Archive for April, 2009
For years, cartographers (map makers) were faced with a challenge: how can they accurately depict a round planet Earth on a flat piece of paper? That was not a problem for short distances, but when the early explorers started to travel around the world, that became a problem. Their maps were flat but the world wasn’t, and therein lies the problem.
Fast forward several hundred years to the 21st century as we fly around the world and have the same issues.
It’s easy to figure out the route for a flight from New York to Chicago, go west. Miami to Boston is pretty easy too, go north. But what about a longer flight, such as Los Angeles to Hong Kong? The route may not be as obvious as it seems. When looking at a flat piece of paper, it’s not easy to determine the great circle route between two locations. What is a great circle route? Answers.com defines it as “A segment of such a circle representing the shortest distance between two terrestrial points.”
I have found a fabulous website that can help, Great Circle Mapper (http://gc.kls2.com/), where you can enter your itinerary and quickly get a map showing the great circle route that you would follow on that trip. (Update: Great Circle Mapper has a new improved site at http://www.gcmap.com/
When you get to the front page, you enter the route that you are interested in. You can enter it using the airport abbreviation (Chicago O’Hare = ORD) or you can use the name of the city. If the city has more than one airport, you will get a list of the airports in that area and can select the appropriate one.
The itinerary I have entered above is Dallas-New York-Chicago-Dallas (DFW-JFK-ORD-DFW).
Great Circle Mapper provided the map above, showing the route, the mileage for each leg, and the initial heading that the aircraft will take. Is this the exact route the flight will take? No. Weather problems and Air Traffic Control issues could send you on another path, but you do get a pretty good idea of what the ideal route is.
As I mentioned, this itinerary does not cover a very great distance, so you could probably draw this same map route on a map of the United States. Great Circle Mapper shines however on long-distance itineraries. Let’s look at a long-distance flight: Chicago to Frankfurt.
The map above shows two different routes. The one in black (which I added) is the straight line route that I would draw if doing this on a flat map. The path in red is the great circle route that Great Circle Mapper has drawn. It is a much shorter route than the one in black, although it may not look it on a flat map.
The difference between the great circle route and a straight line on a flat map is even more pronounced as the flight gets longer. Here is the route from Dallas to Tokyo. If I were to draw this on a flat map, I probably would not have the flight going near Alaska, but that is indeed the shortest route.
The curvature of the route is very evident on a trip from Los Angeles to Frankfurt.
Great Circle Mapper provides more information that just the route. If you click on the name of an airport, you’ll get an a page with a great amount of information about that airport, including location (exact latitude and longitude), elevation, time, weather, an airport chart, and number and length of the runways.
Here is the information for the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) airport, where the longest runway is 13.402 feet (4,085 meters).
Great Circle Mapper has one other feature that I find interesting: What is the most distant place on earth from that airport?
From Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, the most distant location is Plaine Corail, on Rodrigues Island, in Mauritius, 10,930 miles away. The most distant location from Logan Airport in Boston is Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia, 11,763 miles away. This feature could come in handy the next time your co-worker says they would really like to get away to some place distant, or you can use it to win a bar bet.
I enjoy knowing the route my flight will take so I always visit this before I take a trip. Give Great Circle Mapper a try, it’s a great travel tool.
When you visit, see if you can get the answer to this question: American Airlines offers nonstop service from Chicago (ORD) to New Delhi (DEL). Continental offers nonstop service from Newark (EWR) to Singapore (SIN). Let Great Circle Mapper draw these routes for you, and see if you can tell me what makes them both so unique. I’ll post the answer next week.
I have three mileage runs scheduled from now until June 6: between them all I’ll be stopping in Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and Dallas/Fort Worth. Since the airlines no longer serve meals on the flights (unless I want to pay $10 for something worth $4), I try to look elsewhere for food.
On some mileage runs, my only options will be the food served in the terminal. Sometimes, that can be very good! I’ve had some good meals at the seafood restaurants at Seatac airport in Seattle. A few weeks ago I ate well at the On The Border in the Los Angeles terminal. Other times I have not been as lucky and have ended up getting a frozen ice cream from the McDonalds at O’Hare, or the cookies in the Admirals Club. However, on a trip where I never leave the airport, miles are my main goal, not food.
There are some trips however where I have time to leave the airport and that’s when I’ll look for a good meal. Since we have some good food here in Central Texas, I’ll look for something I can’t get at home, such as very fresh seafood, genuine Italian food, etc.
Later this month I have a four-hour layover in Seattle. Too much time to just sit in the terminal, but not enough time to take the bus downtown and eat at one of the many fine restaurants near Pikes Market. So, what do I do?
The answer is simple: Google! I went to GoogleMaps and entered “restaurants near Seatac airport” as my search term. In just a few seconds I had a list of hundreds of restaurants that I could sort by distance, cuisine, or user rating. It can’t get any easier than that! I am narrowing down my choices, and it looks like I should have a pretty easy time getting a good meal and still get back to the terminal in time for my return flight.
A few weeks later I have a six hour layover in San Francisco, more than enough time to get into town. I looked at the website for BART, the local transit system. It is very user friendly, letting me plan my itinerary by departure and arrival time. I chose the Embarcadero station, and used “restaurants near Embarcadero BART station San Francisco” as my GoogleMaps search term. Since this is Google, I got back a ridiculous 143,000 results, but the first 30 or 40 will give me a multitude of choices. On the first page alone I found restaurants serving Italian, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, Thai, French, and American cuisine. (I also found McDonald’s! haha) Now I just have to narrow down my choices.
So, if you are taking a mileage run and have enough time to leave the terminal but don’t know where to go for food, remember to use GoogleMaps and search for restaurants near the airport. You’ll be amazed at the choices you get
Yesterday I had one of the nicest mileage runs in a long time. This was a quick easy trip to San Jose, California and back. Most of my mileage runs have been much more involved and earned me more miles, but I was lucky enough to buy this during the 12 hour period when American Airlines was was matching Jet Blue with low fares from Austin to the West Coast. Since my cost per mile on this trip was only 1.54 cents per mile, I could not say no!
I really enjoyed my itinerary. My non-stop flight from Austin to San Jose did not depart until 8:30 a.m. Normally when I am on a mileage run, the plane is getting ready to land at Chicago at 8:30. So, having the chance to leave a little later was nice. Unfortunately, the weather was not very good when I got to the airport.
We boarded the plane, (as always, an MD-80). Thankfully, the low fog did not delay us and we took off on time. The plane was only half-full, I was the only person sitting in the exit rows.
I want to thank the Austin ground crew for one thing they did: a young Soldier was on our flight Although he had a coach ticket they upgraded him to First Class. When they told him he would be in FC, he whistled and said, “Cool!”
I slept for the first hour, then pulled out my trusty iPod and my Sudoku book to pass the time.
We had some great scenery along the way!
After crossing the Rockies we had a smooth flight into San Jose and even landed 10 minutes early. But there was little time to relax, the return flight to Austin would depart in 40 minutes!
I made a quick trip to the Admirals Club to refill my water bottle and to relax for a few moments. After a pleasant 15 minute stay, I went back to the gate for my flight home.
This time the plane was jammed. I got my exit row seat (same seat I had on the first flight) on the left side where there are only two seats: I think the seat next to me was the only empty one on the plane!
We had a smooth flight to Austin. It was interesting how much AA was using that aircraft that day. It started in Austin, flew to San Jose then back to Austin. After Austin its next stop was DFW and then Seattle. By my estimate, it may even have had time to leave Seattle for a red-eye back to DFW.
We got back to Austin and actually landed early again. Every flight I have taken since mid-February has arrived at least 10 minutes early! I think a lot of the credit for this can go to AA for adjusting their schedules to allow the aircraft more time on the ground, and to also allow for possible air traffic control delays. Bravo to AA for doing this!
We landed at Austin-Bergstrom shortly after 4 p.m. and I was home before 6. It has been a long time since I have had a mileage run as easy as this one, I was even home for dinner!
This was an easy mileage run, and while I earned less than 6,000 miles for the trip, I got them for an incredible price, so I am satisfied.
I have three more mileage runs planned between now and the middle of June, taking advantage of AA’s double EQM offer. After I complete my final mileage run, I should have 52,000 EQMs in my account and will have earned Platinum Status for the coming year. Thank you American!
Last week American Airlines announced that it was awarding double Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) on flights between March 18 and June 15. I think I can safely say that mileage runners rejoiced at the news, I know I did.
Now they are offering an even better deal: triple miles on nonstop flights between Boston and the West Coast (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego). Oh, where was this deal when I flew Boston – Los Angeles – Boston a few weeks ago?
This Boston award is miles, not EQMs, but is still a great deal, particularly when you include the double EQMs.
So, I have booked another trip. Austin to Dallas to Boston to San Francisco to Dallas to Austin. I leave Austin early on a Saturday morning, fly from Boston to SFO that afternoon, take the red-eye from SFO back to Dallas, and get back to Austin at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning.
With the double EQM promotion, I’ll earn over 13,000 EQMs, that’s 3,000 more than I earned for my trip to Ireland! How many miles will I earn? Well, with my normal Platinum bonus that will also be over 13,000. The question is, how many extra miles will I get for the triple mileage from BOS to SFO?
There has been some discussion of this on Flyer Talk. The consensus seems to be that a PLAT flyer would earn the normal double mileage, and then the double mileage again. The first double is the normal PLAT bonus, the second double is the bonus that along with the basic miles, gives triple mileage. I hope that makes sense! haha!
So, I’d earn an additional 5,400 miles, putting my total at over 18,000 miles for the trip. That is too good a deal to pass up. So, I have booked it.
My goal is to make Platinum again this year, with this flight I will be at 43,000 EQMs and will need only 7,000 more to make that goal. With the double EQM bonus, that should be easy.
Thank you AA for the bonuses!