Travel, especially travel by air, is in my blood. My father worked more than thirty years for an airline as did his brother. After high school I worked for a while for an airline. Tawn worked for a few years for an airline. My first flight was when I was a month old and I haven’t stopped since.
You may be aware of the new George Clooney film, “Up in the Air” about a man who is addicted to the frequent flyer lifestyle. I can relate. For many years before I moved to Thailand, I was one of those “100k” flyers, booking more than 100,000 miles a year.
While it was very wearing, I have to say I still enjoyed it. The sense of escape, of adventure, of moving, of going somewhere new and different.
Recently a friend posted the following short film, a twenty-minute bit called “Frequent Flyer” that interviews some of the seriously obsessed frequent flyers. These are the people who aren’t flying a lot for business necessarily, but are flying a lot in order to fly a lot and in order to achieve “status” with a frequent flyer program and the perks that go with it.
Frequent Flyer from Gabriel Leigh on Vimeo.
While I’d like to say that they are crazy, I recall a few times that I would go out of my way to earn miles in order to meet a status deadline. When you have to fly so much for work, you don’t want to miss out on the benefits that come from having an elite tier of status – upgrades, lounge invitations, priority standby for flights, etc.
There was one time when, shortly before moving to Thailand, I realized I was going to be a few thousand miles short of the 100,000 mile threshold. At that time, shortly after jetBlue had entered the transcontinental market flying SF and LA to NY, United and American (the dominant carriers on the route) offered ridiculously low fares to get people to fly them.
A single roundtrip from SF to NY would get me across the finish line in terms of miles, so I paid about $200 for a Saturday afternoon flight, spent the night at an airport hotel near JFK, then flew back on the first flight Sunday morning. I earned about 5,000 base miles plus an equal number of bonus miles, about half the miles needed for a free domestic ticket. If you want to read the full story, it is here.
Author Pico Iyer wrote about the concept of being a global soul: someone born in one place, raised in another and living in still another place. At some level I relate to that concept. Maybe not quite as global as some people but still having the experience of living and working in countries and cultures besides the one I was raised in. It makes for many disconnects and strange senses of belonging and yet not belonging.
One of the frequent flyers being interviewed in the short film above said, upon arriving in Japan, “This is one of my favorite parts, fresh off of a transpacific flight, a bit bleary-eyed, and somehow it is more fun knowing I’ll be leaving in a matter of days.”
There are times when I feel exactly like that.
To close, let me share with you some photos of a proposed expanded international terminal at Los Angeles Airport. I like the bridge connecting the terminals, under which airplanes can taxi.
The proposed expansion looks nice but I wonder how it would impact the people traffic, if any at all.
BTW segments of that movie was shot in Omaha! :DAnd I know ONE of those frequent flyers haha… I think the person’s crazy as well.
Well…I know a few people who do that for work…after I’ve seen the movie, I am disillusioned about traveling for work.
I’ve only flown a few times, but I’ve rather enjoyed it. I really love how it’s like a whole ‘nother world when you get above the clouds.
Interesting, I didn’t know this about you!As for LAX, something seriously seriously seriously needs to be done. I honestly have no idea what, but it’s one of my least favorite airports to travel through at this point. The way it is now, it feels like the airport is duct taped together and things are jury rigged just to function.I also like the arch.
I never imagined that frequent flyer miles were like this! Incredible. On my last flight there was one passenger that was lured (maybe not as unwillingly as I imagined) to trade his ticket for another later flight upgraded to 1st class and a bunch of miles…
I’m only a mid-tier status person (United Prem Exec – 50k annually), but was falling just shy of that for the year. So I took a quick little mileage run to San Francisco from LA last month. I left on a 930am flight and returned on a 545pm flight that afternoon. It was magical. I got to take BART to Millbrae for a dim sum lunch, then head into the city for some shopping, exploring neighborhoods on my way through to an afternoon coffee, then headed back to the airport to come home. It was a really neat way to spend the day — and to get my status renewed through 2011!What was most exciting about it, though, was imagining the day — perhaps 10 years off — when the high speed train we voted for last year will be in operation between LA and SF. It will be relatively fast — 2h15m, I think– and make such getaways more feasible.As for LAX: I agree with “arenadi” that the airport feels kinda thrown together from an outsider’s standpoint — it’s not clean, moving between terminals is a bit of a mess, the terminal services (food, shopping) are terrible, there’s no rail connection to other parts of the city. But, from a local’s perspective, it is an incredibly easy airport to have — the loop around the terminals is very easy to access by car; if you use the airport a lot, you know the fast, easy ways to get through to the gates; it’s central to many parts of the city (compared to many gleaming overseas airports that are 45 minutes outside any inhabited area).
I also know a couple of these Frequently Flyers who need to do the mileage run annually towards to the expiry dates of their miles and tier status…and they are experts on finding the cheapest fare available( not from the internet but they do know how to access the booking system) even better than those professional travel agents I have encountered…just like the one doing frequently trip in Thailand in the video…what a world!
I find the trailer very interesting; hope to see it soon. Will see the other video another time.I love flying and I can so relate to the concept of a global soul. I am nowhere close to being global, but I really hope to be one- soon enough I pray!
I guess the road warrior cliche of “it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle” does apply taking into account how one’s life is affected by the jetting around. I once met an ex-McKinsey partner (before AA had created their Executive Platinum tier) who told me one of the happiest days in his life had been when he had been downgraded from Platinum to Gold status. As per renewing status, I am actually making my own calculations to avoid being downgraded to Gold on American and perhaps reaching Silver on Delta. But I might not be quite an addict and may only settle for AA. Thankfully I’ve renewed my status with Continental (I guess now I could use those miles to fly Thai Airways and visit haha).
@yang1815 – Should improve improve people traffic.@Wangium – Traveling for work, even if you enjoy traveling like I do, is still a really tough life. Tough on relationships, tough on your body, just tough.@epiginoskete – There really is this sense of detachment from the mundane concerns of life, like being in a bubble. It is a lot of fun. One of the best things is – no mobile phones for a few hours!@arenadi – @mike august – Mike and Mike, having lived in LA and flown through that airport so many times, and also using it as my primary US gateway when I fly back these days, I have such a love-hate relationship with it. There are some improvements that are really needed there and yet, as Mike A points out, it can be a very convenient airport if you are using it as a starting and ending point, particularly for domestic flying. The master plan for expansion would greatly improve the int’l flying experience.@murisopsis – I have a really fascinating story about that, back in the early 2000s when Delta was overbooking flights like crazy. Tawn and I earned more than $4500 in free flights on Delta because of being willing to take later flights. Is it any wonder airlines go bankrupt?@agmhkg – Yeah, it is a pretty crazy world they are into.@Dezinerdreams – “Nowhere close to being global” says the young man who bandied about the US for several months last year, flirted with school in Milan, and is now setting up his fashion house in Delhi!@TheLatinObserver – That’s right, Rob, welcome to the Star Alliance. You can fly the THAI nonstop from LA to BKK for a visit. C’mon over!
I used to want to be an airline attendant for fun, but I hate flying. >.<
I only do a couple of short trips a year so no big points. My cousin was one of those road warrior with may business trips to Asia and earned over a million miles. I remember reading about these types of fliers in a travel magazine once. I thought it was just fascinating. That was a great film and one of my favourite writers Pico Iyer is there! I used to read a lot of his books. Planes and airports fascinate me. It’s like this different culture or society and outsiders just don’t understand it.
@christao408 – Oh, so true! There is certainly a freedom in that.
I love flying to different places, and sometimes wished I had more opportunities to fly (personal or business). I don’t think I fly enough (nor is it financially worthwhile) to get enough miles to upgrade or get a free ticket. Our taxes are way too high from YVR!!
i am going to save the video for the weekend 🙂
Ok, saw the documentary. Interesting, really. I really would love to hop from place to place… but of course, I would want to explore them instead of justing sitting in the airport. LOL. I might have traveled fairly a decent amount, but I am nowhere close to being global. Global is when I have dinner in Paris and then perhaps lunch in Tokyo the next day.
what? they’re going to expand lax? that airport is already huge and a headache to get through, i can’t imagine that making it larger would make it any easier for drop-offs and pick-ups!
@kunhuo42 – The first stage is a significant enlagement of the Tom Bradley Int’l Terminal, an improvement that is badly needed. Second stage would be the bridge and satelite terminal that would make the Int’l larger, too. It is a good improvement that will make it easier to get through, I think.@Dezinerdreams – Well, when you’re that global we’ll have to decide where to meet for tea.@ungrandvoyage – Yeah, need to set 20 mins aside.@lil_squirrel4ever – True YVR is a bit expensive. Beautiful Maple Leaf Lounges, though.
I love to fly, in comfort and have all the attendant perks. I only wish I had all the accrued points some of my colleagues have.
@ZSA_MD – When you’re decked out in your business class comfort, I’m sure you don’t need the miles! =)
I hate to admit that I did a mileage run just once a few years ago by flying to Paris. Unfortunately it wasn’t timed very well since the Orsay and many other museums were not open on Mondays, the one full day I was there. I was only about 6,000 miles short but was egged on by a work buddy to go for it. The miles don’t mean as much to me as the benefits; 1K benefits are similar to crack. It would be hard to give up 1K whenever it is I stop traveling.
I just wish that I had more time to travel. If I had the time and the money, I would travel a lot more. I really hope that once I graduate from school, that I will be a little more free to travel on my terms. So far, I am planning to go to London and Rome for our honeymoon in Fall 2010 and to Ukraine to visit one of my friends that is in the Peace Corp in either Spring or Early Summer 2011.
@felix – It is kind of amazing what people will do to keep top-tier status. What’s really amazing is how poorly the airlines treat people who aren’t at that level.@TheCheshireGrins – And where is Thailand in that schedule, Meg?
@christao408 – Thailand is definitely on my “must go” list but as to when we will actually go that has yet to be determined 🙂