traveller with a tale

emma persky

traveller with a tale header image

Socio-Economic Upgrade Profiling

July 6th, 2010 · No Comments · Musings, Travel

I recently saw some pretty unexpected upgrade practices going on on my airline of choice, Virgin Atlantic, which as a strong brand advocate, shocked me a little.

I fly Virgin probably 12 return a year, mostly in Economy and Premium Economy with the occasional treat to Upper Class. I rack up lot of tier points and miles. Enough that I have Gold status with them, and am about to renew that status less than 6 months into my membership year. This status entitles me to a whole bunch of great benefits like lounges, extra miles, discounts and so on. What it doesn’t entitle me to is upgrades. However it’s widely accepted that the higher your status with an airline, the higher up on the pecking list of potential upgradees you fall. Nonetheless, the golden rule of having status with airlines is never expect to be upgraded.

Generally upgrades are handled very discretely to minimise the jealousy factor experienced by passengers who have missed out, so it’s often at check in, or at the gate. Very infrequently is it on the plane, unless the ground staff have well and truly messed up - and that was the circumstance that the VS17 flight crew found themselves facing on 29th June. Airport upgrades and late check-ins had caused a situation where the Premium Economy cabin was overbooked by 5 seats.

The senior member of cabin crew went into a flap trying to arrange things, running around the cabin moving people around so that she could upgrade the people she wanted to upgrade and not simply those who arrived to find someone in their seats, which on the surface seems fairly reasonable.

As she picked her targets she was very focused on looking around the cabin, which seemed odd since airlines all have lists of passengers and their status for exactly this reason, but when I started to see the upgradees I understood what was going on. The 5 lucky passengers were all older white guys in suits. All 5 of them. Now it may well be that they all had higher status than me, but it seems unlikely, and added to the way she picked them it seems implausible.

So here my message to Virgin - stop your socio-economic profiling, not all frequent flyers are older white guys in suits. Some of us are women, or young, or dress for personal style. It doesn’t mean we are any less valuable to your airline. In fact, as a 26 year old frequent flyer I’m worth significantly more that someone who is 40 years older than me. You can do the math on that one. I’ll let this one slide, but know this, if I start seeing profiling like that happening in selection for upgrades in future, my preference for Virgin will very quickly dwindle, and I’ll be minded to find an airline who values all of it’s customers, not just those who the profile.

→ No CommentsTags:·······

TechKaraoke Comes to London

March 22nd, 2010 · No Comments · Insanity, Nights Out, karaoke

The wait is finally over, TechKaraoke comes to London - an event for anyone involved, or not, in the London tech scene to sing their hearts out to their favourite tune. You know you love to Karaoke, so dig out your costumes, start practising your power moves in the mirror, and get ready to rock.

Where: Lucky Voice Soho (map)
When: Wendensday 7t March 2010 at 7:30
Cost: £10 for 3 hours
Sign up: on eventbrite

Any questions ask @techkaraokeldn or on twitter, or email

Want to sponsor TechKaraoke? Let me know



→ No CommentsTags:········

Fried Chicken and Champage? … why the hell not?!

March 20th, 2010 · No Comments · Champagne, Food, Travel

As frequent readers will know that I’m a firm believe in all libations being of the bubbly variety (unless of course it’s vodka, or absinthe, or whisky. never mind). Last year I threw a pre Whuffaoke party full of Champgane and burgers, and one of my colleagues told me a story of Champagne and Sausages which I have to admit has a better ring to it than burgers. But none of these come close to MAX’s Wine Dive in Austin whose slogan is the title of this post.

Friend Chicken and Champage? ... why the hell not?!

Friend Chicken and Champage? ... why the hell not?!

This surprisingly upscale wine bar is certainly no dive in looks, food or clientele. Almost everything on the menu will give you a hear attack, but it will be worth it. Photographed is The Texas “Haute” Dog, but I strongly recommend copious portions of Pan Borracho. I’m not exactly sure whats in it, but I’m told a combination of bread, alcohol and cheese, all mixed together and baked into gooey goodness that will make you gurgle like a happy baby.

The wine list isn’t too shabby either. The mini party I threw there (I say threw, people gathered, I bought the bubbles), were served the ’06 Schramsberg Brut Rose and the Domaine Chandon Etoile Rose, both californian at $65 a bottle (just $15 over list price). The Schrmsberg is crisper and more traditional, and the Domaine Chandon is sweeter and fruitier, probably best a desert champagne and we managed to drink them dry of this one.

When you are next in Austin or Houston you should make every effort you can to check out the gastronomical juxtaposition of champagne and fried food that MAX’s do so, so well.

→ No CommentsTags:···········

My South By Southwest Packing List

March 10th, 2010 · No Comments · Uncategorized

This isn’t excessive. Right?

  • 9 Tops
  • 8 Pairs of Socks
  • 7 Dresses
  • 6 Paris of Tights
  • 2 Pairs of Stilletos
  • 2 “Going Out Bags”
  • 2 Belts
  • 2 Suitcases
  • 2 Perfumes
  • 1 Pair Pyjamas
  • 1 Pair of Jeans
  • 1 Pair of High Heel Boots
  • 1 Pair of Low Boots
  • 1 Pair Birkenstocks
  • 1 Straighners
  • 1 Hair Dryer
  • 1 Hand Bag
  • 1 Laptop Bag
  • Underwear
  • Bras
  • Toilletries and Makeup Galore
  • Contact Lenses
  • Laptop + Charger
  • Camera + Charger
  • iPhone + Charger
  • Headphones + Batteries
  • Moo Cards

→ No CommentsTags:

Skiing The Vallee Blanche

February 22nd, 2010 · No Comments · Food, Insanity, Travel

We sat in silence during the journey from the Chalet to the bottom of the Aguille du Midi cable car, a perfect calm before the storm that was sure to ensue. Despite having been advised against the decent by our previous day’s instructor, we found ourselves contemplating not a crazy idea, but what we had actually let ourselves in for. Every year people die on the Vallee Blanche either falling to their death from the Arete, a steep, narrow decent that must be undertaken by foot whilst carrying skis from the Aguille Du Midi to the top of the glacier. Or by breaking through a snow bridge and ending up 25 meters down a crevice. I think our moment of silence was well deserved, we were about to undertake our most dangerous decent ever.

Our party was joined by one other, an American Army officer by the name of Brett when we met our guide at the base of the cable car. Neither of them seemed quite as phased as the rest of us, or at least as me. I had found our previous day’s 4 hour off piste lesson very tiring and by the end I was barley able to make it down at the end of the day. The danger here being that there is no way out but down. Once you start your decent you have to complete it. There is no rescue.

At the summit we attached our transceivers and harnesses, and were roped together while we descended the Arete. Two lines of people make the decent, each line clinging perilously to the rope at either edge of the ridge. On the left is a 2800 vertical meter drop of greater than 40 degrees right down to Chamonix, on the right is a less terrifying, though just as fatal 300 meter drop onto exposed rock. I’m not quite certain that being roped together is a good idea. The principle is that if one person falls, the others can stop them, but some part of me thinks that they will simply be pulled down together - a thought I ignored as much as possible during the 20 minutes it takes to walk the few hundred meters.

The Decent to the Aguille Du Midi

When you finally make it to the glacier you can breath a sigh of relief, the most dangerous part of the day is over. Well, the most dangerous part if you are a good skier, and can follow your guide’s line to within a meter or two. After the initial 3 minute ski to where the different routes split our guide changed insisted we do the “easy” route, which we were most pleased with. Whilst less technical (and probably less dangerous) than the other routes, it is significantly more scenic, perfect for a first descent.

The View Back to the Aguille Du Midi

The start of the 17 km decent is everything you would imagine from a James Bond movie. Panoramic vistas of untouched snow surrounded by giant, looming peaks. The skiing here is easy and you can take wide, sweeping turns and really enjoy that feeling of untouched powder as you carve your own personal mark through the snow. It’s not all quite as easy going though. Over the next 3 hours you will have to descend steep, powder covered faces which will tire even the fittest of people. You must learn follow the tracks of your guide to within mere centimeters to avoid crevasses that your could reach out and drop your poles. And finally you will find yourself poling frantically across expansive flat regions, all the more harder since your poles wont reach the hard base beneath the powder.

Perfect Vallee Blanche Powder

As you start to see moraine (boulders and rocks deposited by glacial flow) you may think you can can rejoice in having completed this endeavor, but you will be wrong. Your guide may have told you about a 40 minute walk at the end of the glacier and you may have thought 40 minutes? No problem, I’ll just strap my skis to my back and walk out. Wrong. the 40 minute walk is more like a 40 minute hike up through the powder on the side of the valley you have just skiied into. For me this was sheer hell. That is until the US Army office in our troupe offered to carry my skis for me. Score!

The final hour of the decent is somewhat anti-climactic, a slowly winding alpine path, but you have to expect that after skiing one of the most beautiful descents in the world. Your are finally spat out onto a piste somewhere in Chamonix where it is time to reward yourself with alcohol and greasy food.

Whilst I didn’t over exaggerate the dangers of the Vallee Blanche earlier, they are significantly minimized by taking a few precautions such as going with a mountain guide (really, this is essential), being quite fit, and having at least some real off piste experience. My advice to good skiers is to take an off piste lesson or two and you’ll enjoy the experience so much more.

→ No CommentsTags:·······

Coldfusion Chalets - Chalet Holidays for Independent Travellers

February 8th, 2010 · No Comments · Insanity, Travel

I spent last week in the company of 26 amazing travellers (plus a bunch of really awesome staff) in a Chalet in Chamonix, France, under the shadow of the great peaks of the Mont Blanc range. I had never met any of the people before, and the same was true of most of them. We were all there as independent skiers or snowboarders to meet and ride with new people. It’s a great alternative to the traditional Chalet holiday where you may well be staying with lots of people who have no desire to know you whereas at Coldfusion everyone is in the same boat, so you are sure to find people to hang out with until 3 AM in the hot tub, and more to ride the vallee blanch with you the following morning.

There are actually two Coldfusion Chalets in Chamonix (and a third in Mornize), but they are located next door each other, just about close enough to make a mad dash in a bikini and not much else through the snow back to your own bed shower. Seriously though, the Coldfusion experience is not a single’s holiday. Whilst it’s true that most the participants (guests doesn’t seem quite right, it’s much more big-brother-esque, but without the cameras, diary room or Davina McCall) are single it’s aimed at the “Independent Traveller”, with some guests have partners who simply don’t like the cold. It doesn’t really matter which chalet you are in, I was in the smaller, 9 person one. But spent much of my time in the 18 person one. The only time you really have separate is for meals (though I did take the odd cheeky breakfast across the way).

Everyone’s personal experience will, of course, be different. Mine was truly epic. Some of the people I met will be friends for life, others I hope to ski / drink with again, other’s still I didn’t really have a chance to meet. I really was in the hot tub until 3 AM one day, followed by a mad dash back to to my chalet (I was in the other’s). Another night I was found brining a hotel doorman to book a minibus for 6 of us to make our way back after a night of clubbing in Le Garage. I really did ski the vallee blanche with harness and transceiver, and despite the fact I cried almost every day (for a multitude of reasons, including being stuck in some deep powder, watching “Music and Lyrics”, and knowing that the week had to end), I had one of the most amazing holidays of my life. Thank you Coldfusion.

Links: Coldufusion

The Frozen Four. Before The Vallee Blanche

The Frozen Four. Before The Vallee Blanche

→ No CommentsTags:·················

The Religious Experience of The Cheesesteak

November 24th, 2009 · No Comments · Travel

If you haven’t had a “Philadelphia Cheesesteak” then you’re doing it wrong! Actually, I’m doing it wrong. It’s not a Philadelphia Cheesesteak at all, it’s a Cheesesteak from Philadelphia. The subtle, but essential, difference is all about where you enjoy this tasty snack.

It’s offered on many a late night menu all over the Eastern seaboard and in numerous places world wide. But no where on earth can quite compete with the locals in Philadelphia and the reason is almost religious.

The pomp and ceremony surrounding the purchase and consumption of a cheese will astound you. I will attempt to guide you through some of this here, although for a fully canonical experience you will need to bag yourself a local and convince them to take you for a ’steak at an authentic Steakchurch.

Turning up at a random food outlet in Philadelphia and simply asking for a cheesesteak would be sacrilegious. You must first cross the threshold  of a true Steakchuch (such as Sonny’s Famous Steaks) and begin the incantation “Wizz Wit”. Repeat it again “Wizz Wit”. Pronounce it exactly as it is written.

If the Gods are feeling kind and you proffer an appropriate cash donation you will be afforded a glimpse into the world of tasty drunken snacks from which you can never return. A sub filled with fresh steak, coated in creamy Cheez Wizz and topped with onions will be coming your way. You will be a convert instantly and will forever more be finding a way to return to the holy city of Philadelphia.

Porro Ago CaseusSteak.


→ No CommentsTags:···········

If you must fly BA…

November 16th, 2009 · 3 Comments · Musings, Travel

… go through Heathrow. Despite the misery of flying with them you will at least get to experience Terminal 5.

As you may know I’m an avid fan of Virgin Atlantic and so whenever I fly I’m either on their or one one of the flying club partner’s planes which has precluded me from experiencing Heathrow’s Terminal 5. So I was quite excited to find that the only viable way for me to get to Stockholm the other week was with BA through Terminal 5.

I was quite impressed with the terminal, it certainly outdoes Terminal 3 without question. BAA really have turned the airport into a destination itself - there are shops there that I would (almost) consider taking a flight just to go to.

The layout isn’t quite as intuitive as I would like, the multi floor layout doesn’t help and the walk to the lounge took us back and forth across multiple levels.

It’s security features are world class with an ingenious x-ray system that uses mechanised rollers to advance your bag / box only close to the next one instead of careering into it. It continues to move your items along when there is space, preventing the queue that is often formed by the one person who is not only slow but doesn’t have the courtesy to move their bags along to the end. And it doesn’t stop there. At the end of the rollers the trays are automagically returned to the front of the queue through a hatch which opens only when the tray is empty. This beautiful piece of aeroperiphery engineering is awesome.

→ 3 CommentsTags:··········

MySkyStatus from Lufthansa

October 12th, 2009 · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

Lufthansa have launched a new service recently, MySkyStatus which will update your twitter or facebook feed with your world air travels as you make them, including departure, landing and during your flight. Whilst this has the potential to be really awesome it’s not yet clear how often the “during flight” option will be. Hopefully not *too* often.

What I would really like is either an API for the system or an integration to TripIt so I don’t automatically have to add all the flights I have planned. You could go even further and have it auto DM various people when you land (I’m thinking my Mum, who frantically checks Teletext for flight arrivals to make sure I’ve landed).

Or perhaps tying MySkyStatus users together, allowing them to publish what flights I’m on in the hope of an amusing in flight coincidence.

It’s really great to see airlines themselves innovating on the web, but I hope they don’t go the traditional large company route and build yet more information silos - hope your listening Lufthansa, and remember to keep it all open!

→ 2 CommentsTags:

Salt Lake City and The Final Breakdown

July 23rd, 2009 · No Comments · Disaster, Travel, whuffaoke

Arrival in Salt Lake City

Having been dropped off in Salt Lake City we managed to start Winnie’s engine and make our way to the various places we needed to visit like BetaLoft and the KOA RV Park. Everything was running fine, and we felt reassured that it was a heat issue that was causing the engine to seize up, and whilst Salt Lake was hot, it was nothing like the blistering heat of the Nevada Desert. We all showered and cleaned for the show which was wonderful having been stuck in the desert and then in the tow truck for about 6 hours in total, and we headed back into downtown to get the party started.

The Final Countdown Breakdown

The ride was fine, not a murmur from the engine, we pulled up a few blocks from the venue and met up with our ambassadors who were going to guide us to the final location. We pulled off and within a few seconds the engine started to sound a little funky. We tried to give her enough gas to make it the last 2 blocks, but alas she stopped in the middle of the street.

Photo by libel_vox, from flickr

Photo by libel_vox, from flickr

We quickly mobilized and with me in the driving seat the other crew and a bunch of locals started pushing Winne through the streets of Salt Lake City to the amusement of puzzled onlookers. After stopping at the first lights and then pushing our way through on green we had to negotiate a bend in our route to take us to the sidewalk where our performance space was. A local cop was on hand to make sure we weren’t too rowdy and for ‘heath and safety’, but nonetheless we managed to plug in set up and start the party.

Biblical Sandstorm

Dry Karaoke is interesting, we did have anergy drinks, but it’s not quite the same. We did, however, rock the park and whacked out some awesome tunes. Apart from a busted Winnie we thought we were home free, and that nothing else could go belly up. How wrong we were. After about an hour of Karaoke the winds really started to pick up. Wind, I hear you say, surely a little wind never hurt anybody. Well, no, unless that wind is part of a Biblical Sandstorm (what an appropriate location) which insisted on whipping every exposed part of my body with thousands of tiny sharp sand particles.

We were forced to pack up and head for the wonderful BetaLoft space a few blocks away where we were rewarded with beer, sushi and rockband. The space is beautiful, and apart from being accused of breaking in by the landlord (he recinded his accusationw when he came to take a look at us) after accidentally setting of the alarm the night went smoothly.

We were all shattered but Tara and Tony managed to get Winnie to the mechanics where we were booked into the following day at crazy o’clock. We followed suit in Drew’s car and were soon snuggled up in bed dreaming of a day when we could go places without fear of being stranded in the swealtering desert.


After a morning of work and planning at BetaLoft, and our first vaguely serious bust up (emotions running high with winnie being fixed as we spoke) we were rewarded with a call from the mechanics to tell us that Winnie was fixed and ready for pick up. What was wrong? The fuel pump which, unsurprisingly pumps fuel from the tank to the engine was operating sub-optimally. And when I say sub-optimally I mean not at all. It was bust. Were were surviving on fuel making its way into the engine of it’s own accord! New pump fitted we set out for our next stop in Omaha (Denver was cancelled because of the repair) with a lay over in Cheyenne. Before we would get there we would stop for dinner in Laramie, Wyoming, an apparent Twilight zone… more on that later ;)


The Broken Fuel Pump

→ No CommentsTags:············