Ouch: You Could Be Fined $545,000 For Using A VPN In The UAE

Abu-Dhabi-1

If you travel internationally frequently you’ve likely used a VPN (virtual private network) as a way of accessing websites or apps that may be blocked in certain countries. For example, in China using a VPN is basically a must if you want to access any Google-based websites. Since I’m in China, I’m using a VPN as we speak.

While I imagine many governments don’t like people using VPNs, they rarely do anything about it. While we don’t know if it will be enforced in practice, the UAE has just enacted one of the strictest laws we’ve seen on VPN use. Per the International Business Times:

“The President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has issued a series of new federal laws relating to IT crimes, including a regulation that forbids anyone in the UAE from making use of virtual private networks (VPN) to secure their web traffic from prying eyes.

The new law states that anyone who uses a VPN or proxy server can be imprisoned and fined between Dh500,000-Dh2,000,000 ($136,000-$545,000, £415,000, €495,000) if they are found to use VPNs fraudulently.”

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Virgin Alaska’s Newark Growth Continues

Virgin-America

Last week I wrote about Alaska Airlines’ big expansion out of Newark, where over the next several months they’ll be adding four additional daily transcontinental flights out of Newark, to Portland, San Diego, San Jose, and Seattle.

This followed the announcement earlier this year that slot restrictions at Newark Airport would be eased starting this fall, making it easier for more airlines to launch flights to Newark Airport. Previously Newark Airport was slot restricted due to the amount of congestion, but they managed to improve their stats to the point that they could accommodate more capacity.

That means right now Newark Airport is the only NYC area airport that a West Coast airline can easily expand to.

While I find Alaska’s San Diego and San Jose focus cities to be a bit scattered, the strategy behind what they’re doing makes sense. Alaska is taking over Virgin America to create the “premier West Coast airline,” and as part of that they’re going to want to compete more aggressively on transcon flights with JetBlue, especially now that JetBlue is trying to expand out west more.

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Initial Thoughts On China Eastern’s 777 Business Class

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I just got off my first ever China Eastern flight, and figured I’d share my initial thoughts about the flight from Los Angeles to Shanghai (other than the fact that the crew was smoking throughout the flight).

Prior to taking this flight I was optimistic about China Eastern. I recently flew China Airlines and was very pleasantly surprised, though I realize they’re Taiwan based (though both airlines are in SkyTeam with similar hard products). Furthermore, my last flight on a mainland Chinese carrier was on Hainan, which was excellent for the most part — the crew was friendly and the service was great.

While I knew China Eastern had a bad reputation, I figured maybe they were trying to turn that around. They’ve invested in gorgeous new 777-300ER aircraft, so with the amount they’re spending on the hard product, presumably they want to impress with the soft product as well, right? Wrong…

China Eastern has reverse herringbone seats in business class, which I consider to be among the best hard products out there. So they get high marks for that.

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Review: Hyatt Regency Toronto

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Late last week I spent a couple of nights in Toronto, which was planned fairly last minute. Hotels were outrageously priced, most going for $500+ per night.

During my previous trip to Toronto I stayed at the Park Hyatt, where I got the hotel’s one renovated room. Otherwise I’ve heard the rooms are past their prime, and not really up to Park Hyatt standards. However, all rooms should be renovated pretty soon.

This time around I decided to try the other Hyatt option in Toronto, the Hyatt Regency.

Why? Because while all other hotels were outrageously priced, the Hyatt Regency was available using a Points + Cash rate. Since this is a Category 4 property, a redemption cost just 6,000 points plus 75USD per night. That’s a much better deal than outright spending 12,000 points, since I’d basically be saving 6,000 points per night for 75USD, plus I’d be earning elite night and stay credits, which I wouldn’t earn for an outright points redemption.

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We Tried To Call Out Our Flight Crew For Smoking…

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Hello from Shanghai! Matthew and I just flew China Eastern from Los Angeles to Shanghai, and as I wrote about several hours ago, every 15-20 minutes a strong cigarette smoke odor filled the cabin. We did some investigating throughout the flight, and never actually saw anyone smoking, which leads us to believe the smoking was going on in the cockpit, and the smell circulated throughout the plane.

Upon writing about it, it seems that this is actually very common on Chinese airlines. I’ve flown Chinese airlines quite a bit and never noticed it, though several commenters mentioned they have experienced the same.

We wanted to do a bit of digging, more out of curiosity than anything else. So Matthew and I strategized for a bit, and he came up with a good idea. We wanted to see if we could get the crew to admit that someone was smoking, because we found their complete denial of there even being an odor to be so strange (it’s one thing if they agreed they smelled the odor but said it wasn’t them, but they denied the existence of the odor altogether…).

Matthew asked one of the flight attendants to call the cabin manager. She sort of refused, and asked what the problem was. When Matthew explained the smoking situation, she said “oh, you want to smoke?”

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Air France Cabin Crew Are Starting A Week-Long Strike

Air-France-A380

It’s a day that ends in “y,” which means European aviation is experiencing a major strike.

This time around it’s the Air France cabin crew on strike, and it’s expected to last a week. The dispute is over their new contract, which is supposed to kick in as of November 2016.

Air France flight attendants will be on strike from July 27 through August 2, 2016.

You can find the full details of Air France’s strike on this webpage, which will be updated with the most up to date flight cancellation details. Here’s how Air France describes the strike as of now:

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Emirates Will Soon Fly The A380 To Johannesburg

Emirates-Shower

Emirates is by far the world’s largest operator of the A380 (they have almost half of the world’s A380s on order), so their threshold for sending an A380 to a destination is much lower than at some other carriers, which have to be much more selective.

That’s why I’ve always found it odd that Emirates doesn’t fly the A380 to Johannesburg, given that Air France, British Airways, and Lufthansa do. You’d think it’s a pretty big market for Emirates, given that they have four daily flights. But I guess that frequency is more important than aircraft type to them, given that they exclusively use 777-300ERs on the route.

That’s about to change. It has just been announced that Emirates will begin flying the A380 between Dubai and Johannesburg as of February 1, 2017 for one of their daily flights.

Specifically, Emirates will operate an A380 for the following daily flight:

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Malaysia Airlines Deactivates Their Reactivated Deactivated 747

Malaysia-747

As I first wrote about in March, a few months back struggling Malaysia Airlines brought a 747-400 back into service. Malaysia Airlines used to have a fleet of Boeing 747s, which they retired in 2012. This coincided with the airline taking delivery of their six Airbus A380 aircraft, which they used primarily for their London and Paris routes.

Following the terrible tragedies of MH370 and MH17, Malaysia Airlines has been forced to restructure and downsize, and as part of that they’ve retired their entire 777 fleet.

That means the only plane which Malaysia Airlines can still operate to many points in Europe is the A380. As of now, Malaysia Airlines just operates their A380s on their two daily flights between Kuala Lumpur and London Heathrow (I’ve reviewed the route in first class from both London to Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur to London).

Over the summer these planes started going through maintenance checks, and someone at Malaysia decided it would make sense to bring back a single 747-400, in case they needed a spare plane.

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Live From 34,000 Feet: Someone Keeps Smoking On My China Eastern Flight

China-Eastern-Business-Class

Hello, live from a China Eastern flight enroute from Los Angeles to Shanghai. I’ll have more thoughts on the flight once I land, given that the wifi is super slow. Suffice to say that China Eastern has a great (though very bland) reverse herringbone hard product, and a soft product that gives China Southern a run for their money.

Despite the slow wifi, I have to share the most bizarre aspect of this flight.

Before flying China Eastern I had heard rumors that their crews will smoke inflight, though I always assumed that wasn’t the case, or was perhaps an isolated incident.

Well, after over four million flown miles, this is a first for me — the smell of cigarette smoke has filled the cabin no fewer than a dozen times over the past five hours of my China Eastern flight.

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Here Goes One Of My Craziest Trips Yet!

Crazy-Trip

One of the main reasons I travel is to review new airlines, which is why many of my trips are quick and have crazy routings.

However, I think this might just be one of my craziest trips yet. Over the course of the next week I’ll be flying:

— China Eastern business class from Los Angeles to Shanghai to Colombo (70,000 Delta SkyMiles)
— Royal Air Maroc and Qatar Airways business class from Colombo to Doha to Casablanca and back (~$620 fare)
— Saudia business class from Colombo to Jeddah to Manchester (~$700)
— Pakistan business class from Manchester to New York (~$900)
— JetBlue Mint Class from New York to Los Angeles (~$600 fare)

That’s over 33,000 flown miles over the course of seven days.

So not only is this trip rather crazy in terms of the airlines I’m flying, but it’s also crazy in terms of the quantity of flying, especially since about half that trip is being done without spending a night in a hotel.

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Why It’s Worth Being Picked Up At The Airport In A Hotel Car

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For cities without good public transportation, one of my biggest frustrations is getting from the airport to the hotel. Maybe I just have horrible luck, but I seem to consistently have issues with this. From drivers nearly falling asleep on me, to drivers getting lost (even in a city with supposedly the most competent cabbies), to drivers claiming I damaged their car, to drivers refusing to take me to my desired destination, to drivers taking me the long way, it seems that more often than not getting from the airport to the hotel is an adventure.

While I generally have good luck using Uber to get from my hotel to the airport, I find it a bit tougher the other way around, since it’s often challenging to arrange an airport meeting point in a country where the driver doesn’t speak any English (and where I don’t speak their language). It’s easy if you enter a hotel as an origin, but not so easy when you enter an international airport with several arrivals areas.

With that in mind, lately I’ve started using hotel cars for getting from the airport to the hotel, at least in countries where most people don’t speak English. I’ve found it to be extremely worthwhile. Why?

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Rumor: Chase To Introduce Competitor To Amex Platinum & Citi Prestige

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In general the cards from three of the biggest US issuers — American Express, Chase, and Citi — match one another:

— Each has co-branded hotel and airline credit cards, which offer special perks
— Each has cards that accrue a transferrable points currency
— Each has cards that accrue bonus points in many categories and are among the best for everyday spend, with annual fees around ~$100

However, if you look at the card portfolios from issuers, you’ll notice there’s one area where Chase doesn’t compete.

There’s The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Citi Prestige Card, both of which are “premium” cards issued by American Express, and Citi, respectively:

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Emirates Permanently Downgrades Dallas Route From A380 To 777

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Emirates is the world’s largest operator of the A380, with 81 A380s already in their fleet, and a total of 142 A380s ordered. As a result, they’re not especially selective with the routes on which they deploy the plane, since it makes up almost half of their fleet.

As far as their US destinations go, Emirates operates A380s to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington Dulles.

For a while they also operated A380s to Houston and Dallas Ft. Worth, though earlier in the year both of those routes were downgraded to Boeing 777-300ERs.

This doesn’t really come as a surprise, given that the two times I took the Dallas to Dubai route it was almost completely empty. On one flight there were more cabin crew than passengers on the upper deck. This is probably a function of the amount of competition from Gulf carriers in Texas, and also decreased activity in the oil industry.

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One MAJOR Change To American’s Newly Reconfigured 777s

American-Economy

Yesterday American quietly put a Boeing 777-200 into service with their newest business class product, featuring B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seats. This caught me off guard, since I thought American’s Boeing 787-9 would be the first to feature American’s newest business class seats.

There are several things that I found strange about this:

— The 777-200 that American reconfigured with their newest business class seats was one that was only recently reconfigured withAmerican’s previous version of business class seats, rather than them reconfiguring a 777 with American’s oldest, angled business class seats
— American plans on installing premium economy on their 777s, so despite reconfiguring this 777, they didn’t add a premium economy cabin (that means it will have to be reconfigured yet again)

One of my biggest issues with American’s longhaul fleet is that there’s no consistency as there are so many varieties of their business class seat, and with this change there’s yet another configuration.

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