Honest Disclaimer: It may be very hard to better or even equalise the sheer content quality of this chat. So my dear Aviation Geeks, sit back, get a drink and start reading the goodness of the best ever “GlobeTrotters on Twitter”.
Few days back on Twitter I was mulling how to go ahead with this piece, whether I should keep these three great geeks together and risk publishing a large, not-for-everyone piece or divide it in various ways to make it palatable for people at-large. I have clearly gone ahead with the correct and sensible option of keeping these men together, as they belong and are known in the world of Aviation Geeks. The length of this piece might turn some readers off but the quality is deliciously good and I’m proud of this one. Considering all 3 are busy professionals and taking out time from them wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but their graciousness made this happen.
If you’re an #AvGeek, you know Max Flight, Rob Mark and David Vanderhoof. Together they host the best aviation podcast, bar none, every week. And to think they have done this for over 269 weeks now, is quite an achievement.
Max has been in the aviation industry for over 30 years now, Engines are his area of expertise and he takes the mantle of moderating the weekly Airplane Geeks podcast. Max is also the brain behind “Thirty Thousand Feet”, one of the world’s biggest aviation resources, with over 20000 links to different facets of aviation, including commercial, business, military and general aviation.
Rob is a 35 year veteran in the aviation industry, and being a commercial pilot has flown everything from an Aeronca Champ to the humongous Airbus A380 and everything in-between, logging in more than 7000 hours. He is also the CEO of CommAvia, an aviation focused marcom consultancy. He is the editor of award winning JetWhine blog, and has contributed to leading publications like Forbes, Aviation International News and Business Jet Traveler besides his appearances on CNN, NBC, CBS, PBS and WGN.
With his dad in air force, David grew up around aircraft by default and has since never stopped looking up. He is a graduate in Military history and diplomacy, and his expertise clearly reflects in his thoughts and segments on the podcast. He “code-shares” with the Australian desk of the show, known as Plane Crazy Down Under, for their podcast as well. David blogs regularly at “What Just Flew By”.
David and Max also host a weekly podcast dedicated to unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and systems, called The UAV Digest.
I’m a big fan and keen listener of all these gentlemen, so for me to have the opportunity to talk to all these gentlemen turned out to be terrific. Excerpts from our discussion:
- Gentlemen what motivates all of you to travel? And to climb on those planes.
Max – Most of my air travel has been business travel, so it really hasn’t been an option. But that works well because I love the adventure of flight. Airports fascinate me, especially large airports, because they are like self-contained cities. The actual flight is magic, with views of the world that are spectacular. And then there is the destination – seeing a place and people that are unlike what you find at home.
Rob – I travel 75% for business and 25% for pleasure. Pleasure might go up a bit though, now that I have a daughter at college in California. I’m based in Chicago.
David – Usually it’s to escape, to get away from the day-to-day reality. Personally the fascination is FLYING and Airplanes, enough said! It’s not a hassle if you prepare in advance, and do what is expected of you.
- Do you enjoy the aviation/flying part of your travels or the sightseeing in cities? Any unforgettable occurrence during flight?
Max – I love both the flight and the destination, but one flight stands out in my mind. It was from Narita to Chicago in a United 747-400. The Captain was retiring and it was his last flight. The tail winds were favourable and it became evident that this particular
flight could possibly break the record for shortest flight time between the two cities. United gave permission to burn a little extra fuel and Air Traffic Control gave us top priority so we came straight in on a direct approach. We did break the record at 8 hours flat and the passengers all cheered on arrival. What a great last flight for that Captain!
Rob – In general, I like the flying part of travel, probably because I think I have a pretty good idea of what’s happening from the moment we push back from the gate. My old seat used to be in the cockpit and now I’m in the cabin … ah well. At least I get to fly. But as I mentioned with the JetBlue video, the hassles of getting to my seat and waiting for the airplane to push back are a real pain here in the states. I try to ignore the bad parts and focus on what I can see out the windows. I really hate it when the guy at the window seat pulls down the shade.
A memorable experience? That’s a tough one, except perhaps one of my first airline trips as a kid. An American Airlines Boeing 707 Astroliner from ORD to JFK (Actually it was Idlewild airport back then). I still remember the feeling of being pushed back in my seat when they shoved the throttler forward. I always like that part, especially years later when it was I pushing the throttles ahead.
David – I have always said the best IFE is the window next to you! It is both. I hope in my lifetime neither looses the wonder.
- We know most American airlines are nowhere near their glory days but if you guys still had to choose, which would be your favourite airline?
Max – United is a favourite airline for sentimental reasons. In business, they have been a great customer of the company I worked for. In fact, our corporate histories are intertwined, so that helps make them a favourite. I have more miles on United than any other airline. But also I used to love their nuts. Heated nuts in little ceramic cups. Seriously, I looked forward to those nuts.
Rob – I’d have to say Southwest when I’m flying here in the U.S. If I must travel outside the U.S., I’ve been choosing American for 25 years because the only other option out of ORD is really United. I cannot stand flying United. Something always seems to go wrong on the trip for me with that airline. Maybe it’s just bad luck.
David – Personally none of the modern airlines have any personality in my opinion. Airlines are ugly these days. American used to
have silver and orange. Pan Am was simple but classy. Eastern Airlines used to have the Falcon. I could go on and on. Emirates respects their brand by putting it on the bottom of the aircraft? Really? I won’t go into my thoughts on the new American branding. I like QATAR, its understated and great colours. However if you want to get my attention put an aircraft in a retro scheme.
- So Max likes United but Rob can’t stand them. What about your favourite airports?
Max – Singapore Changi Airport is beautiful with more orchids than you can imagine.
Rob – Might sound crazy, but my favourite airport is the one that has a gate close to the one I get off the airplane from … when I must connect, something I try to avoid at all costs these days. Too much stress when an airplane is late and the people 20 rows ahead will never let people out first that are trying to connect.
David – Can I say the one I am at? Why would you complain you’re at an airport?
- I have been waiting to ask this to you guys for the longest time. Tell us your favourite aircraft and why?
Max – The Lockheed Constellation was the first commercial aircraft I have a memory of as a child. I remember riding in the car one day past the Columbus, Ohio airport and seeing this beautiful, graceful plane with not one but three tails! It’s always been my favourite plane.
Rob – I’m assuming you’re after my favourite airliner, not airplane in general, because my favourite machine overall is still Dassault’s Falcon 7X. Airliner, that’s another interesting question. I’d have to say the airliner would be an A380. I had a chance to fly one for a few hours when I was in France and I think I’m still awed by how easy it was to hand-fly an airplane that weighed in at over a million pounds. My friend’s Bonanza when he picked me up at Toulouse just after the flight.
David – So anyone who has ever read my blog or listened to the podcast knows its the C-130 Hercules but (pauses) If I have to name an airliner it is of course the aircraft the C-130 was designed to replace, the Douglas DC-3/ C-47. The DST Douglas Sleeper Transport opened the world. The modern airline industry is because the DC-3 made airline flight practical.
- Which is your most favourite city while traveling, any remarkable experience to share?
Max – Tokyo tops the list. Of all the places I’ve visited, Japan is the one that is more unlike home than any other. When you arrive at Narita for the first time, it’s like stepping off onto another planet. There is no English to guide you. The visual cues are all different. You can’t tell what the signs mean. Cultural behaviour is completely different. I think that’s pretty fascinating and when you immerse yourself in that kind of environment you learn some significant things about yourself and mankind in general.
Rob – All these tough questions…favourite city is probably where the people I care about the most are at the same time. Other than that, I love Paris, London, New York and Ottawa … oh! and Edinburgh, all very romantic cities to me.
David – London was amazing. If anyone has a chance, you need to be in London for Trooping of the Colour. Great Britain does Pomp and Circumstance like no other country. To have seen Her Majesty the Queen Ride within 10 meters of me was amazing! My tip: have Breakfast or Dinner anywhere, but Lunch a different Pub everyday. You won’t regret it!
- Pomp and Circumstance? You got to check out the Indian Republic Day Parade, David. Anyways, any particular addition that you would like airports to adopt? (Besides Wi-Fi)
Max – I don’t know if this is an airport issue or an airline issue, but I want to see baggage retrieval times driven down to the point where it’s almost instantaneous. I want the checked bag process to be so efficient that I hand over my entire luggage upon arrival and don’t see any of it until I walk off the plane at my destination. But I want it to be they’re waiting for me so I can continue right away without any delay.
Rob – This one’s easy, power plugs. There’s almost no airport around that seems to have more than a few near the gates. That means 50 people are all fighting for two or three plugs to charge things before we get on the airplane. It can’t really be this hard.
David – I know the gang at NYC Aviation would appreciate this. Airports should recognise the importance of the spotting community. Airports are economic powerhouses but they often do a very poor job communicating that.
- You guys run successful businesses and have had successful careers, but what advise would you give to all those who might not be financially sound, an average Joe, but who still wants to travel the world?
Max – First, have a formal plan for saving money to fund your travel. Examine where your money goes now and prioritize your life. Then, you should study the people who are good at traveling inexpensively: how to find deals for transportation and deals for food and accommodation at the destination.
Rob – I think I’d tell you that cheaper is not always the best airfare to choose. American for instance will let me fly to Las Vegas for free, but they route me to Seattle where I’d sit for 5 hours before boarding to fly back east to Las Vegas. That’s crazy. Time is worth quite a bit, I think.
David – I am the average Joe. I have a 9 to 5 job that has nothing to do with my passion. That being said, now that I interact with those have the same passions as me, I get opportunities that 5 years ago I never would have thought possible! Do what you love and you’ll find out good things will eventually happen!
- Is there any website, guide book etc. you consult before and while your traveling? What’s your research for a country/city like?
Max – It’s selfish and irresponsible to just drop into a place with no understanding of the local culture, custom, and language. And if you are there on business, it’s just plain stupid to arrive with no understanding of the business culture. (It amazes me how many people do that.) If you can’t at least say “thank you” in the local language, you are just another ugly tourist. There is a series of country-specific books called “Culture Shock!” that I find very valuable for both social culture and business culture. I think they were actually written with expats in mind and are a great source of learning before arriving. Highly recommended.
Rob – I’d probably start with a Google search of a new city or country just to see what pops up. I’m a news junkie so what’s going on in a country is as important to me as the places I might see or stay.
David – Google and a good bookstore. Any travel is an excuse to do research. Research is fun and read everything!
- What role do you think social media/twitter has played in propagating aviation geekiness?
Max – Social media has changed the world because it has dramatically increased the communication (both accurate and otherwise) between people with shared interests. It’s so much easier to find information and opinion now, but the challenge is to separate the two.
David – Twitter & Social Media has created a giant sandbox for everyone to play in. It has developed a community where there is something for everyone and all you have to do is to quote Jean-Luc Picard “ENGAGE!”
- And finally, as this is GlobeTrotters on “Twitter”, your 3 favourite twitter user accounts?
Max – I can honestly say I don’t have favorite Twitter accounts. It’s all become so much of a “fire hose” of information for me.
Rob – What is Twitter? OK, just kidding. Favourite three Twitter accounts eh? Sorry but I don’t think I can pin it down to three.
David – @airplanegeeks
@DMVanderhoof, Why wouldn’t your own twitter account be in your top three?
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- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Heather Poole (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Scott Mayerowitz (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Devesh Agarwal (Bangalore Aviation) (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Rick Ingersoll (Frugal Travel Guy) (vishal1mehra.com)
If you’re a frequent flyer, fond of tracking your air miles and points and generally follow the aviation community closely, you know Gary and you know him well.
And if by some twist of fate you don’t, let me make it easier for you.
Gary Leff is the co-founder of Milepoint.com, a popular online community for frequent flyers. Gary also manages Freddie awards and blogs frequently at View From the Wing. In fact, Gary’s blog was the first to exclusively focus on frequent travel and loyalty programs and he’s been leading the way for over 11 years now.
Not just that, Gary has also served as a moderator of Flyertalk.com from 2003 till the beginning of 2011 and was the senior founding moderator of Flyertalk’s member-elected TalkBoard. He’s been cited and profiled in New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and Washington post among others.
And in his “real day job”, He is the chief numbers guy for university research centers. Phew!!
Reading about him prior to our chat I chanced upon this. Read this and you will know why he is so revered within the aviation/frequent flyer community.
“Gary Leff is so proficient at the frequent-travel game that in 2008 he redeemed enough miles to fly first class with his wife from Washington, D.C., to Spain for dinner at the famous three-Michelin-starred El Bulli restaurant near Barcelona. After the meal, they turned around and flew home.” (Via Executive Travel)
Yes, he flew across the pond. For a dinner. Excerpts from our chat:
- What makes you travel? And why you love getting on planes?
Gary – It would take a really narrow focus or a lot of hubris to believe that wherever one is at a given time is the single greatest place in the world to be. There’s so much out there in terms of diversity of experiences, creativity and achievement, food and spectacle. We’re on the earth for such a short time, and experiencing as much as possible seems just so fundamentally…. human.
And I’ve had the great fortune to connect with people, I get on planes to reduce the distance and maintain that connectedness. And to try new things, broaden my horizons. My life is so much richer, so much more fulfilled because of travel. An early morning flight or a groping at security can’t begin to detract from that.
- No problems with early morning flights or groping certainly means you enjoy flying, if I hadn’t figured that one out yet. What has been the most unforgettable flying experience for you?
Gary – The destination will always be more interesting than flying, though flight itself is a tremendous achievement of humankind over nature and it’s certainly possible to enjoy getting there alongside being there.
I suppose my most memorable flight experience was circling New York airspace before I was a teenager, when the landing gear just wouldn’t go down. Until it did. Truly, though, in all of my flights few have really been that memorable which is to say that nearly all have been marvels of human achievement.
- Safe to say all that circling over New York airports is not always so pleasant. Which is your favorite airport and which airline is most impressive in terms of their first class/business class product?
Gary – There’s no question that the Singapore airport impresses me most. The amenities there are unrivaled. I like the Seoul airport, and though far from a favorite I think Bangkok is undervalued. I can’t think of any major airports in Europe that I like (though the first class terminal in Frankfurt is my favorite *terminal*). Dallas is a really good experience overall, and Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera almost redeems O’Hare.
My favorite international airline is Cathay Pacific. I love their first class product, it’s solid all around and I sleep better in their seat than anyone else’s. Their long haul business class seat is fantastic as well. My favorite domestic airline is American — overall good service, excellent treatment as a top tier elite, wireless internet across the mainline fleet, pretty good food, and a great new business class seat. Award redemption for international first class is unrivaled.
- Talking about award redemption, which is your favorite city to travel to?
Gary – My favorite city has to be Singapore, because it’s at once far away and accessible, and probably better for food at both the high and low end than anywhere else. Little matches sitting out at the beach in the evening at the East Coast Lagoon Village hawker center, open air, enjoying great food and a walk along the water.
- What about airports? Wi-Fi is becoming all too common. As a frequent traveler which other amenity you would like to see them incorporate within their premises?
Gary – Starbucks or similar (or higher!) quality coffee airside. There’s no excuse not to have decent coffee available near the gate in a world where the TSA continues to prosecute the War on Water.
- Do you consult any specific website before and while your traveling?
Gary – Milepoint.com – frequent flyer community, a friendly group of experienced travelers that are happy to share their advice and experiences.
- What counsel would you give to the average Joe? She/he wants to travel but is scared about incurring heavy expenses while doing so.
Gary – Though it’s possible to travel frugally, and to cover much of the cost of travel with points, it isn’t free. There’s nothing wrong with – and indeed tremendous virtue in — traveling on a tight budget. But if you’re in significant debt, well I’d strongly suggest paying off credit cards before making discretionary travel spend decisions. Don’t finance your travel on a credit card. That’s not only good advice; it’s also a way to travel much more in the future. Your travel experiences will pay dividends, but don’t incur interest to have them.
- That’s very well explained Gary. In the end, as this series is “GlobeTrotters on Twitter“, please tell us your 3 must follow twitter accounts?
Gary – @GlobeTrotScott for the latest airline news
@onemileatatime for witty commentary about the travel experience
@boardingarea updates from all the best travel blogs in one place
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- GlobeTrotters on Twitter – an Introduction (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Shashank Nigam (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Johnny Jet (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Ben Schlappig (One Mile at a Time) (vishal1mehra.com)
If your wondering what all this is about, then you should probably go here before proceeding further.
For the first profile of my most ambitious blog series yet, I wanted to have someone who straddles the aviation, travel as well as digital marketing aspects together and really sets the benchmark for this initiative. Luckily enough for me I did not have to look around hard as Shashank kindly agreed to be featured as a “GlobeTrotter on Twitter”.
Shashank Nigam of course is much more than just that. He is the Founder/CEO of SimpliFlying, one of the world’s leading aviation marketing consultancies, which advises over 25 airlines. airports and even aircraft manufacturers on profitable customer engagement strategies. On top of that, SimpliFlying.com is one of the Top 2 blogs on aviation, and their Twitter handle (@simpliflying ) is also one of the Top 5 most influential on airlines.
Excerpts from my geek-out with him
- Air Travel used to be a breeze back in the day but not anymore. What is your greatest motivation to travel?
Shashank – I love watching planes, being on planes, just being near them. And I realise that I, like many others, have jet-fuel running through my veins. I get excited each time I need to search for a new flight, go through the booking process, in anticipation of the flight itself. The joy of flying is greater than any hassles. And through all this, I’ve now been to 51 countries!
- 51 countries is impressive indeed. But tell me do you enjoy the flying part of your travel more or the city sightseeing? Of all the thousands of flights that you may have taken, any particularly memorable experience you recount?
Shashank – I cherish the flying part of travel as much as sightseeing, and meeting people from different cultures. There are a few in-flight memories that have left an impact. My first flight – it was on an Aeroflot Illyushin in 1994, from Delhi to Singapore. Everyone was drinking, playing cards and I smelled like an ashtray when I stepped out. But my first flight, nevertheless. My first ultra-long haul flight was on Thai Airways, from Bangkok to New York, non-stop, over 17 hours! The first time I flew Business Class – it was on Cathay Pacific, from New York to Singapore, via Hong Kong. Loved the experience and service. The first time I flew the 787 Dreamliner, on a private invite-only flight at the Singapore Airshow was unforgettable. And as recently as last week, when I flew from Dar-e-salam to Zanzibar on a 17-seater, and the Captain was kind enough to let me sit in the cockpit, next to him for the full flight!
- Which is your favourite airport and which is your favourite airline? and tell us why?
Shashank – Favourite airport has to be Singapore Changi Airport – there’s so much to do, and if you want to get out, you go from plane to taxi in 10 mins.
Favorite airline differs depending on the class. My favourite First Class experiences has been on Emirates – the Suites are very private and luxurious and you get treated like a king. Their lounges in Dubai are superb too. The best Business Class experience has been on Turkish Airlines, long haul – where you get your own butler in-flight, and their lounge in Istanbul is possibly the best Star Alliance lounge in the world. The best Economy Class is on Singapore Airlines – true value for the premium you pay. Among LCCs, I love Virgin America, jetBlue and Volaris, for treating us like real people and offering a differentiated service!
- Alright, that makes me ask you your favourite aircraft?
- Couldn’t agree more with you there. In fact A340 is my favourite aircraft as well. Pity its not as popular among airlines now. Which city you’re particularly fond of?
Shashank – Istanbul is my favourite city – the perfect mix of culture and modernity. Though, from an #avgeek perspective, I love London and Los Angeles, with the huge variety of aircraft flying low, throughout the day, prior to landing.
- Leaving aside wifi, what would you like to see airports world over to adopt?
Shashank – “Quiet zones” will be welcome, where travellers with longer lay overs can just relax.
- Which website, guide book etc. you consult before and while your traveling? What’s your research for a country/city like?
Shashank – I always check seatguru.com to select the best seat before I check-in, Tripadvisor is a must for the hotels and Hipmunk for flight bookings. Most of my research on a city is last minute – a tweet or Facebook message to friends before I take off ensures I have 2-3 solid recommendations of things to do in a city.
- You run a successful consultancy and of course have jet-fuel running through your veins 😉 but what would you to tell the average guy who wants to travel but is afraid of the expenses associated with it?
Shashank – With the advent of LCCs, anyone can fly. So look out for those cheap deals and book a ticket. You might score one that’s cheaper than the train or the bus too. It’s never too late to fly!
- and finally, what role do you think twitter has played in encouraging people to travel? Also, as this is “GlobeTrotters on Twitter”, your 3 favourite twitter user accounts?
Shashank – I love to meet my Twitter friends at airports while I’m in transit, or in the city that I’m visiting. Social media, especially Facebook and Pinterest are great for seeking inspiration on where to go next too!
My top 3 favourite Twitter users –
@ApexMary – she is the girlgeek of travel, who knows everything there is to know inside the cabin.
Thanks Shashank, That’s little more than 3 but because you mentioned one certain Vishal Mehra, we would let that pass.
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter – an Introduction (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Gary Leff (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Johnny Jet (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Ben Schlappig (One Mile at a Time) (vishal1mehra.com)