We celebrated Memorial Day yesterday here in the United States, which honors all the men & women who died serving the U.S. Armed Forces. My Boy Scout troop (874 representing) planted flags one year at Arlington National Cemetery, which was a moving experience topped only by my visit to the Normandy American Cemetery. You may remember it from the opening and closing scenes of Saving Private Ryan.
If you’re planning a trip to Paris, I highly recommend taking the train (or a car) up to Normandy. Plus, you ought to also visit Mont Saint-Michel to get lost in the winding paths of this awe-inspiring monastery. Incidentally, I also found it to be one of the regions of France where my very limited French skills weren’t chided, which was nice.
- D-Day means…
The “D” in “D-Day” doesn’t really stand for anything – it’s the term used for the day of the landing, which was subject to approval (and ended up being pushed back a day because of weather).
- Better late than never
Though this marked the first decisive landfall by Allied forces onto the European Continent, World War II had been going on since 1939 (D-Day was June 6, 1944) and the turning point in the war had actually happened thanks to Soviet forces at Stalingrad in 1943 — yet more evidence that land wars in Asia are never a good idea.
- Technology from the swamps of Louisiana finished off Hitler
That said, the success of the D-Day invasion was the death knell for the Nazi empire as they’d now begun losing ground on two fronts. The naval technology that made it all possible (the distinctive Higgins Boat that unloaded tens of troops at a time on the shores of Normandy) was designed by Andrew Jackson of New Orleans, who used them to navigate the shallow waters and swamps of the area.
Hip-tip: Want to visit the history, but can’t quite visit France right now — head to New Orleans and visit the National WWII Museum, which was only the D-Day Museum when I visited, but has since expanded to include the Pacific front as well.
- There was a fake army faking an invasion that made the (real) Normandy Invasion so successful
Operation Fortitude, one of the most effective Allied deception moves of the war, tricked the Nazis into thinking the invasion would come from Pas-de-Calais, dividing and delaying their forces significantly. The Allies knew how well it’d worked because we’d cracked the Nazi codes & ciphers.
We’re indebted to Alan Turing, father of computer science, for his work that led to cracking these secret transmissions. Almost a decade later, he was charged under UK law for ‘gross indecency,’ punished by chemical castration, which drove him to commit suicide in 1954, ten years after his work dealt the finishing blow to Nazism.
- British, Canadians, Australians, and Kiwis also landed
- They don’t get much attention in Saving Private Ryan, but the Yanks weren’t the only ones who landed at Normandy. You’ll find loads of tourists visiting during the spring and summer, so don’t embarrass yourself while talking to some Brits. I visited in December and although the weather was dreary, having the beaches to yourself is a surreal and rather stunning experience.
Airlines are competing aggressively for business-class and first-class customers, and are introducing insanely expensive amenities to get their business. Below, 5 particularly cool airplanes and where they fly:
Singapore Airlines A380 Suites: A Double Bed
Singapore was the first airline to fly the A380, the world’s largest passenger airplane, and marketed its “suites” as the most luxurious first-class experience in the world. What’s the difference between a suite and a seat? On Singapore, a suite has both a seat and a bed.
If you’re traveling with a companion, you can get adjoining suites so that your beds become one. But don’t take that as a hint: there’s a strict “no sex onboard” policy.
Where to find it: Singapore flies the A380 on some flights from Singapore to Hong Kong, London, Melbourne, Paris, Sydney Tokyo, and Zurich.
How much it costs: A round trip in October from Singapore to London (around 13 hours each way) costs about $12,000 in a suite, vs. about $2,000 in coach.
Emirates A380 First Class: A Shower
Emirates, one of the first airlines to fly the A380, decided that suites weren’t enough. In first class, you can also take a shower. The so-called “shower spa” also has heated floors.
There is, however, a 5-minute limit on showers.
Where to find it: Emirates flies the A380 on some flights from Dubai to London, Sydney, Bangkok, Toronto, Paris, Seoul, Jeddah, Beijing, and Manchester, and from Sydney to Aukland.
How much it costs: A round trip in October from Dubai to Paris (around 7 hours each way) costs about $8,500 in first class, vs. about $1,300 in coach.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class: A Bar
Like other international airlines, Virgin Atlantic is happy to bring drinks to your seat. But if you’ve paid for “Upper Class” (Virgin America’s version of business class), you can also sit around an in-flight bar.
Where to find it: Virgin America has Upper Class on all its flights—for example, from London to New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Johannesburg, Delhi, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Sydney.
How much it costs: A round trip in October from London to San Francisco (around 10 hours each way) costs about $4,000 in Upper Class, vs. about $800 in coach.
British Airways A318: Fly Trans-Atlantic to London’s Financial District
British Airways (BA) historically has claimed London’s Heathrow Airport as its fortress. But since business travelers from New York are often headed to London’s Financial District, BA started extra trans-Atlantic flights to London’s tiny City Airport.
Flights from New York (JFK) to London City are on the small A318, a plane that typically seats around 100 people. But on BA’s flights, the plane seats only 32 people, in an all-business class setup.
The flight is non-stop from JFK to London, but makes a stop in Shannon, Ireland in the other direction. During that stop, passengers pre-clear US customs and immigration—so when they land at JFK, they’re treated as if they’d just arrived off a domestic flight.
Where to find it: British Airways flies twice a day each way from JFK to London City.
How much it costs: A round trip in October from London City to JFK (around 7 hours eastbound and 9 hours westbound) costs about $4,000, vs. about $700 in coach on BA’s London Heathrow-to-JFK route.
Singapore Airlines A340-500: Fly the Longest Non-stop in the World
Singapore Airlines flies from Singapore to Newark, NJ (near New York City)—the longest non-stop in the world, about 10,000 miles.
Singapore’s A340-500 planes have an all-business class arrangement with only 100 seats. Each seat’s TV has more than 100 movies, which should be just enough to keep you from going crazy after spending most of a day in the same plane.
Where to find it: Singapore Airlines flies once a day in each direction between Newark and Singapore. The same type of plane flies 5 days a week each way between Los Angeles and Singapore (the second-longest non-stop in the world).
How much it costs: A round trip in October from Newark to Singapore (about 19 hours each way) costs about $7,000, vs. about $2,000 in coach on Singapore’s one-stop JFK-to-Singapore flight.
You’re doing it wrong when your flight is cancelled: you’re following directions and wait in the nearest customer service line. There are three tricks that are usually far more effective: calling the airline directly, going to the gate of the next flight, and finding a different customer service counter.
The reason waiting in line is such a bad idea is that everyone else is doing the same thing. The result is lines—sometimes hours long—waiting to get rebooked. And while the first few people in line might get put on convenient flights, those flights will quickly fill up, leaving everyone else with worse options to get where they’re going.
Alternative #1: Call the airline
Someone will usually answer the phone in a fraction of the time you would have spent waiting in line. Tell them your situation (reading them your confirmation number from your boarding pass), and ask for their help.
Hip-tip: If your flight is cancelled after you’ve already gotten on the plane—for example, because of a mechanical problem—call the airline right away! You’ll be on the phone with them minutes before everyone else leaves the plane and starts to line up, so you’ll have first dibs on being rebooked onto a convenient flight.
Alternative #2: Go to the next flight’s gate
If there’s a flight leaving for the same place you’re going, go to that gate and see if there’s space for you. If the flight is full, ask to be put on the “standby” list—you’ll get a chance to board that flight if somebody else fails to show up, and if the plane stay’s full you’ll already be on the waiting list for the flight after.
Hip-tip: This works especially well when you’re at a “hub” airport for a major airline and headed to a major city—for example, you’re stuck in Chicago on American Airlines and headed to New York. Then there will likely be a flight to where you’re going within a couple hours. You may even be able to find a flight sooner, if you’re willing to fly into a nearby-but-different airport.
Alternative #3: Find a different line to wait in
Many airlines have multiple customer service lines in different places. Instead of following the herd, try out a line further away—perhaps even in a different terminal—for the same airline.
Hip-tip:If all the lines are full, and there are no flights going where you want for a couple hours, exit security. Ask for help at the check-in desks—they’re often better staffed and less harried than the customer service lines past security. (You’ll of course have to re-clear security to board your new flight.)
Final tip: No matter what, you’ll always have an easier time getting rebooked if you haven’t checked any bags.