Friday, 20 November 2009

Traveling to the United States (ESTA)

Since January 12, 2009 there are some new requirements for passengers traveling to the USA. This change will affect all passengers traveling under the VWP or Visa Waiver Program, which allows people from many countries to enter USA without obtaining a visa. According to the new regulations every passenger wishing to take a flight to the United States must obtain an ESTA approval, which is some kind of electronic visa, but it's not a real visa.

So what do you have to do before your travel? You must apply for your ESTA approval, which can be done at this website: You will have to fill some of your personal informations like your name, passport number etc. You may also enter some informations about your upcoming journey, but it's not required at the time. In future this may be used as a replacement for I-94W form, which you have to fill, while you are aboard a plane bound for USA.

Once you submit your application you will get your application number, using which you may always review your application process. On the next page you will see a result of your application, which may be one of the following:

  • Travel approved - Your application was approved immediately and you can travel to the USA
  • Decision pending - Your application will be approved/denied within next 72 hours
  • Travel denied - Your request is denied and you can't travel to the USA without a visa, so you must contact a US embassy and apply for a visa

In most cases your travel is approved immediately and you can immediately travel to the USA. If your application is approved, then it is valid for 2 years. It's recommended to apply for ESTA as soon as you start planning your trip. But please note, that there is a requirement of having an electronic passport with biometric informations. If you wish to use a non-electronic passport you will have to get a visa.

The application is free at the time, but the US government is planning to request a 10 USD application fee. But as the European Union is strongly against this fee we all hope, that it will stay free.

You don't have to bring any paper confirmation to the airport with you, because the authorization is stored in a computer system and everything will be controlled automatically when you check in at the airport.

Please note, that you will need ESTA only if you are traveling without a visa. If you have a valid US visa you may use it as you did in past. There's no requirement to have an ESTA while having a valid visa.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Booking classes

Under the term of booking classes you will most probably imagine the three basic travel classes-economy, business and first class. But if you have a look at your air ticket you will find your class marked by one code letter. Exactly told this is not the travel class, but it is called the booking class. Now let's have a look, which classes we have.

Economy class is the most common one and has most codes as well. It's divided into three general groups. The cheapest fares, or so called Economy restricted are marked by following letters: G, K, L, O, Q, S, T, U, V, W, X. This fare will not usually allow you any changes of your flight, or a refund and you will also get less frequent flyer programme miles. Sometimes W and X are used for bonus tickets. M, H, N are called standard fares. These will allow you more flexibility, but may be limited as well. And finally the most expensive, full fare tickets in economy are marked Y, B.

In business class you may encounter five codes in total: C, J, D, I, Z. Here C and J marks the full fare business class and D, I and Z stands for some kind of discounted or limited business class. In that case you can expect, that your tickets will be non-refundable and unchangeable. It's the same as in economy.

First class is usually marked by letter F, but some airlines also use letter P. This P stands for Premium and is used to make difference between first class in two-class plane and the first class in three-class plane, which is then marked by P and should offer you even more comfort. As well as in business and in economy, first class has also a discounted fare. It's marked A.

And the last letter you may encounter on your air ticket is R. This was used for Supersonic, so if you flew on Concorde your booking class was R. But even though Concorde doesn't fly anymore, you may see this booking class. It was re-introduced with the arrival of A380 and stands for suite class, the most luxurious one.

So now you know, what does that magic letter on your air ticket mean. If you wish to know more about your travel class you will have to have a look at your airline website, because there are great differences between airlines.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

About electronic tickets

These days you will usually get an electronic ticket when you take any flight, but not many years ago it was usual to fly on an usual paper ticket. Now let's have a look what are the advantages of this new kind of ticket and why it is better for you to travel using an electronic ticket.

In my opinion you will experience the biggest advantage even during your booking process, especially if you book your ticket on the internet. In the past you had to take a car and go to an agency to get your ticket printed, but these days you will receive you ticket via e-mail and you can print it at home. So as you can see it also saved you some time.

Once you book, your booking will get a booking code, usually 6 characters long like 3S1BQR. Using this code you may always review your booking at your airline website, or at the website of your reservation system. At most times should work for you just fine. This is the website of Amadeus reservation system, in my opinion the most common one. Should it not work you may also try for Sabre or for Galileo GDS.

Once you go to the airport you just take your printed receipt and your passport or ID. It even should not be necessary to take the receipt with you, because they can find your ticket in the computer, but it's always better to have it with you any time you fly. At the airport go to your check-in desk and show your passport along with your receipt and you will get your boarding passes printed.

So you don't need to bring any paper ticket, only the receipt, but that is not absolutely necessary. You should be able to fly without that. Therefore your electronic ticket can't be lost, because it's always securely stored in your airline's computer and once you arrive at the airport they will find your ticket using your name.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Introduction to frequent flyer programmes

In last few years it has become a standard, that every airline offers its own loyalty programme or in airline industry so called frequent flyer programme (FFP). Let's have a look how does this work and what are your benefits if you decide to join one of these FFPs.

First you should note, that in today world almost every bigger airline is part of some so called alliance along with some other airlines. The three biggest alliances are Star Alliance, Skyteam and One World. Airlines in this alliance usually have many agreements like code-share or they may be offering benefits to FFP members of every airline in this alliance.

So what are the advantages to be a member of some frequent flyer programme and how does it work? Once you register and you print your member card you can start earning points for every flight with your airline or a flight with any other partner airline of your airline. These points are called miles by airlines. And it really works the way, that for every single nautical mile you fly you receive one FFP mile. But not always. If you for example fly on some economy restricted really cheap tariff  you will get only let's say 50% of your flown miles or probably even less. But on the other side if you fly in business class, or even first class you may get 200% or 300%.

So after you fly your first flight the airline will send you a new plastic member card by post. If you manage to get enough points you may receive another card. In Skyteam they are called Elite cards. These are Silver, Gold and Platinum cards. For example in Czech airlines FFP you get a silver card if you fly 25000 miles within the period of one year. With Elite level card you will receive some benefits from your airline like free business class upgrade, priority check in and so on.

There are more ways of earning miles than just flying. You may get some miles for car rental, shopping or staying in a hotel. But you generally get most points from flying.

So what to do with your miles when you have enough? You can buy many benefits with them. The most popular is to buy a bonus air ticket. So with Czech airlines you will get one return air ticket from Europe to USA for 50000 miles for free. Another interesting thing is to buy yourself an upgrade from economy class to business class. There are more and more awards available. Just have a look at your airline website.

So if you are interested you may register on your favorite airline website. When you open that website just look for frequent flyer programme and you will able to register for free. Well, it should be free with most airlines, but I think, that for example British airways charged some symbolic registration fee. 

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Prague-Ruzyne airport

Prague-Ruzyne airport is one of the biggest airports in the area of Eastern and Middle Europe. In 2008 there were 12 630 550 passengers handled at this airport. If you are going through this airport as a passenger you should expect a nice experience. The airport was also rated by Skytrax as the best airport in Eastern and Middle Europe.

The airport itself is located 5 kilometers west of Prague near the Ruzyně part. There are 2 operational runways, but only one is usually used at the time. Third runway is closed at the time and is used for parking aircrafts only. There are four terminals at Prague, but only two of them are used for scheduled flights. Terminal 3 is for private and special flights and terminal 4 for government flights.

So as a passenger you will only get to terminals 1 and 2. At Prague it is pretty easy to determine which terminal you are going to fly from. If your destination is outside Schengen area, then go to terminal 1, but if you are flying just within Schengen, then go to terminal 2.

If you are in transit, then just follow transit signs, which will lead you to your departure gate. There is no need to use any bus or something like that. Everything is within the walking distance. If you are transferring between the two terminals, then expect, then you will have to go through immigration.

If you wish to go to the city center, then the only way to go is to use a bus, or use a taxi, but please be aware, that in Prague there are many unofficial taxis, where you will pay a large amount of money for going just a few kilometers far away. So I definitely recommend you to use the bus. It is cheap. I think, that it costs about 20 CZK and you will get to the subway station Dejvická, which is really close to the city center. Of course if you wish to rent a car at Prague, there is no problem.

Czech republic is now part of the Schengen area, so visa requirement are the same as for any other Schengen country. You can entry with Schengen visa if you are not from one the countries, which have visa free arrangements with EU.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Transit at Amsterdam Schiphol

Are you going to transit at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol? Well, this airport is in my opinion one of the most user friendly ones in Europe. And if I remember well it was also marked by skytrax as the best one in Europe.

Whole airport is built in one terminal concept, so you will never have to change terminals while transiting at Schiphol airport. The one terminal is divided into Piers B,C,D,E,F,G,H,M. Once you arrive at the airport simply follow signs for your departure gate. Gates in Schiphol are beginning with a letter, which is marking a pier, your flight will depart from. For example if departure gate F06 is marked on your boarding pass, so then you should proceed to the pier F for your departure flight.

All piers are connected by convenient moving walkways, so you will get from one side of the airport to the another side in quite a short time and really comfortably. The only obstacle for you may be the immigration if you are transferring between Schengen/International or International/Schengen. Airport is divided in approximately in its half to Schengen and non-Schengen part. So piers B,C, and the upper floor of D are Schengen and the lower floor of D and piers E,F,G,H are Schengen. The last one pier, pier M is Schengen, but is used on for low-cost flights as well as pier H.

As Schiphol airport is very efficient in my opinion 1 hour connection is perfectly fine and you shouldn't have any toruble. Should you miss your connection proceed to the transfer desk of your airline, or in my opinion you may use the self-service transfer desk as well.

At this airport all signs in the airside are all in English only, but all announcements are trilingual. They are in English, Dutch and the language of the country, where does the plane goes to.

So that's all about transiting at Schiphol. I wish you a very pleasant journey.

Transit at Paris CDG

Are you going to transit at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport? Then please continue reading and I will give you some advice how to make your transfer as easy as possible. 

If you are traveling with Air France you will get a nice booklet with your boarding passes and a map of Paris airport where you should be explained everything while you check in. If not, then have a look at your air ticket and find out to which terminal does your flight arrive, and where does you ongoing flight departs from.

Air France uses exclusively terminal 2 for their flights. That would be really nice and easy to transfer inside just one terminal building, but don't get me wrong, because this is not how things are going on at Paris airport. Terminal 2 are in fact a few smaller terminals built together, so they are all called terminal 2. To be precise terminal 2 is divided into 7 smaller parts called 2A,2B,2C,2D,2E,2F and 2G, which is a bit special.

Terminal 2G is used only for the shortest flights, but this one is located a bit away from other Terminal 2 "parts". So if your flight arrives to terminal 2G or departs from terminal 2G you will have to use a free bus. From 5:30 to 14:00 the bus goes from every single building of the terminal 2, but after this time the bus goes only from terminal 2D. Don't worry the ride is really short and will not take more than 5 minutes. The bus  itself goes every 5 minutes before 14:00 and after this time it goes every 8 minutes.

If you are going to fly on a Schengen flight, then you will be using terminal 2D or 2F. In this case you will have to go on foot, or use a public side airport bus. They are clearly marked and free. So once you arrive just go to the exit and clear immigration if necessary and follow signs leading to your terminal.

If your connection is international/international flight then you will not have to clear immigration. Once you arrive at your terminal just follow Transfer signs or "Correspondance" in French and they will lead you directly to your bus. This is an airside bus, which goes just round the airport in the order of 2B-2F-2E-2C-2A-2B. Note, that this bus doesn't go to 2D terminal, because this one is Schengen only and you will have to go on foot or use a bus.

The easiest thing is to connect inside one terminal. All you have to do is to go directly to your departure gate.

If you are not going to fly with Air France and you will be using terminal 1, then you have two possibilities. You can clear the immigration and use a CDGVAL train if you are going to fly on a non-Schengen flight, or you can use a free airside bus service should you wish to remain airside. Just follow Transfers signs to reach the bus.

Last terminal is terminal 3. This terminal is used only for low-cost flights. All transfers from or to this terminal are handled by the CDGVAL train. Every time you will have to leave the terminal building and use the train, which goes T1-T3-T2.

You should definitely make yourself enough time for your transfer at CDG when booking your flight. I once made a transfer from 2C to 2B in 45 minutes, but that is definitely not anything I could recommend. Although the minimum connecting time is 45 minutes you are definitely  risking to miss your flight. If you miss your flight, then proceed to you airline desk and they will have a new boarding passes for the next flight ready for you.

There are many rumors, that nobody speaks English at Paris airport, but I can tell you, that at these days it is not true. Not anymore at least. So if you are transiting at Paris airport don't worry and everything will be just fine.