Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sprint/FreedomPop Nexus 5 Phones Suddenly Won't Connect to 3G Service -- Solution

I've been using Freedompop phones and their service for the past two or more years.  The service really is free if you stay below the 500Mb data limit (easy to do), are willing to put up with crappy voice quality, and are careful about their sneaky rules.  I use the phones to get email while on the road, and I use Waze and Yelp when driving or traveling.  I also routinely use a spare Freedompop phone as a wifi hotspot when I am traveling in the US -- I use the Wifi Tether app rather than paying Freedompop's tethering fee. I rarely make or receive calls using my Freedompop phone and actually have a cheapass Verizon phone to do that.  I also have a FP Overdrive Pro wifi hotspot and pay $3.99 per month for the ability to get 3G service on that device.  It's well worth it. 

Freedompop uses the Sprint network.  I find that I am usually in Sprint's 3G network areas and rarely in the 4G LTE areas.  So my phones have to connect to the 3G network. 

I have two Freedompop Nexus 5 phones.  Both have been working fine up until November 21.  Starting that day, the icon showing the wireless signal included an exclamation point, and the phones were unable to get data over the cellular connection.  The exclamation point went away when the phone was near a wifi hotspot that I could connect to -- but once away from wifi, the exclamation point reappears and I was unable to get data over the cell connection. 

This meant no phone calls, no Internet, no email -- the phone was useless.  I tried updating the PRL and profile and restarting the phone, but these methods did not work.  It seems to me that these phones are now unable to access Sprint's 3G network.  I did drive into an area that had a strong 4G LTE signal and the phone downloaded emails, and then worked on 3G for a bit -- but the same problem started again. 

I researched the web for this problem and possible solutions.  Here's the one that worked for me, and thanks Bradley!

The solution can be found here:

And here is the solution:
I had a similar problem. This resolved my issue:

I had the same problem (no data at all using cellular network) after updating my unrooted Nexus 5 to Android 5.1.1 using the OTA update (build LMY48I), but managed to solve it using these steps:

Type star#star#4636#star#star in the phone dialer. You will see a rather messy dialog "Phone info".
Tap the three dots in the upper right corner and tap "Enable data connection".
This fixed the issue for me.

This seems to have fixed the issue for me too! The cell signal icon now shows 3G and a triangle, as it should.  The phone is downloading emails and getting on the Internet even though wifi is turned off. 

PS -- You might have to update the PRL and profile, and then restart the phone.  Here are some links on how to do this:


Update the Profile and PRL (Preferred Roaming List) on your Google Nexus 5

Steps to update the PRL on your Google Nexus 5

Keeping your Preferred Roaming List (PRL) up-to-date can improve your network coverage if you are roaming.

From the home screen, tap the All Apps icon.
Scroll to and tap Settings.
Tap More.
Tap Cellular networks.
Tap Carrier settings.
Tap Update Profile
After the update completes, tap Update PRL

I was surprised at how difficult Freedompop makes it to post to a forum, and how little information it gives to folks who are trying to post.  It's ridiculous and a complete waste of one's time. 

Let's say you would like to make a comment on a Freedompop forum.  Well, like all the other folks before you, you will spend 20 minutes or so trying to figure out how to do this.  You'll log in with your FP user name and password.  No joy.  You'll search in vain for a "comment" box.  You then try registering a completely new username.  Still no joy. 

Here's a link to clarify the problem:

Finally you might come across the forum post above and find the comments below:
"I was a little confused at the beginning too. I signed in with my FreedomPop account, but it wouldn't let me post or comment. I just kept getting "You don't have permission" type errors. I guess they were approving my account before allowing the first post? But it didn't say that anywhere. So I was wondering what the heck I was doing wrong. After waiting a day or so, though, I was able to post/comment normally.

..."just joined yesterday and had the same issue. The first email comes immediately and says:
You need to confirm your email address before you can continue.
Please confirm your email address by clicking on the following link:

Once I did that I appeared to be accepted as I was logged in. I then spent an hour looking around in every nook and cranny trying to figure out what the heck I had to do to make a post. Finally I decided to search for how to make a post, since if I was having this much trouble someone else must have as well, and I found this post. But that was after already wasting a lot of time.

It would be very helpful if you simply added another sentence to that first email saying something like:
After you confirm your email address your request will still need to be approved by an administrator prior to you being able to post. You will receive another email when that occurs.

This simple change will save others time and will start them out with freedompop and a much better note. Many of us are coming to the forum already frustrated and then having this happen just raises the level of irritation. I'm sure it's not intensional (sic), but now that this issue has been pointed out several times and it can be easily remedied, why not do it?

So in summary, if you ever want to post to a FP forum, you have to register with your FP user name or a new name.  You then have to click an emailed link to confirm your email address.  THEN you have to wait to be approved to make a post.  THEN and only then, will a "Comment" window show up in your browser.  Until then, it is just hidden.  FINALLY, once you make a comment, that comment won't show up until a FP moderator approves it. 

I don't have to say the obvious -- this is ridiculously difficult.  FP is making it that way and wasting their customers' time.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wha...???? Maddening Customer Service Flubs From Today

Is it me, or is customer service a lost art?  I find that I usually know more about a product than a company's own technical support folks.  The cell phone companies like AT&T and Verizon are the worst -- sales people in the stores have no idea what their own company is offering.

I like shipping through USPS.  I just print out a label and stick the box in my mailbox, and the mailman picks it up.  Their website is usually pretty good.

But today I tried to order some supplies.  I was given the choice to order a quantity, say, more than 1.  I tried 2.  BONK!  Here's the error message:

So my question is -- why give me the choice of ordering a quantity more than 1, if you aren't going to allow me to order more than 1?

The other pet peeve I have about shipping through USPS is that they force you to choose a date to ship a package.  It would be easy for them to give you a choice -- and warn you before you choose a day that is a holiday -- where you CAN'T SHIP THE DAMN PACKAGE!!!  But no, those holidays are always presented as a choice, with no warning.  If you print a label and choose a holiday, then the whole process turns into a giant pain in the butt.  You have to print another label, beg the USPS to consider a refund, etc.

Here's a company to avoid : Eastwood.  The emails below should explain all:

Date: Mon, Nov 16, 2015 at 9:04 AM
Subject: Eastwood Shipment Confirmation E20282070000

        Dear: NORBERT WU

        Thank you for your recent credit card order.  Unfortunately, we are
        unable to process your order as the credit card number was not
        recognized by our software.  This in no way reflects on your credit
        rating but means simply that there is a problem with the number

        You may contact us with the correct credit card number at
        orderhelp@eastwood.com or call our Customer Service department at
        1-800-345-1178 between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM Eastern Standard
        Please reference your order number with any inquiry.

        If there is a reason that you would prefer not to charge your
        credit card at this time, please enclose a check or money order in
        the amount of $ xx   in US Dollars.  We will process your order

        We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused and we look
        forward to being of service to you in the near future.

        The Eastwood Promise:
        At Eastwood, we want to do the job right....every time.  If an
        Eastwood product fails to meet or exceed your expectations, give us
        a call at   800-345-1178.  We promise to make it right!

        Thank you for shopping at Eastwood!

        Customer Service
        The Eastwood Company

From: Norbert Wu
Sent: Wednesday, November 18, 2015 9:29 PM
To: Orderhelp
Subject: Re: Eastwood Shipment Confirmation E20282070000

I am very surprised, as my credit card has been working just fine the past few days.  

Please try it again: 
xxx dddd

If that doesn't work for some reason, please call me at my cell 831-309-4128 or try my Amex: 

I am  happy to send over my PIN for one or both of the above cards also.  

Norb Wu

From: Orderhelp 
Date: Thu, Nov 19, 2015 at 7:22 AM
Subject: RE: Eastwood Shipment Confirmation E20282070000
To: Norbert Wu

Hello Mr. Wu,

                We apologize for the inconvenience. Unfortunately as stated we will need to ask you to call in this information in order to proceed.

Best regards,

Customer Contact Representative

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Airport and Airline From Hell – Trying to Leave Port Moresby via Air Niugini is Outrageously Stressful


I just returned from 25 days on a diving liveaboard boat in Papua New Guinea (PNG), with my friends Douglas and Emily Seifert, and Howard and Michele Hall.  The boat was the Golden Dawn, run by diver and PNG resident Craig de Wit.  I'll talk more about the boat and the diving in a future blog post.  The diving at some sites was off the charts.  

However, the one thing that I will remember about this trip is how incredibly stressful it was to get out of Port Moresby on Air Niugini. 

Air Niugini and Port Moresby Airport to Me: F*** YOU.”

I'd like to warn other folks traveling to PNG about my very stressful experience trying to get on my Air Niugini flight from Port Moresby to Brisbane, Australia a few days ago.  Trying to get on the plane through Air Niugini and Port Moresby Airport's multiple security checkpoints resulted in the most stressful 1.5 hours of traveling in my 30 years of traveling. 

Some of this was my fault and a lot of this was the fault of Air Niugini and the airport.  I can tell you that I am not eager to repeat the experience so probably won't be traveling back to PNG because of this. 

Airlines and tourism boards should realize that if they wish to attract tourists, and keep tourists coming back, they should make it easy, rather than difficult, to travel.  As an example, perhaps 25 years ago, I had a horrible experience with Qantas Airlines giving me a lot of grief for carrying on a big telephoto lens on a plane.  In the ensuing 25 years, every time I’ve thought about using Qantas, I remember the experience – and I choose another airline. 

Yes, I tend to come onto a plane with a lot of carry-on stuff.  I am a professional photographer and I need to arrive in a location with my camera gear. Therefore I tend to carry on a lot of stuff.  These days, I am forced to bring any lithium ion batteries on board with me rather than putting the batteries in my checked baggage.  That means that I am carrying on even more stuff. 

I travel with a Lowepro rolling carryon case, which is filled with camera batteries, video light batteries, hard drives, a change of clothing, various chargers, camera bodies, lenses, and other essentials.  I carry a backpack that ranges from very large to normal sized.  In the past year, I've been carrying a small soft cooler on top of my rolling carryon case that contains a small amount of items like granola bars, strobe batteries, etc.  In the US, Scotland, and Costa Rica, I've had no trouble with this arrangement.  This is because I am a frequent flyer and I am familiar with airline practices -- and the practices of just about every airport in the world as well.

In every single airport that I've been to in the past 30 years of traveling and diving, the place where you have to pay excess bags, and the one place in the airport where anyone cares about your bags, is the ticket counter where you check in.  As long as your carry-on bags are within reason and pass the scrutiny at the ticket counter, then the folks at the subsequent security checkpoints rarely care how many bags you are carrying onto the plane. 

I've only been stopped once by an airline for having too many carry-on bags.  The soft cooler that I have on top of my rolling case is purely for convenience and to get stuff off my back.  I simply put the contents of the soft cooler (granola bars, an apple, a water bottle, a port for my housing) into my backpack, and shoved the soft cooler into my backpack also.  Presto – no problem. 

Well, after my experience in Port Moresby, I have learned my lesson.  I am going to put everything that I can into my checked baggage and pay the excess baggage charges, particularly when going through third-world airports like Port Moresby.  It’s still going to be difficult to meet the rules of a place like Port Moresby, because I have to bring lithium ion batteries, camera bodies, my laptop, and other essential items on the plane with me – and Port Moresby strictly enforces a limit of 7 kg for carry-ons.  Here's what happened, and hopefully other folks can learn from this. 

I booked my travel through Air Niugini's website, and they had a flight that left from Alotau (Milne Bay) to Port Moresby, with 1.5 hours in between to get on the Port Moresby to Brisbane flight.  This fairly short connection was APPROVED and TICKETED by Air Niugini.

I arrived into Port Moresby on time, 12 noon.  I collected my checked baggage, and then walked the cart over to the international terminal.  I waited in line until about 12:30pm, and finally was able to check in for my flight which was to leave at 1:30pm.  At this point, the agent told me that I had to pay for my excess baggage. It was something like US $60.  Fine.  I never like paying for excess baggage, but it's just something that we divers and photographers have to do. 

The problem in third-world airports, however, is that if you have to pay excess baggage charges, then you have to walk across the terminal to another office, usually a window, where you have to wait in another line to pay your excess baggage fees.  I had to use a credit card to pay my fees, and in this case, like all cases, the wait to get to the clerk took a long time, and then the wait to have the clerk write up all the paperwork and process my credit card took a long time.  On the outbound leg of my journey to PNG 25 days earlier, I stood in line a full 30 minutes before getting this done, but I had a three-hour wait before my next flight.  This time, I started getting nervous since I only had 60 minutes before my flight left.  I needed to get on that plane!

I cut in line by asking (thanks folks) and the woman surprisingly only took about 10 minutes to process my excess baggage stuff.  Great.  I rushed back to the check-in counter, showed the agent my receipt, and got my boarding pass.  I collected my rolling carry-on case, the small soft cooler, my backpack, and a photographer’s vest that I had stuffed with heavy-ish items like plates for my underwater tripod, Ikelite strobe batteries, and the batteries for my Phantom drone. 

It was my mistake to carry on the vest and soft cooler along with the backpack and rolling carryon.  In my defense, in nearly all other airports in the world, I would have been able to get through security and on the plane with these carry-on items.  The one time I've been challenged, it was an easy matter to take the items out of the soft cooler and put everything in my backpack.  In this case, however, I was in a rush.  The plane was to leave in 45 minutes, and I did NOT want to miss the flight and end up spending the night in Port Moresby, one of the most dangerous cities in the world. 

I took the escalator to the second floor, where the security checkpoints were (and the first of three sets of guards, I was to learn).  In front of the doors to the X-ray machine stood a first set of guards.  One of them steadfastly refused to let me through, after weighing my rolling carry-on in his hands.  He said it was too heavy, and he was also unhappy that I had the soft cooler and vest.  If I had been more careful and knew what was going to happen, I would have worn the vest rather than carrying it in my hands, and put the soft cooler and its contents inside my backpack, which was pretty empty.  As it was, I put the contents of the soft cooler in my backpack and showed them that I could put the vest in there too – but that was not good enough for him. 

Air Niugini has a stated weight limit of 7 kg for carry-ons. No other airline in the world enforces a weight limit for carry-ons, as far as I have encountered.  If I had a rolling carry-on and a backpack only – which I did at this point – I would have been fine in just about any other airport.  However, this guard told me that my rolling carry-on was too heavy.  He would not let me transfer anything in the rolling case to my backpack, and told me to go back downstairs to check it in and pay the excess baggage fee. I begged and pleaded with him to give me a break and let me through, but he was immovable. 

I was close to panic at this point. My flight was to leave in about 35 minutes, and there was just no frigging way that I was going to be able to pay excess bag charges and make it on my flight.  I ran back to the check-in counter and told them the situation.  I was sweating bullets, on the verge of freaking out, because I needed to get on that flight. 

Fortunately, Emily and Douglas Seifert were checking in there and helped me.  They convinced a manager to go up with me to the first checkpoint, to tell the guard to let me through.  She did so.  It was now 30 minutes to flight departure.  The manager convinced the guard to let me go through. 

I went through the glass doors to encounter the staff operating the X-ray machine.  I had to beg and plead my case all over again.  The manager had left after telling the first set of guards to let me through.  The X-ray guys finally relented and let me through and much insistence and groveling on my part.  I had to ask one of the first guards to vouch that a manager had OK’d my carry-ons. My anxiety was increasing as departure time drew closer. 

I rarely panic, and I always try to allow plenty of time between checking in and the departure time.  In this case, however, I had trusted Air Niugini to schedule a connection that proved to be too short.  I had put myself (and was put) in a situation where I had too little time, and I was nearly hysterical.  Any diver can tell you that panic is no help in any situation, but here I was.  I had previously filled out a yellow exit immigration form, and I asked to cut to the front of the line when I got to the immigration counters.  The officers stared at me but one let me come to his window.  When I got there, I realized that in my mad dashes around the terminal, I had lost track of this form.  I had to step aside and fill out another form.  My sweaty hand was shaking as I filled out the form as fast as I could.  Thankfully, a kind female immigration officer let me through after questioning me.  She was suspicious about my activities in PNG until I mentioned the name of Walindi, a dive resort that she knew about.

I now had about 15 minutes to departure time, and I rushed into the main gate area to find my flight.  The flight was to leave from Gate 3.  I ran to Gate 1 and 2, which were clearly marked, and then ran past a sign pointing to Gates 3 to 5.  I ran to the end of the gate area and saw no signs for any gates.  It turns out that in the Port Moresby Airport departing area, Gate 3 is unmarked.  This was not helpful.  I asked some folks waiting in a cafe if they were going to Brisbane, and they told me that they were, and showed me the unmarked door that was Gate 3.  Fortunately, the staff had not yet started boarding the plane.  I had made it!  So I thought. 

About 10 minutes later, I was able to go through the gate to the plane, but was surprised by yet another checkpoint.  I had to go through all my arguments once again as a guard opened up all my bags, and told me that I had too many.  I begged and pleaded for mercy again.  I was drenched in sweat.  The guard called someone else over, they conversed, told me that I was a bad, bad person; I agreed and said that I would never do it again, like a schoolkid. 

I finally got to the entrance where a passenger gives up his boarding pass, to be allowed through the hallowed tube to the sanctuary of the plane itself.  She looked at my boarding pass, looked at me, and told me that it was the wrong boarding pass.  She was correct -- it was the boarding pass from my earlier flight, from Alotau to Port Moresby.  I could not find the correct boarding pass!  Panic again.  Blessedly, an Air NG manager (the only white guy on staff there that I ever saw) came up holding my boarding pass.  I had dropped it at the last checkpoint a few feet away when arguing my case.  I finally was able to board the plane. 

After all that, the flight was about 33% filled, and there was plenty of room for my carry-ons. 

I know that airlines have to have rules, but Air Niugini's strict enforcement on the weight rather than the size and number of carry-ons only causes problems.  I can tell you that I will avoid Air Niugini like the plague for the rest of my short life.  I hope that those of you who read this will also avoid Air Niugini, or take my experience to heart, and carry on a minimal amount of stuff.  Either that, or pay to join Air Niugini’s Executive Club and buy a business class ticket so that the staff won’t mess with  you. 

PNG is a great place for diving, but I am not sure that the hassle of getting to good destinations there is worth the trouble.  There are now only three liveaboard dive vessels in PNG waters, and only a few really worthy land-based diving operations.  Walindi is one of them, but I can't stay there because none of their bungalows has air-conditioning.  I have health issues if I get too hot, and the one time that I stayed at Walindi twenty years ago, I had a pretty difficult time trying to get comfortable in the heat. 

I will always remember my time in Port Moresby as the most stressful 1.5 hours of traveling I have yet to go through.  Sweat and adrenaline dripping off my body.  Almost in tears as I was forced to beg and plead, "I promise I won't do it again!" to not one, not two, not three, but four fucking checkpoints on the way to the plane.  Driven to hysteria and panic so that I lost critical pieces of paper, having to beg to cut to the front of lines, having to fill it out these forms again with my sweaty hands shaking from panic and stress.  Not good.  Hopefully never again. 

As a final "FUCK YOU", Air Niugini lost one of my bags. Once I arrived in Brisbane, I had the good luck to be forced to stick around the airport another two hours to look for a missing bag and file a claim.  That's always fun, being the last person at the baggage carousel.  I said to myself "I love to travel."  It was great to get some exercise by walking all around the cavernous baggage claim area several times to look for said missing bag, being questioned repeatedly by the same Aussie customs officers about my customs forms and what I was doing.  It was a lot of fun, I have to tell you.  A real "adventure."

I have spent the past few days at home trying to track down someone at Port Moresby airport to try to find my bag and barring that, to send me forms to claim this lost bag.  It has not been fun. 

Air Niugini and Port Moresby Airport gave me a big “FUCK YOU” when I tried to leave.  That's unfortunately the first think that will come to mind the next time someone mentions diving PNG.  Airlines and tourism boards should realize that if they wish to attract tourists, and keep tourists coming back, they should make it easy, rather than difficult, to travel.  


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tips on Renting a Car in Australia and Brisbane: Insurance and Toll Roads

 I recently rented a car in Brisbane, Australia.  Here are some tips.

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) Insurance:
I am currently researching all the requirements needed to rent a car in Mexico.  I'll have a blog post on that in the future.  For now, however, I learned some things about renting cars in Australia as a US citizen.

When I rent a car in the US, I always use a higher-end Visa or Mastercard to reserve and to pay for the rental car.  This allows me to decline the rental car company's insurance on all fronts.  I've double-checked the benefits of the credit card that I use.  The credit cards that I use have benefits such as "Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver (CDW)."  The credit card, as long as you decline the rental car's CDW (they require that you do so), will then reimburse you or the car rental company "for damage due to collision or theft up to the actual cash value of most rental vehicles."  There's no deductible, so this is my primary coverage.  In other words, "you do not have to claim payment from any source of insurance before receiving coverage under the benefit."  This is a great benefit.  Just make sure that your credit card offers this benefit. 

My personal car insurance covers the other types of insurance that might be needed. 

There's also this wording in the benefits brochure: "If you accept the collision damage waiver offered by the rental company, you will not be eligible for [our] Auto Rental CDW."

In Australia and some other countries, however, the car rental company may insist that you buy their CDW insurance.  In this case, the credit card will still cover you as long as the country is on their list of "exception countries."  I called my MasterCard benefits number, and they told me that the exception countries are New Zealand, Australia, Costa Rica, and Italy. 

Therefore, when renting a car in Australia, I could try to decline the company's CDW insurance, but if I was forced to buy it, my credit card benefits arm would still cover me in the case of an accident. 

I spoke to a friend who is also an underwater photographer.  He actually does highly recommend getting CDW insurance in Australia.  He did not get it once and was involved in an accident that was not his fault.  He therefore had to pay $3500 as a bond, and it was extremely difficult for him to get that money back, even though he was entitled to it.  He had to write numerous letters and make dozens of phone calls to clear the entire matter up.  From my initial reading, the situation can be even worse in Mexico.  

In other words, your credit card may cover you for CDW insurance in Australia, and you could decline the company's CDW insurance.  I did so when I was in Brisbane.  However, buying the company's CDW insurance in Australia is allowed by MasterCard benefits -- and it's probably a good idea.  Otherwise you will have to pay a $3500 or higher bond if you are involved in any type of accident, and it will be a hassle to get that money back. 

Brisbane Domestic and International Terminals:
 Here is a tip when renting a car in Brisbane, and it applies to other cities, anywhere.  When renting a car, double check to see if the car can be picked up "in terminal" or if you have to take a shuttle to the rental company location.  In Brisbane, companies like Hertz, Avis, and a few others had their facilities right on the airport.  It was thus a simple matter to pick up and return a car -- in Brisbane, I just returned my Hertz rental car right across the street from the domestic terminal one morning.  If I had rented from another company, I might have had to get up earlier and take a shuttle once I returned the car. 

Brisbane has separate international and domestic terminals.  They are about a 10-minute walk apart.  If you rent from Hertz, Avis, or other on-airport companies, they make it easy.  You can pick up a car from the international terminal and return it to the domestic terminal, or vice versa.  The rental car companies have counters and cars available at both the international and domestic terminals.  I liked Brisbane Airport a lot -- it was easy to get around in and picking up and returning a car was super-easy. 

Toll Roads in Brisbane: Don't Let the Rental Car Company Scam You

When I rented the car from Hertz, I was told that I had two options to pay for the toll roads around Brisbane.  I really dislike getting into situations where I am being scammed, and sure enough, the Hertz agent scammed me.  He convinced me to pay in advance of using any toll roads.  The options I had were:

1.  Pay AUD $11 in advance, and I would pay nothing more if I used a toll road(s).  I was not sure if the AUD $11 covered my entire rental, or if it only covered 24 hours or one day of my rental.  For example, if I kept the car for three days, would I be charged AUD $33 for three days at $11 per day, or just a flat $11? 
2.  Don't pay, and I would be billed the cost of the toll road fee along with a $16 Hertz administrative fee after the fact. 

What the Hertz agent neglected to tell me, which I discovered after a web search at my hotel, was that I could choose option 1 at the TIME I RETURNED MY CAR.  Therefore, if I never used a toll road in Brisbane, then I would not need to pay any fee; if I did in fact use a toll road, I could simply pay Hertz $10 for option 1 when I returned the car. 

That's what I ended up doing.  My Garmin unit had Australia maps loaded onto it, and it was programmed to avoid toll roads.  It worked just fine in Brisbane and I got to my hotel without having to use the M7 toll road from the airport (easy).  As it turns out, there are only one or two toll roads in Brisbane, and they are clearly marked so that you can avoid them. 

I also discovered that for at least the M7 airport toll road (the most likely road that a tourist driving to or from the Brisbane airport to the city would use), if you found yourself driving on it -- you could pay the toll online within three days. 

Here's how to pay the toll for the airport toll road:

For a casual user or a driver of a rental car -- buy a trip pass: Here's some wording from the website:
If you have already used AirporlinkM7 you have 3 days from the date of travel to pay for your trip by opening an account or buying a pass.

You can purchase a casual user pass prior to travel or 3 days after the date of travel.

A trip pass can pay for trips taken on AirportlinkM7 within the last 3 days; select the appropriate start date to cover any unpaid travel.

Hope this helps folks traveling to Brisbane!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Virgin Australia is awesome. Sydney Airport Needs to Turn on the Air Conditioning.


I recently flew to Australia to get to Papua New Guinea (PNG).  It was quite a learning experience.  I am a fan of the Virgin brand now.  I recently took a Virgin train in the UK (great experience), and I had a great time flying Virgin Australia.

I flew into Sydney, then on to Brisbane -- and from there to Papua New Guinea.  I will discuss my nightmarish experience in trying to get on my Air Niugini plane at Port Moresby (ranked next-to-worst city that you'd want to live in by a recent study) later.  But first, some of the good news. 

If you are in Australia and flying domestically, then you can't go wrong by flying Virgin Australia.  I flew Virgin Australia both ways, from Sydney to Brisbane and back again, and each time my experience with this airline was just great.  I flew business class using my Virgin America Elevate points, and it was a great deal and just an awesome experience in all respects. 

I flew Virgin America to Las Vegas a year ago. It was my first time flying.  I applied for a Virgin America credit card when booking my flight to Vegas, and I received about 11,000 points in my account after spending $1000 in three months.  I then forgot about this small number of points in my account, until this trip came up.  When planning my trip, I realized that my points in my Elevate account could be used to buy a ticket for my travel within Australia, from SYD to BNE. 

Virgin America is a partner with Virgin Australia, like American and Qantas.  It has a separate frequent flyer program from Virgin Australia, whose program is called Velocity.  I called Virgin America and learned that a coach seat from SYD to BNE would cost AUD $95 (about US$73) and a business class seat would cost AUD $699 (about US $511).  If I used points, then a coach seat would cost 3500 points and a business class seat would cost 6000 points.  I had 11,000 points in my account, so I chose a business class seat. 

This turned out to be a great deal.  I got two free checked bags instead of one (my third bag cost AUD$35), and I was amazed by the pleasant and comfortable experience throughout.  I was able to enter the VA lounge in Sydney, which was just splendid.  The VA lounges offer a full hot breakfast, plenty of space, and private shower rooms.   I had the best coffee I've ever had in an airport, prepared by a professional barista at no charge in the VA lounge. 

The Virgin brand's service is exceptional.  I have a few examples.  I flew into Sydney in October on a United flight.  After clearing customs in Sydney, I had to catch my Virgin Australia flight.  This was no problem whatsoever.  Virgin had a domestic transfer desk right after I got out of customs in the international terminal (Sydney's two terminals are a 15 minute drive apart, impossible to walk).  Even though I had flown in with United, all I had to do was check my bags in at the VA domestic transfer desk, then board their bus to head to the domestic terminal.  It could not have been easier. 

Once on the flight, I noticed that Virgin Australia staffs are exceptionally well trained.  Flight attendants kneel down to talk to you at eye level or beneath you, rather than standing and talking to you so you are staring at their crotch (which an arrogant EMT did to me a few years ago).  The gate agents give you back your boarding pass with both hands, very politely. 

On my way back home, I flew from Brisbane to Sydney.  Once in Sydney, I realized that I needed a way to get to the SYD international terminal.  The agent at my arrival gate told me that there would be a shuttle bus, and I could get a voucher at the baggage services desk by baggage claim 3. When I got there, they already knew my name, that I was coming, and instantly gave me a voucher and told me where to go.  THAT is good service.

Did I mention that Virgin Airlines points are a great deal?  After my first flight, my Virgin America Elevate account had only 5300 miles in it.  I wanted to use up my miles, so with the help of my travel agent, I was able to pay $52 to buy 1000 miles.  I then used another 6000 miles to buy a business class seat from BNE to SYD. 

This was all super awesome! -- being able to fly business class using so few miles, and being able to eat a hot breakfast along with a cappuccino before getting on the plane. 

I am a huge fan of the Virgin Airlines brand now. 

Sydney Airport Needs to Turn on the Air Conditioning

I've been carrying a watch with a thermometer on it, so that I know how hot it is on a boat or in an airport.  I leave it off my wrist, and I've compared it to other thermometers, so I know that it is accurate. 

Well, on my way out of the Sydney airport, at the X-ray checkpoint, I realized that I was really hot, sweating while standing and waiting for my bag to be X-rayed.  The temperature was 83 degrees F.  I mentioned this to two separte security folks who escorted me for "additional screening" and each of them instantly agreed with me.   

One guard even asked me to write in to the airport authority, since working in the heat was a big problem for them.  She stated that  the airport  did not care about whether the security guards were comfortable or not, but that the airport WOULD care if passengers complained.  So I am complaining: Sydney airport, you keep your terminals far too hot.  83 degrees in a place like an airport is just too f****ng hot!