Don’t fly Aer Lingus to Dublin from Chicago, it’s not worth the price

I strongly suggest that if you’re flying to the UK or Ireland from Chicago, avoid Aer Lingus. Sure it’s cheap, but it’s probably one of the worst, most uncomfortable flights I’ve been on in years… I’m pretty good at sleeping on planes and on this one I only managed about 2 hours even though it was during my normal sleeping hours.
View of Chicago over the wing
While the puddle jumper from Ireland to the UK wasn’t too bad as it was only 2 hours, the trans-Atlantic flight was abysmal. The seats were incredibly narrow (both in width and depth) so I could barely get my ass in nor stand with ease (I’m fat, but I’m not THAT fat … in fact side to side I’m not all that big because my frame sans fat is incredibly petite). Additionally, the armrest doesn’t lift so you can’t stretch out even if the seats next to you were empty — which mine was… Also they don’t lean back all that far… as a result in spite of having a window seat where normally I sleep pretty well, on this flight I only managed about 2 hours of interrupted napping. Add to this the fact that my body clock was already turned around to UK time so that take off time correlated almost exactly to when I’d been going to sleep for about the last week… and you see the problem. My body SHOULD have just nodded off but couldn’t because of how incredibly uncomfortable I was in the seat.
It’s not me, it’s the chair

More worryingly,  I’d argue chairs like this are an example of why the feds are starting to get sufficiently upset about airline seating in economy so as to start to consider legislation to put an end to what’s been happening, namely, the rows of seats in economy becoming so close together as to be a survival risk in case of emergency.  My experience — and I am NOT overstating this — was that it actually was extremely difficult for me to stand up (I have mild and very common old age mobility issues); the chair in front of me was leaning into my space even when its fully erect. As such, I couldn’t actually stand without coming into contact with the chair in front of me which is pushing back at my frame and forcing me to use one arm to keep myself from falling back into the seat when trying to get up. Add to that I have frozen shoulders (again common in the elderly) and it’s an accident waiting to happen.

Had there been an emergency that necessitated my jumping out of my seat quickly to avoid being burned to death, I could not have done it. People on the plane seeing how much difficulty I was in were actually volunteering to help me… which has never been necessary before on any other economy flight.

Inside the plane as we were loading
On top of that discomfort, the food was absolute crap. Honestly the worst airplane meal I’ve had in years. There was a girl sitting two seats away from me, and I wish I’d gotten a picture of her expression when she tasted… it was absolutely funny. So much so that I broke into a full belly laugh and we bonded over just how horrible the food was.
 It was some sort of chicken and couscous thing that had an odd taste, and made me wonder how many of us we’re gonna be sick later (in fact that next day I had impressively loose bowels when usually flying constipates me).
Then there was some sort of feta and cucumber salad thing, which just tasted odd — like something was just seriously off about it. We were all joking about “how can you screw up chicken and couscous, let alone a feta and cucumber salad?” In fact the ONLY tasty thing on the platter was this chocolate mouse thing.
The breakfast sandwich that they gave us a few hours later had a bizarre texture but a fairly decent taste — some people can really be picky about texture and would have been put off by it, me not so much. It was advertised as an egg and provolone with a sauce, they called a bistro sauce (usually: ketchup, lemon juice, mayonnaise, spicy brown mustard, garlic, horseradish, parsley, Hungarian paprika, cajun seasoning, and Worcestershire sauce) — but to me it just tasted like a combo of a lot of mayo, flavored with Worcestershire and Sriracha.
Oh, and the video interface on the plane was ancient. In fact before the flight even took off the stewardess apologized in advance if ours didn’t work and promised to try to move us if that was the case. Mine sort of did, but was almost impossible to navigate. Rather than touch screen it had one of those old handsets that you pull out of the armrest … while using it the interface kept either clicking on the item to either side of the thing I clicked on, or freezing up entirely; at one point I got stuck on a song which just kept repeating and refused to allow me to leave it… and that was it, it would not do anything other than play that one song on repeat for the next two hours … I
Flying out of Chicago’s O’hare
The only good news was they didn’t loose my luggage.
Not that one was the result of the other, but this time around I bought and installed Apple AirTags into my bags, and was able to watch my luggage follow me though the airport till it finally rejoined me on the plane. While not necessary I have to say it was comforting to know in advance that the bag was on my flight.

When in Israel, which cell company should I buy my sim from?

International roaming is NEVER as good as it should be, and can also be very expensive. As such, IF you’re a tourist, traveling in such a way as to stay in a country a month or more, than you’re going to NEED to buy a prepaid sim card from a local carrier (suffering for a week or so is manageable, but not a month). I only spotted one carrier company selling prepaid sims in the airport and as I later learned they’re not necessarily going to be your best choice. Various carriers in Israel, such as Orange (which is changing its name to partner) offer a wide variety of sims for travelers with contracts of 1 week, 2 weeks or a month… BUT because of data coverage issues, its best to research in advance which company’s sim to buy based on your specific travel plans… IF you’re only going to Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, then pretty much any provider will work and you can just go with the cheapest one… but if your plans include historically Arab towns, or more out-of-the-way locations, then you’re going to have explore which carrier provides coverage where. In other words, there’s no easy “best” answer… sorry

Israel is a TINY country, and is one of the most advanced high-tech countries in the world; as such I’d EXPECTED them to have great coverage, just like equally high-tech and even more mountainous South Korea does — a country also in a state of war. In Korea it really doesn’t matter which company you sign up with, cell phone coverage is affordable, and not only is connectivity a given assumption (your phone works in Seoul’s train tunnels AND at the tops of mountains in bumblefuck Korea), but with that phone connectivity also comes access to the internet that is omnipresent, fast, and reliable. So you’d expect this to also be true in Israel… but it’s not. Up until recently only two providers existed and it was expensive and bad; recently an opening of the market has brought down prices and increased coverage, but at the price of customer service (which has gone from bad to worse).

When I arrived, My US provider’s roaming (T-mobile) completely failed me my first night out, even though I had read that their roaming coverage in Israel was actually pretty good and there’d be no need to buy a sim. When my plane first landed my roaming worked just fine in the airport (phone and data), so I had hopes, and didn’t buy the sim cards sold there (which actually turned out to be a good thing). However, once I’d arrived, and unpacked and was ready to go out… I discovered that once I was a few steps away from my Airbnb, which was located right next to one of the major tourist hotels and smack in the middle of two major tourist draw areas (so you’d expect coverage)… I could talk and text but found I could NOT contact Uber to call myself a taxi to the restaurant where I was meeting up with friends (see my post on how YES Israel has Uber, no matter what you’ve read), and had to walk back within range of the house’s WiFi to do it.

Then, later that night, when I ordered my return Uber (using the restaurant’s free WiFi), I found I could no longer see the taxi’s progress to my location or even which taxi was the one sent after I had stepped on to the pavement in front of the place. Again, I had to go BACK into the boundaries of their WiFi signal and reboot the app, and then had to stay there till the taxi arrived, rather than at the edge of the street as I normally would. Forget about using google maps to give me walking directions from place to place, unless I downloaded the map to my phone, but even then, the directions function didn’t work (I had to go low tech and actually READ the map for myself). So with US roaming I had 3 bars for making phone calls but NO DATA!!!!

I don’t know about you, but when I’m looking at cell providers nothing pisses me off faster than seeing three or four bars for cell coverage, and NOTHING for data. Not to be repetitive, but in this day and age ISSUE is increasingly becoming data, NOT the ability to make a phone call. This is ESPECIALLY true when you’re traveling to see the place, rather than on business (business folks still need to make calls). But I’m retired, I really don’t use my iPhone much as a phone anymore. I only makes calls when I really need to and almost no one calls me other than doctors offices and businesses, I’m far more likely to text or use a messenger app of some sort. My friends are either on Facebook or they email me, or use videophone applications to reach me … As such, my iPhone is my link to the world, when out and about, and it’s how I find my way around strange cities, call myself a cab, and decide where to eat.

That said, once I started doing my due diligence (rather than just buying the first sim card I saw) which sim card to buy turned out to be a far more complicated question than I would have imagined. As this web page that I found shows (it tracks current data coverage by carrier/provider, with distinctions for 3G, 4G, etc.), data coverage in Israel kind of seriously sucks.

When using the page you have to select a provider from the pull down menu, and then zoom in to specific neighborhoods to see actual coverage. Looking at the results, the map shows that if you stay in Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem, pretty much any sim will work. However, if like me your trip is going to include spending a full month in places like the Historic town of Acre (pronounced as Akko), located just north of Haifa, not so good. Haifa has GREAT coverage, Akko’s kind of sucks. What was REALLY irritating was learning that even though my T-mobile is roaming using Cellcom’s network, and I was IN neighborhoods where cellcom had STRONG coverage, my T-mobile sim wasn’t seeing that data stream …

I have a theory that this may be because T-mobile’s roaming only sees 3G and 4G and in areas that have upgraded to 4G+, it just can’t read the stuff… but its a theory only.

Anyway, If you can I STRONGLY suggest contacting your host and or hosts and asking them WHICH provider has the best data coverage in the places you’ll be spending the most time. My Host in Tel Aviv had suggested the provider Golan, as the best and cheapest, but I discovered it had NO coverage, NONE in Akko, where I was going to be on my 2nd month. So I contacted that host, and he suggested that I buy the Orange sim (which recently changed its name to Partner)

ALSO, MOST of the shops that are selling sim cards in Israel have HORRIBLE customer service — they’re NOT like in the USA. (At this point I want to kill the guys who sold me my orange card just for being asses). Most of the sellers are just little stalls in malls and such and the folks working them only know what he has in stock and expects you to show up knowing what you want. If you want help making the decision based on needs you’re going to HAVE to go one of their Customer service centers . A way to know is if there’s a guy standing behind the counter and you didn’t have to take a number to talk to him, expect NO CUSTOMER SERVICE. The ones where they actually know enough and have been trained to help you, for those you’ll have to take a number and then sit and wait to see a guy who is SITTING behind a counter. Standing means no customer service, while take and number and sit = customer service.

Domestic air-terminals in Australia are different from in the USA

So, yesterday we flew from Sydney north to Brisbane, changed planes, and kept on north to Townsville Airport, which is where you start seeing the Great Barrier Reef… bucket list travel to be sure. We were heading towards Magnetic Island, which is for the most part a tourism destination…. lots of beaches and hiking and mother nature at her Aussie finest

will blog about it later, but suffice it to say, this is the view from our airbnb’s bed

Anyway, getting here we flew Virgin Airlines domestic. There were a few things about the airports that I found interesting. Firstly, in the domestic terminals there are few to any food places in the public areas before you pass security. This seemed strange to me because people regularly arrive at airports early, for one reason or another, and need to hang out and wait till it’s time to check in. (The reason for the absence made sense to me a bit later.)

The second thing I noticed was that … in Australia, when flying DOMESTIC (I checked, this is not true when flying international), you do NOT need a boarding pass in order to pass security. THIS in part is why there’s not much in the way of hanging out places before security. The fact is that as long as you’ve only got carry-on type luggage, you don’t really need to wait to check in before accessing the food and shopping options on the other side of it. I somehow doubt you can pass a full-sized suitcase through… but we arrived at the airport a good two hours before check in would normally be allowed, and — since we were flying Virgin, one of the major Aussie carriers (their desk is ALWAYS open) — they happily checked out bags anyway.

To be honest, I had missed the fact that something was absent from the normal process when we entered the line for security, i.e., no one stopped us to check our boarding passes; but, it was like little voice in the back of my head that went ignored. I only realized that something was off when I saw a of couple, standing right near the gates, doing what was clearly tearful goodbyes …. at a gate. This confused me at first…. Why are these two standing the middle of the walkway, holding on to each other like it was the last time they’d ever see each other? The woman had tears trailing down her face, and he was kissing her sweetly. This is the sort of thing you USED to see in the USA at airport departure gates before 9-11, but you just don’t anymore because of loved ones no longer allowed to approach said gates (tearful goodbye have to happen before security and tend to be rushed, because no one wants to miss a flight because of the long lines that can happen there). And then later as we were boarding, I was watching two friends (who I had initially assumed were traveling together) saying their goodbye, and then one loaded the plane with us while the other turned and left to exit the airport…. and the light bulb in the brain went off as I finally put the pieces together.

When we landed in Brisbane I also noticed a few people who were clearly waiting at the gate for folks to get off. They were standing there with faces of happy expectation, looking at every person who walked off — in the face — clearly looking for someone they hadn’t seen in a while …. Again, you just don’t see that sort of the thing at gates in the USA anymore. When you do, its AFTER people have exited the controlled areas, which are guarded to keep anyone from walking in-the-out-doors, so to speak.

And then when we got to Townsville, as we unloading I noticed there was a bar before you exited the controlled area, that seemed to be utilized by locals, just hanging out. REALLY unusual from my perspective. I almost had the feeling that IF you live right by the airport in Townsville, it’s a SMALL town, that’s the local bar. Again in small towns in the US you might find bars like this BEFORE security, but not after… at least not since 9-11 happened.

And on a totally different note: our airline stewardess on Virgin Airlines from Brisbane to Townsville looked like Gal Gadot’s (i.e., Wonder Woman’s), not as attractive, sister.


the resemblance was particularly pronounced in profile and when she was smiling.