fierce snow and winds outside. I left just before 5pm, when the weather let up.

When I returned to town I had the $10 pad thai dinner at Tham Nak Thai. They have a selection of $10 meals, and $13 for a combo with veggie spring rolls and a beverage. I decided on the jasmine green tea. The quality of the meal was good, the tofu and veggies cooked nice and tenderly without any superfluous use of oils, sauces, or salt in the dish. The dinner was definitely a good value, but as someone who isn’t a huge lover of noodle dishes it wasn’t anything special enough to bring me back again and again. Tham Nak Thai has several other light dishes on their $10 menu from 5-7pm nightly.

Milford Sound – The Final Frontier… for now

As much as I would love to hop on a few random flights and travel through Australia, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Russia, and the rest of the world… Milford Sound and Te Anau are the farthest points in my journey this year. In my five months on the South Island last year I didn’t make it to the fiordlands, and this year I was determined to get there.

As we drove through forests and past mountains dappled in fog I realized that we were effectively in a chilly rain forest! Rain and cloud are common in the fiordlands, and allow the waterfalls to run in full force! Snow still falls frequently on the tops of the mountains, as it would in the high elevations in Utah in Spring time. Patches of dirt-covered snow litter the wet granite as we drive through the mountains and underneath the tunnel. This area must have more waterfalls per square mile than anywhere in the world!

Feels like a cool rain forest

There are several suggested stops along the route from Te Anau to Milford Sound, such as Mirror Lakes, Knobs Flat and the Chasm just on the north side of the tunnel. We were also able to explore a scenic lookout point that is inaccessible to buses, another bonus to exploring the fiordlands by car. Although the journey is only 110km, it is recommended to allow at least two hours for the drive, plus time for stops, and even after two and a half hours our cruise time was drawing close. I exchanged our voucher for boarding passes and shortly afterwards we were aboard our craft and underway!

Kayakers brave the rain and cold for an exhilarating experience

Just before leaving Te Anau we picked up venison pies at the Miles Better Pie shop and to be perfectly honest, it was the best pie I have ever had in my life! The venison was a tender medium rare and the pastry dough was delicious and flakey despite being wrapped in foil and out of the heater for several hours. The unique flavor of the venison wasn’t masked by too much gravy or salt. Perfect pie and incredible view on a spacious cruise ship on Milford Sound – what a day!

We sail by a cave as we near the Tasman Sea

We opted for the Real Journeys “Nature cruise” instead of the “Scenic cruise,” the difference being that our time on the water was a full 2 hours and 15 minutes, and the captain gives commentary about the history, scenery and wildlife of the area. We were fortunate to see two separate groups of fur seals, a penguin swimming, and two other penguins having some sort of dispute on the rocks!

Fur Seals on the Rocks

Just around the corner from Harrison Cove we were able to see the contrast between the snowy mountain peaks and the cascading waterfalls and greenery of the lower rock formations.

Harrison Cove

Another exciting feature of the cruises is they bring you as close as safely possible to the huge waterfalls!

Getting a bit close to the Falls!

The sun did not break through the clouds during our voyage, but the wet ambiance gave the area a certain mystique.

A bit of sun breaks through the clouds after our cruise

As we made our way back to Te Anau I had to stop and gaze into the sun-lit fields of sheep and newborn lambs.

The lambs greet us as we pass into the sunlight near Te Anau

I highly recommend visiting Milford Sound and the fiordlands. Unless you are really strapped for time I would advise against the popular one day fly/cruise/fly or coach/cruise/coach options. The flights in and out of Milford are amazing, and the coaches are spacious and stop several times along the way, but like most of New Zealand the best way to explore everything is to take your time and drive. The fiords and waterfalls are so amazing it’s a shame to spend only a few hours seeing them. Staying overnight is the best way to explore the glow worm caves, day hikes, kayaking, scenic flights, the road to Milford, and scenic cruises. The weather can be drastically different from day to day and creates a unique feel for the landscape. Photos will never do this area justice – you need to feel the water on your hands and mist in your face (and venison in your mouth) to really understand the true fiordland experience!

Cycling in New Zealand (Part 1)

As our couch surfing host, Chris, was driving us home to Manurewa last night through the city and on the M1, I looked at the rolling and undulating landscape and commented that it would be a great place for cycling. The hills would provide a good workout and a view of the surrounding green landscape. Chris told me that cycling in Auckland is not a great idea, and that motorists sometimes go out of their way to scare cyclists. In other words, not a very bike-friendly city.

I decided to look into this issue more, and Continue reading

New Zealand, My Paradise

New Zealand is a land where the beauty of the people rival the beauty of the landscape.

Back to the Dramatic New Zealand Landscape

When I arrived in Auckland and exited the plane around 6:30am this morning I couldn’t keep a smile off my face; it was the smile of a child with a secret they are bursting to share. I felt the chill, damp air from outside and as I made my way through the airport the light in the sky became brighter. My next international adventure was beginning!
Continue reading