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Web sites help navigate the unfriendly skies
Business travel is a pain. It upsets your routine and digestion. It throws you into a mix of strange places and stranger people. Worst of all, you usually have to deal with the one industry that proves service is dead: the airlines.
While nothing except maybe a private jet can eliminate the suffering, there are ways to ease it a bit. Knowledge is key and here's how the Web can help.
It always pays to know your enemies, so we'll start with some airline industry insider sites.
Aircrewlayover.com is where flight crew members offer recommendations to each other on restaurants, nightlife, hotels and entertainment venues. Looking under LAX (yes, cities are listed by their three-letter airport code), the restaurant recommendations sort of explain the quality of airline food. Useful, if your company doesn't allow you to expense meals.
More frightening than the food is Crew Rumors, which has a number of bulletin boards where pilots, flight attendants and ground crew post questions, gossip and complaints.
Topics include stupid pax questions and the rudest pax. "Pax" are us, the passengers. If you upgrade, you'd better act it: "If I had to name a group of pax who tend to be on the rude side, it is the first-class upgrades -- definitely. Just because they are sitting in 1A does not mean they are a first-class pax, they are merely a pax with a first-class ticket."
Or pax drinks: "I was once asked for prune juice. Can you imagine the damage that that could cause on a 14-hour flight to NRT? Gross!!!"
Then there's the fight over jump seats between mechanics and pilots on one airline. That can't be good. Here and there between the juicy stuff are recommendations on travel sites and books.
Crew Rumors is part of CrewStart.com, which has tips on places to eat and stay, a currency converter, a language translator, clothing size conversions and a host of other things that any frequent flier, pax or crew, would find useful.
Airline pilots have their own Web site at www.airlinepilots.com. Before you fly read up on pilot fatigue and air safety. There are also chat rooms as opposed to bulletin boards. Hey, they've got to do something when the autopilot is on.
We of the pax persuasion have our own forum for tips and complaints at Airwise. Topics include air rage, passenger rights, and individual airlines and airports. Airwise's main page has news, flight schedules and airport guides.
An overwhelming and fascinating list of links is at JohnnyJet. Oh sure, you'd expect bargain flights, hotel and car bookings and individual airlines. But what about the best toilets? Or a group of links for "Bored in the Hotel Room." There are also travel guides, maps, links to the Sunday travel sections of major newspapers, consumer complaints and passenger rights. A section devoted to business travel includes links to best places to close a deal -- from Ontheroad.com, global business basics and drinking customs and toasts from around the world.
For more on global business customs and etiquette, try Executive Planet, which covers top U.S. trading partners. For each country, articles include things to know before making a deal, making appointments, gift giving, conversation, business dress and public behavior. For example, if you're in England, it is not a good idea in conversation to bring up Northern Ireland. But current events are fine, so keep mentioning those cow bonfires.
Business Travel News Online offers a more corporate look at travel. And we discovered hotel rates are dropping due to a dip in occupancy. There's good news in every downturn.
Even more corporate is the National Business Travel Association, a site aimed at corporate travel managers.
But all this corporate stuff is making us want to run, at least in place. FitforBusiness.com is a guide for travelers who don't want to miss a workout. The site includes best hotel gyms, where to find sports courts and healthy advice.
If you don't care about athletic facilities, but want to make sure the room is up to snuff, there's WorldExecutive.com with its searchable listing of first-class and business hotels. You can view the rooms, as well as make reservations.
To make sure your airline is as good as your hotel, try Skytrax, which rates airlines' quality based on product and service. There are no five-star airlines based in the United States. Cubana is the only one-star airline.
But who cares about quality when your life is at stake? Amigoingdown.com lets you plug in your departure and arrival cities, the airline, the type of jet if you know it and the month you're flying. Then you get the odds of making it there alive. For our L.A.-to-Paris flight they were 1 in 1,801,586 and "That's very good for this route."