Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Geological explosions to rock Iceland and disrupt your air travel?

Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano
By Todd Romaine

Things are brewing in cold, rugged Iceland. Another earthquake hit the Icelandic volcano (Bardarbunga) earlier today. This is not to be confused with the other volcano - Eyjafjallajokull) that erupted back in 2010. This recent shake was the largest of the multiple earthquakes to hit over the past week, sending out suspicions of a volcanic eruption in the coming days. Such an eruption would disrupt air travel across Europe and possibly North America. Many transcontinental flight hover in and around Icelandic air space and several include regular stops in the capital, Reykjavik.

Eyjafjallajokull's eruption in 2010
Like me, many would think the reason for disrupted travel in the event of a volcanic eruption is that it affects visibility and hence it becomes a safety issue without basic navigation abilities through a thick plume of smoke. But truth be told, volcanic ash contains glass and pulverized rock particles that are bad for airplane engines. Apparently such particles can erode the engine compressor or even solidify on the turbine blades, blocking the engines. That being said, the grounded flight option for 6 straight days like such as occurred in 2010 is unlikely to ever repeat itself again. Airlines have relaxed their policies since such time and increasingly comfortable on flying through ash or deviating around the perimeter of the eruption and its smoke trails. So if this sucker explodes soon, you may be delayed but most likely you will viewing some possible impressive views between North America and Europe or vice versa.

Eyjafjallajokull's ash cloud
And if you are delayed for a day or two, feel free to spend some time exploring (if time permits) in and around your departure city rather than being cramped and stressed at the airport. You may need to extend your car rental which likely can be done over the phone or when you return back to the airport. So keep your eyes frequently on the news and be prepared to have a few buffer days planned for in the event you are temporarily stranded because of an explosion on some remote island in the middle of the North Atlantic!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Are cross-border car rentals possible?

EU Swiss border post
Swiss border post in Italy
Thinking of renting a car and traversing across several countries?

Well, it is not always as easy as it seems.

Besides USA-Canada-Mexico, parts of Western Europe, and parts of Southern Africa, there are still many complications with cross-border car rentals that will make things difficult, costly or outright impossible.

Rental car agencies are naturally quite concerned with renting their vehicles for travel in countries that have a notorious reputation of theft or damage and, sadly, this includes a good chunk of the world.

Donegal Carrickfin Airport - Rental car - geograph.org.uk - 1174901
Donegal, Ireland car hire
Even if a car rental agency will let you take a vehicle into another country, it will unlikely be their best make and model.

You may find yourself behind the wheel of a small economy car that has limited functionality to traverse in countries with bad roads. An economy car will likely have issues in countries with lots of potholes and lack nearby logistical support to help out a strained car, leaving you at the mercy of the general public for assistance.

Also, a small car will likely show your belongings more on the backseat as you will be cramped with trunk room and this will again attract attention from possible thieves, carjackers etc.

Uruguay rental car vehicle registration plate
Rental car plates in Uruguay are
identified by the word "alquiler"
Another thing to think about is do you really want to tell the next country that you are a foreigner and attract unwanted attention? If you are driving from Hungary into Bulgaria or Romania, or from South Africa into Mozambique, you may elicit unwanted attention (“we need to check your paperwork”) in the forms of frequent traffic stops and bribes from the police.

Bottom line, if you can find alternative transportation, such as a train, then this is your best bet. You can always try to rent a car locally for the country in question versus irregular cross-border journeys. However this is not always realistic based on limited infrastructure in some of these countries, so if you need to drive cross-border here are some things to plan for:
  • Confirm first and foremost you are permitted to drive to another country. This includes the online booking details as well as asking in person once you are picking up your car 
  • You need special insurance to go into another country and this is something the car rental agency will arrange for you beforehand (keep these documents in your glove box and present these to the relevant authorities: highway police, immigration control stops) 
  • Make sure you have an international drivers permit – this will avoid the “you are not authorized to drive in country X” accusation (and the accompanying "we need to be paid off in order to let you drive away" bribe)
  • Inquire about vignettes, or road taxes, (especially in Central & Eastern Europe) that essentially covers off all toll roads – if you don’t get this figured out you could be in for a nasty surprise when dropping off your car or being pulled over by the police 
  • Check out our page on renting How to Protect Yourself When Renting a Car for more tips
Related resources
Ready to book? Click here to book your rental car with IHateTaxis!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

May the odds be ever in your favour

Where Lady Luck is always welcome: Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco
Architect Charles Garnier, built 1878-79 (image source: wikicommons)

by Todd Romaine

Three recent airline crashes, 462 needless deaths and the notorious missing Malaysian Airlines flight has put a definite scare in both novice and experienced flyers alike. More people have perished in the first 6 months of 2014 in air travel than all of 2013. 

Oddly the safety statistics for flying these days is better than it has been before. One M.I.T. statistics professor indicated that a person could fly every day for an average of 123,000 years before dying in a crash. The mechanical and structural parts of an air plane have become more reliable and navigation more intelligent thereby avoiding other planes and structures due to poor visibility. You have a significant higher possibility of perishing in a car accident where about 1.24 million die on roads worldwide each year, the bulk of this in the developing world where lack of enforcement and traffic etiquette creates needless reckless driving and ensuing fatalities. Even car fatalities in the West are on the consistent decline with better safety features such as air bags, brakes, GPS and the likes. However, how often are car fatalties on the news unless it is involves someone famous, multiple deaths, or it results in some general traffic disturbance. Most car accident fatalties are non-broadcasted lonely journeys devoid of deeper meanings to the general public. They lack the public appetite for group tragedy sensationalism like the Titanic or 9 11. 

What makes people eery about flying recently is that the way planes crash, the collective suffering and death toll, images of mangled and burned bodies, and the associated media coverage of grieving families at the airport. It is this sensationalism that makes some of us rethink the concept of flying altogether. But at the end of the day, most of the alternatives to flying are less safe, more timely and or more expensive. Naturally, we gravitate towards decisions that cost us less and take less time - a byproduct of our DNA perhaps...choosing the path of least resistance. 

So keep flying - the odds are statistically in your favour.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Taxis in Hong Kong

Taxis in Hong Kong are plentiful, clean and efficient - and quite cheap compared to many other large cities.
Hong Kong New Taxi 2013
There are three types of taxis in Hong Kong, easily identified by their colours: red, green and blue. It's important to know the difference, as was highlighted in Week 3 of The Amazing Race Canada's 2nd season!
RED TAXIS (Urban)

The Urban (red) taxis can travel most destinations in Hong Kong and are also the most expensive. Note that on Lantau Island, red taxis are only permitted to go to the airport, Tung Chung and Hong Kong Disneyland.

Byd e6 new territories taxi hong kong
GREEN TAXIS (New Territories)

NT (green) taxis are slightly cheaper than the red ones but are fundamentally confined to rural areas in the New Territories (NT), the airport, and Hong Kong Disneyland.

Toyota Crown Comfort LPG Taxicab (Hong Kong) - Flickr - skinnylawyer
BLUE TAXIS (Lantau)

Lantau (blue) taxis (the cheapest of the three) operate only on Lantau Island (including the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland).

FROM THE AIRPORT

The airport will have taxis with all three colours, however both signs and attendants will make it (relatively) easy for you to make the right choice. If you are unsure, just ask making sure you have your final destination ready.

TO THE AIRPORT

All three taxi types (red, green and blue) serve the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland.

IN THE CITY

Hong Kong Taxi - 10-12-2006 - Cross Harbour Taxi Stand
Cross-harbour taxi stand
What you need to know about taking a taxi in Hong Kong:
  • By law, Hong Kong taxis must take you to your destination, however in practice they tend to ignore this rule if it isn't convenient to them. However unless it is raining extremely hard, then there will be no issue finding another taxi close by to take you.
  • All taxis are equipped with mobile phones and can be reserved and requested via an operator for a token fee of $5 (Hong Kong Dollars), payable to the driver. You are unlikely to need to call a taxi, though, as they are plentiful. 
  • Only during Friday night rush hour in central you might find long lines on taxi stands.
  • The wearing of seat belts is required by law, the driver has the right to refuse to carry the passenger if they fail to comply. In practice this is rarely observed.
  • Drivers are required to provide change for $100 notes, but not for higher denominations.
  • If you only have a $500 or $1,000 note and are going through a tunnel, let the driver know beforehand and he will change it when paying at the toll booth. 
  • Some taxis accept credit cards and Octopus cards to avoid hassles with small change although these are still very rare. If you are unsure, or cannot paid cash, then flash your credit card at the driver before getting in and you'll know if it will be accepted or not.
  • Paying with foreign currency is illegal in China, although some taxi drivers may accept US Dollars for payment, but you will be quoted an unfavourable rate. It is always best to have HK dollars with you.
  • There are no extra late-night charges nor peak-hour surcharges.
  • Luggage carried in the boot ("trunk" in American and Canadian English) will cost you $5 per piece, except for wheelchairs.
  • No charges are levied for travel to/from the airport or within downtown but all toll charges for tunnels are added to the bill. The driver will normally pay on your behalf at the toll booth and you just need to reimburse him at the end of the journey. But you can also just pass the driver the money before the toll booth too.
  • Be aware that crossing the harbour is considered a relatively significant trip, and some taxi drivers may be reluctant to take you. To do this you can stand at a cross-harbour taxi rank (there are not many), by hailing a taxi by making an arm movement like an ocean wave (They will not stop if they don't want to go) or just asking your hotel to call a taxi firm with your destination. Harbour crossing passengers are expected to pay the tolls (add around $70 for your trip).
  • All taxi drivers are required to display inside the vehicle an official name card that includes the driver's photograph and the license plate number. 
  • Unless a taxi has an out of service sign displayed, they are legally required to take you to your destination. 
  • Taxis are required to provide you a receipt upon request.
  • If you think you have been "toured" around the city, or if they refuse to either carry you to your destination or provide for a receipt, you may file a complain to the Transport Complaints Unit Complaint Hotline (Voice mail service after office hours) at 2889-9999.
Tips:
  • Unless you are fluent in Cantonese, it is good practice to get a local person to write the name or address of your destination in Chinese for you to hand to the taxi driver, as many drivers speak limited English.
  • If you wish to take a journey back to your hotel, ask a receptionist for the hotel's business card.
  • It also helps if you have the phone number of your destination, so you can give it to the driver to call there and ask for directions.
  • Nevertheless, even if you don't take these steps, most taxi drivers know enough English to communicate the basics.
  • Be aware that buildings might have an English name used by foreigners and a different English name used by locals. The HSBC building in Central is called "Hong Kong Bank" by taxi drivers for example.
  • Tipping is not expected in taxis but passengers will often round up the fare to the nearest dollar.
  • During a typhoon, when any loss is not covered by insurance, a tip will be expected, or the taxi driver will ask you to pay a surcharge.
  • Read more in our Hong Kong Airport transportation guide's taxi section
Related resources

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Help! I left my iPad on the plane!

IPad
Enjoy your device on your flight, but don't leave it behind!
by Todd Romaine

Ever forgot your phone, iPad, iPod, book or glasses on an airplane before? Maybe you left it in the seat pocket, in the overhead compartment or simply on the seat.

Well unless you remember this shortly after you disembark from your plane and can chase down an agent, be prepared to delve into the frustrating depths of hell trying to get it back.

I left my iPad in the seat pocket on a flight from Heathrow to Edmonton. Admittedly, it was my own fault. I personally blame my own sleep deprivation after a 28 hour trip for such carelessness.

Once I got home, I quickly called Air Canada’s lost baggage department and quickly got a claim number from an Air Canada Agent in an overseas office. I was told in broken English that a system was in place to track down my lost item and once the airline cleaners found it it would be logged in the system, flown to Vancouver and that I would have 5 days to retrieve it before it is sent to the central lost and found in Montreal. Admittedly, it did cross my mind numerous times that the cleaners or another passenger could have swiped the device and have it reformatted but I had faith in humanity and Air Canada!


Over the course of 4 days I called the number I was given 12 times and to no avail they had no update and seem less inclined to go that extra mile and call the Air Canada Edmonton office to check with them on the recovery of any lost iPad.

I decided to then call the Edmonton Airport and request their assistance. It was made clear to me that there is a difference between Lost and Found at the Airport and Lost and Found with Air Canada. They were kind enough to forward me to one lady that works at Air Canada whom was able to track down my iPad at Heathrow!

Yes that’s right, my iPad flew from Heathrow to Edmonton and return without being noticed by the cleaners or the next passenger sitting in my seat.

She sent a note to Heathrow Air Canada to send me my iPad, and 2 days later I called again to check on the status and they never read her note so she sent another message... and still nothing. Since that time I have sent notes to the Heathrow Air Canada office as well as Air Canada customer relations and still nothing back.

Somewhere out there, my iPad is sitting on a shelf somewhere in an arena of corporate indifference to my plight to have back a device that contained many of my life’s contents. :(

Call Center Taxis Libres
The land of 1-800-anywhere...
Here are some tips if you are ever in the same situation as me:
  • Make it a habit to ensure every item is packed away and ready to go 20 minutes before the plane touches down. This includes removing everything from the seat pocket that belongs to you. In your hand should be your passport, tickets, and immigration card, alongside your phone
  • Never leave the airport without your stuff – if an agent tries to direct you towards a 1-800 number push back and force the issue for them to retrieve your item right away, if possible.
  • If you need to handle this matter once you are home, try to go local. In other words, try in desperation to get an airline contact number at the airport where your item was left, otherwise they will put you into the nebulous 1-800 land where wait times are long and answers are few.
  • Here is a good reference site for tracking telephone numbers: GetHuman.com (the site helps you get through to a human at 1000's of companies).
  • Otherwise beg and plea with the local airport to direct you to the local airline number.
  • If nothing is occurring, make a trip out to the airport and make demands to speak to managers there to elevate the issue. This has a chance of them elevating your request versus the 1-800-somewhere else agents whom are rather indifferent about your personal plight for a lost item.
  • If you lost something at an airport, contact the airport’s lost and found department.
  • Check out MissingX.com, a system used by the lost and found departments in many airports.

Related resources

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

We are now blogging about the Amazing Race Canada

The action has begun with Season 2 of The Amazing Race Canada, and we are busy blogging about it on our IHateTaxis Amazing Race Canada blog.

We've gotten creative, and are now blogging information on how to go where the teams went, and how to do what they did - in addition to information on the airports visited (Calgary, Victoria). Read more on our Week 1 blogpost...

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Amazing Race Canada - Season 1 airports recap

ASJ Air Canada - Airbus A320-211 - C-FTJR - 216 - Flight ACA1255 CUN - YYZ (9480219949)
Air Canada flies #RaceCDA teams
With Season 2 almost upon us, we thought we would recap the airports that the Amazing Race Canada teams visited in Season 1.

In Season 1, The Amazing Race Canada's visited 12 Canadian airports... [continue reading on our #RaceCDA blog].



Monday, 7 July 2014

Check out our Amazing Race airport quiz

We're having some fun over on our IHateTaxis Amazing Race Canada Blog.

We created a quiz about all the airports that the Amazing Race Canada teams visited in Season 1.

If you are a fan, or an #avgeek or just love airports, then check it out.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Our Amazing Race Canada Blog is back!

Canada flag map
The Amazing Race Canada is back!
The 2nd season of The Amazing Race Canada is back, with action kicking off on July 8th.

So, we are happy to announce that our IHateTaxis Amazing Race Blog is back! Our first blog post of the season was just posted: Amazing Race Canada Season 2 - starts July 8th!

As there are so many great blogs sharing news about The Amazing Race Canada teams, we take a different approach: our blog posts are about the destinations the teams visit, the airports and transportation in particular. Be sure to follow along to learn about the airports that the teams will visit along the way - great information if you think, "Hey, I want to go there!".
Visit the

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Ray the Parking Robot Valet

Ray the Robot Parking Valet
Image: Copyright serva transport systems GmbH
Don't feel like parking your car at the airport? Are you willing to do anything to avoid driving around trying to find a spot? Running late for your flight, and just want to leave your car and run?

If you live in Düsseldorf, Germany, then you are in luck. If not, read on and be jealous.

Ray, sans car
Copyright serva transport systems GmbH
Meet Ray.

As in, Ray the Robot Parking Valet.

All you need to do is swing your car into one of Ray's designated spots at Düsseldorf Airport (DUS), use the smartphone app to let Ray know (and confirm the car is empty), and walk away. Ray will do the rest.

"Ray" is essentially a high-tech forklift slash valet hybrid, that moves cars from the designated drop-off spots to his own separate parking area. It's more sleek than it sounds, and cars are treated with remarkable care.

Systems are even integrated to the point that Ray will check the status of your return flight, to have your car ready for you when you collect your luggage. Travelers pay a premium for the parking service, but so far the interest is high. Who knows, maybe one of Ray's cloned brothers will take up residence in an airport near you.

Why they named him Ray, we don't know... but admit that "Ray the Valet" has a nice ring to it.

Related resources: