Friday, October 31, 2008

Israel - First impressions

I suppose our first impression was - this isn't how the U.S. media portrays it. No soldiers anywhere to be seen - even at the airport.

Beyond that, it has the feeling of Florida - palm trees, lots of blooming flowers. It was easily already 70 degrees when we got out of the airport around 9:30.

From the airport, which is on the southwest side of Tel Aviv, it took about 45 minutes to navigate traffic to the center of the city where our hotel, Prima Tel Aviv, was located at Frishman Beach on the coast of the Mediterranean. Several other major hotels, such as Dan and Sheraton, are also nearby. It's also about 2 blocks from a major shopping street - Ben Yehuda.

The city has a very European feel - narrow streets, family-owned shops at street level with owners that likely live upstairs, lots of little cafes and restaurants.

There is a long Promenade that runs along the beach, so we took a nice walk and had lunch at a cafe along the water. That was delightful. Our entrees included fish and chips, a polish kebab and St. Peter's fish. I had the St. Peter's fish which is similar to talapia. For those of you who have had fish in another country before - yes, I got the whole fish, head staring back at me and everything.

We took a walk, letting our feet get soothed by the cool water. After a full day of travel, it was nice to get the shoes off. There are a couple of break waters set up to keep the waves on the beach very calm.

Since we're closer to the equator here, the sun sets early. The sun dipped below the horizon by 5:00.

Getting to Israel

We had a pretty uneventful time getting to Israel. We anticipated some extra screening and scrutiny, but didn't experience anything too threatening. The only extra security came at the airport at Newark where the Tel Aviv flight was in a secure boarding area. To get into the area, they checked your boarding pass, "wanded" you and looked quickly through your carry-on bag.

The flight itself went well. It's about 10 1/2 hours from Newark to Tel Aviv. We flew on a Continental 777 that featured 3-3-3 seating. The best part was that every seat featured it's own entertainment system with access to more than 250 movies, 300 TV programs, music and games.

The movies and TV programs were of a variety of genres, suitable for every interest -new releases, movies from the '50s, comedy, action, sitcoms, HBO shows, etc.

We also were all pleasantly surprised when we landed in Tel Aviv. We expected a lot of scrutiny, but all we got were 3-4 questions about the purpose of our visit and where we would be going.

The Tel Aviv airport was also surprisingly not crowded. Also, there was no food court, just a couple of "fast" food type places and only a handful of shops.

From landing to leaving the airport, it only took about 45 minutes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fewer flights during holidays

USA Today reported recently that airlines will offer almost 3,000 fewer domestic flights a day during the Thanksgiving season, translating into fuller planes and higher fares.

According to the report, there will be 11% fewer flights — 2.6 million fewer seats — on non-stop domestic routes from Nov. 20, the Thursday before Thanksgiving, through Nov. 30, the Sunday afterward.

Travelers with plans to fly during that time period should book early. It’s also a good idea to make parking reservations in advance.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Amtrak USA Rail Pass

Amtrak is making its USA Rail Pass available for purchase in the U.S. Previously, the pass could only be bought by travelers who lived outside the country.

The passes are available for 15, 30 and 45 days of travel. The 15-day pass offers eight segments of travel for $389. The 30-day pass offers 12 segments of travel for $579. The 45-day pass offers 18 segments of travel for $749.

Each time a passenger boards a train or connecting Amtrak Thruway bus counts as one segment.

The passes are priced the same regardless of when you travel, but you must begin your travel within 180 days of purchase. Passengers must also have a ticket and reservation for each train they board.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

New terminal coming to Indianapolis International Airport

A new terminal will open at the Indianapolis International Airport in early November. I recently had the opportunity to tour the state-of-the-art facility.

Getting there/Parking

The new “midfield” terminal is located a few miles west of the current terminal. Passengers traveling from downtown Indianapolis need to continue past the current exit 75 to exit 68. This actually takes you about a mile past the new terminal before looping you back. As you enter, one of the first changes you’ll notice is a cell phone lot – a free lot with 49 spaces for drivers waiting for arriving passengers.

Continuing to the terminal are options for long-term parking, economy parking, a five-level parking garage and rental car return.

Opening rates for parking are:
Economy: $7/day
Long-term: $11/day
Garage: $16/day ($2 every 30 minutes)
Uncovered valet: $15/day
Covered valet: $18/day

We continue to have a strong relationship with Indy Park Ride & Fly, offering discounts and free days of parking for that company’s new location near the new terminal.

Ticketing Hall/Civic Plaza

Departing passengers will enter the new terminal in the Ticketing Hall, featuring four “islands” for purchasing tickets and checking in. From there, you can proceed into Civic Plaza, a circular open area between the two concourses. A number of shops and restaurants are available so families can remain together before passengers go through security and enter the concourses. Civic Plaza is bright and open with large windows that will allow people to see airplanes at the gates and even see downtown in the distance. Special lighting creates airplane shapes “flying” on the walls.

Restaurants in Civic Plaza include:
Naked Tchopstix
500 Grill
Café Patachu

Security Lines

The entry to both concourses feature seven security screening lanes. Not only is this an increase from the 3-4 lanes at most of the concourses in the current airport, but the security area is very large and open. There also will be special family lanes for passengers who want to move at their own pace and not feel rushed to get through the line.

The new terminal will feature the controversial Millimeter Wave screening equipment. The new technology creates a very intimate image of passengers in an effort to detect weapons concealed beneath clothing. The Millimeter Wave will be optional for passengers not comfortable with the technology, however, those who decline may be subject to pat-downs instead.

Concourse A

Concourse A features 16 gates and will serve Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Midwest Airlines and Northwest Airlines.

I was impressed by two specific features of both concourses. First, there are recycle bins located at numerous locations for cans, bottles and newspapers. Second, there are an abundance of electrical outlets along the outside walls. One of the most frustrating parts about most airports is the lack of outlets in most gate areas. With so many people working on laptops these days, finding an empty outlet can be very challenging. The new terminal features outlets nearly every 8 to 10 feet.

Restaurants in Concourse A include:
Harry & Izzy’s
Fruits & Passion
Chocolate Café
96th Street Steakburger
Bananas/Green Leaf’s
TGI Friday’s
Cold Stone Creamery

Concourse B

One other change from the current airport – the concourses are connected, so once you go through security you can go into either concourse for shopping or eating.

Concourse B also features 16 gates and will serve AirTran Airways, Frontier, Southwest, United and US Airways.

The concourses are 1,300 feet long by 100 feet wide – nice and roomy – and feature moving sidewalks to help you cover the distance.

Restaurants in Concourse B include:
Champps Americana
Copper Moon World Coffees
Wolfgang Puck Express
Shapiro’s Delicatessen
King David Dogs
Natalie’s Candy Bar
Cold Stone Creamery
Camden Food Co.

Concourse B also houses En Route Serenity Spa offering several types of massages, as well as pedicures and manicures.

Baggage Claim

Baggage claim should run much more efficiently at the new terminal. Behind the scenes, the airport has put in a system that can handle 8,000 bags per hour. Currently the aiport averages 15-20,000 bags per day.

Baggage claim is on the lower level of the airport. Six carousels, much bigger than the ones at the old airport, are available. Each carousel features a digital screen showing which flight is located at that particular carousel.

Ground transportation

Signs at the exit of baggage claim offer two options. 1) Go straight out the doors for airport parking shuttles and taxis, or 2) go up one level for rental cars, off airport shuttles, buses and garage parking.

Like many other airports, Indianapolis will now house rental cars in one central location instead of riding a shuttle to individual businesses. Eight companies will be represented in the airport garage.