Fight For Your Right: Get AirHelp

Let’s start this off with a little gratitude: Flying is a thrill. It’s a helluva privilege. And it’s a truly unbelievable thing—something we have to remind ourselves of constantly as we sit in that (hopefully) sanitized fabric seat, our knees screaming for an inch of movement, and our eyes shifting continually over to that hot coffee placed precariously on that flimsy tray. Really, the ultimate goal when flying is to try not to think of that industrially made bird your trapped in as a strange, stale, claustrophobic purgatory between departure and destination. No, this plane is doing something downright miraculous. (Louie C.K. expresses this in a far funnier way.)

But this doesn’t mean airlines should have free reign to take advantage of said miracle. Yes, their #1 priority damn well better be safety. And, yes, travelers expect there to be delays, cancellations, and unforeseen circumstances when dealing with big chunks of manmade metal navigating the stratosphere. When these annoyances inevitably arise, we remind ourselves that patience is a virtue—and so are overpriced airport bars. Complaints—and maybe even a resolution to never use that damn airline again—are aired, and that’s usually the end of it. Because many of us don’t realize we’re legally entitled to more.

Can’t complain with bubbly on the plane…

But we are! And I found this out after dealing with multiple delays, a cancellation, and some truly apathetic customer service from Air Canada. In my quest for some type of compensation after being in airport limbo for three-plus days, I stumbled upon a start-up called AirHelp. In a nutshell, they took on the legal legwork and I was rewarded with a check to the tune of nearly half the price of my international ticket. Here’s the deal, summed up by TechCrunch:

“For a delayed, canceled or overbooked flight in Europe, you can get up to $800 per flight. In the U.S., you could end up with $1,300 for an overbooked flight. That’s why airlines will fight you very hard not to give you your money back. According to AirHelp, only 0.1 percent of eligible passengers get their compensation.”

On AirHelp’s homepage, this is their promise: “If you’ve been on a delayed or cancelled flight or been denied boarding within the last three years you could be entitled up to $800 from the airline.” And, from my experience, they come through. Working with AirHelp was such a seamless and smooth process that I had to spread the love here. Sure, they take a hefty 25% cut, but it was far better than what Air Canada had offered me, which was nothing but a meal ticket (a measly $10) that didn’t even cover a full breakfast at the Toronto Airport.

Departures Board at Athens Airport

Departures Board at Athens Airport

Even after writing a lengthy email to Air Canada’s customer service intricately describing our bad experience—which included a cancellation on a flight from Athens to Toronto; a lengthy, hot bus ride to a hotel straight out of Caddyshack; limited communication as to when the next flight would be available; another three-hour delay once that flight was available; an overnight stay at the Toronto airport; and a whole lot of bad attitudes from every Air Canada employee we crossed—they only offered an apology, but not before saying this:

“While we make every effort to operate our flights as scheduled, regretfully, delays and cancellations occur sometimes. Most passengers will accept the inconvenience and understand that their safe travel must always be our first priority.”

That last sentence—that’s a problem. People quietly (and frustratingly) accept it because they’ve been made to think there are no other options other than accepting a crappy, half-paid airport meal. But as any elementary social studies class will teach, a broken system doesn’t change without a few squeaky wheels to raise attention and demand something better and fairer. Now, if those squeaky wheels happen to be attached to an airplane, by all means, airlines, delay that flight and fix them—and then have a Plan B. Otherwise, you’re legally obligated to pay up, and services like AirHelp are there to make sure of it.


Tahiti’s Tantalizing Treasures

Tahiti is France’s most majestic of mistresses. It only needs to sit there prettily, titillating with its simplicity, its shocking blues, its serene waters, its verdant ground split and dotted along the South Pacific in 118 brilliant pieces. This is a land where even the fish seem to jump so close to the shoreline as to get a glimpse of its beauty. Even the word “Tahiti” sounds wickedly exotic to the English tongue.

The Moorea palm lean above crystal-clear aquamarine waters

The palms bow down to the breathtaking crystal-clear waters of Moorea.

But is there substance behind this breathtaking paramour? Is it all a façade dressed up in little grass shacks and perfectly tilted palms, an ugly reality all wrapped tidily in aquamarine lagoons? Like many precious islands around the globe, there is a dark history here, but while the native Polynesians of Tahiti certainly face an identity crisis — an unfortunate byproduct of any territory fallen victim to colonization — they remain (to our eyes, at least) peaceful and patient, with a puckish sense of humor, too. They’re easy-going but not lazily so. “Sustainable living,” meanwhile, is simply just living in Tahiti — it’s surviving off the land, respecting it, and thriving with it. It’s combining just-caught fish with milk from just-plucked coconuts and turning it into one of the world’s greatest culinary treasures (aka poisson cru).

Fresh "coco" by the beach

Fresh “coco” by the beach

That said, the French influence inevitably looms, not just in the language spoken, but in the tiny details, too — like locals bicycling down a busy street with a half-dozen freshly baked baguettes nimbly placed in hand, or a can of foie gras innocently placed in the refrigerated section of the supermarche. Ask a French person and they will say, “This is France.” To us, it was simply the paradise a postcard has no right trying to sum up.

Tahitian Sunset

Tahitian Sunset

The flight to Tahiti is really kind of frightening, in an existential sort of way — this is the case when flying over any large body of water, but the Pacific is an especially terrifying beast. It makes you truly want to smack lips with any tiny speck of solid ground you just so happen to land on in the middle of it all. Those who only go so far as Hawaii (from the U.S.) are missing out on another extra three hours of airtime — and, honey, is it worth it. Eight hours after wheels up in L.A., half asleep and tripping down the stairs of the great jumbo-jet, the sun’s rage will quickly slap you right across the face. You are, after all, just south of the equator — the sun’s most favorite residence. A lei made of fresh flowers and herbs soon graces your neck and the buzz of excitement starts to simmer down to an ecstatic calm. Tahiti — she grabs you right from the get-go.

Hangin' Loose in Moorea

Hangin’ Loose in Moorea

Our shuttle took us to Le Meridien — a resort roughly 30 minutes from French Polynesia’s capital city of Papeete — where we would be staying for the next five nights. (Had we not found an amazing Travelzoo deal that included both flight and hotel, we may have opted for one of the pensions that dot the island — a great choice for budget-minded travelers.) We were greeted by the hotel’s lush grounds and expansive lobby, which offers you a sweet peek of what lies ahead — a grand sand-bottomed pool and, even further out, those renowned bungalows sitting so cutely atop a glistening lagoon. Our receptionist was friendly and efficient (Tino, in particular was helpful during our entire stay), and though we were too early to check in to our room, we were welcome to lounge by the pool and reclaim any valuable sleep lost on the flight.

Beach Daze at Le Meridien

Beach Daze at Le Meridien

Our garden-view room was big and spacious, with a large bathroom and a tub fit for a Tahitian king. But it’s Le Meridien’s beachfront location that is its main allure. The beach may be small, but it’s the near 80-degree water you’d rather be sprawled out in anyway.  [PRO TIP: Water shoes are essential for any beach in Tahiti, in order to avoid being stabbed by coral or getting stung by the infamous “stone fish,” which can land you in the hospital.]

Navigating around bungalows, coral, and multi-colored fish

Navigating around bungalows, coral, and multi-colored fish

If you have an exceptionally fat pocketbook, splurge for a bungalow. We only got a tour of one, but milked that as long as we could…

Le Meridien Beach & Bungalows

Le Meridien’s beach & bungalows

Stay tuned for Pt. 2, which will discuss the food (lots of baguettes!, fresh seafood, and the only affordable dinner on the island: the “roulottes,” or food trucks), a day-trip around Tahiti, and a visit to the unspoiled neighboring island of Moorea.


Trip Daze: Palm Springs & Joshua Tree

*This was originally posted on my leisurely updated travel, culture + humor blog, Battle Mountain.*

I vowed to make 2012 a year to fully embrace my endless wanderlust. I think I did a pretty decent job. Here, I’ll attempt to prove just that. I’ll be running down my top travel adventures of 2012 … slowly but surely. In no particular order, here’s Vol. II, a trek south and inland to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree Lean

There’s something mystical yet menacing about the desert. Maybe it’s all that dry air sucking out all the bullshit. Bullshit can’t survive in the desert — the sun would rot it too quickly, or, on a chilly night, the wind would just carry it all the way to, well, a place like L.A.

Maybe this sort of non-BS realness makes a place like the Mojave Desert especially eerie to us modern-day Internet dwellers. It forces us to rely on our own innate capacities and survival instincts (because once you reach the inner depths of Joshua Tree National Park, for example, that smartphone ain’t so smart anymore). And for that reason, Southern California’s Coachella Valley is a prime place to escape. And I’m not talking about to the music festival (been there. done that.) or the resorts or the spas or the outlet malls.

Desert Landscapes

Our trip to Palm Springs began, like most people, in L.A. Our drive involved a stop at Flappy Jack’s Pancake House (get the banana nut or multi-grain flapjacks!) on the tip of Route 66. Fully carb-fueled, we weaved our way through windmill-lined lanes; these mesmerizing roadside attractions almost immediately spin your mind into a more relaxed state.

Windmills and a Lone Joshua

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