Friday, September 05, 2008

I Fear I'm Defeated...or is it Victorious?

Normally the letter below from Continental would send me into an apoplectic fit. Do I think these changes suck? I've already ranted about them. What has me wondering about whether I'm defeated is that I actually feel like complimenting Continental. They made no attempt to explain or justify the changes. They didn't try to commiserate with me. They just said "thanks, here's what we're doing, period and end of conversation. Oh, and thanks for your money." They didn't patronize, they weren't defensive, they didn't say "they feel my pain." They didn't dribble this out over a period of weeks or months; they made all the bad changes at once.

I mean, a few months ago, American's fee imposition led to the beginning of this blog. Now Continental does that and so much more and I don't even whimper? Maybe some of it is because I don't fly Continental very much. Maybe more of it is that OF COURSE we should expect this lemming-like behavior on the part of the old line carriers. Were they not going to impose fees and/or cut services? So I just can't get that worked up over it.

So why might I feel victorious? Let them all die. You've got to love Southwest's new commercial where they compare their "airfare" with that of their competitors. They start with an advantage on the airfare alone and by the time you add in all the extra charges, they end up with a huge advantage. It's not that I believe Southwest is perpetually immune to these pressures -- they'll lost the huge advantage of their fuel price hedge some time soon -- but from the beginning they've just been more transparent about what it will actually cost you to fly. Even JetBlue is getting into this creeping fee-ism; one for more leg room, another for blankets, etc. Give me a number, not an a la carte menu. Bundle your services into tiers and price them accordingly. They're all doing it together; they can either die together or learn, as they so often have had to, that they're out of touch with their customer. Just a shocking way to run a business. Shocking.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

JetBlue Terminal 5 at JFK

JetBlue on Twitter tells me the start date for T5 at JFK is October 1. Note to self: give them a month to shake things down.

Never buy a car in its first model year (OK, I made that mistake...twice), never buy the first model of any technology product (OK, I make that mistake monthly) and never, ever fly through a new terminal or airport (e.g., DIA) in the first few months. Will I make this mistake too? I haven't yet...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Customer Service 101

How not to treat a customer.

I will, however, give JetBlue some kudos. At least they continued the flight to its destination. I'm sure USAir would have landed en route, inconveniencing everyone.

I just bought myself a new video camera, about the size of a cell phone. Look for me in a newspaper near you, soon. :)

I need your help so I have to make up a reason why it's good for you

American sent me an email this morning (copied in its entirety below). The net of it is that they want antitrust immunity to better cooperate with British Airways to dominate transatlantic flying. (No, that's not quite how they put it.) In order to win over the government, it's clear they want to enlist the support of their "loyal" customers. (I guess they don't read my blog.) So, what's in it for me? Frankly, I couldn't find anything. More opportunities to redeem my miles? They forgot to mention increased fees, increased mileage levels and decreased capacity. More like more opportunities to be frustrated by my inability to redeem miles.

From the get-a-clue department: if you treat your customers like idiots, well, don't complain to me when they behave like idiots. You get what you deserve, American. Note to government regulators: giving American and British Airways any kind of anitrust immunity defeats the purpose of antitrust law. These are the two most predatory airlines in the world; letting them work together in fashions that require antitrust waivers most certainly is not in the best interests of customers or competition.


American's letter:

More Choices Connecting You To The WorldAugust 14, 2008Dear Jonathan Yarmis, I want to thank you for your support of American Airlines and share some exciting news. Today American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia signed a Joint Business Agreement (JBA) to cooperate on flights between North America and Europe, and announced that we plan to expand our global cooperation. Though our three airlines will continue to operate as separate legal entities – with our own fleets, employees and brands – we will cooperate more closely to improve travel choices, offer more convenient schedules and give customers more opportunities to earn and redeem frequent flyer miles. Today's announcement represents good news for travelers. Our customers will be able to travel more easily on a oneworld network that includes nearly 9,000 daily departures to 663 destinations in 134 countries via flight schedules that will be coordinated to deliver more conveniences and choices. As an example, here in the U.S., customers and communities will gain improved access to 207 new international destinations just by our ability to link our networks. We also plan to expand our codesharing and offer combinable fares, allowing customers to choose from multiple routings across the entire oneworld network rather than just those flights marketed individually by each airline. This will also allow us to offer our customers and communities greater access to more competitive fares and ultimately the ability to fly on new and expanded routes. As a result, you'll have greater opportunities to earn and redeem your American Airlines AAdvantage miles on each airline's transatlantic flights. Reciprocal lounge access with British Airways, Iberia and other oneworld members will continue as it is today – however, with an expanded network and more codesharing choices, customers will have more opportunities to take advantage of this valuable benefit.As a key first step, our three airlines – along with Finnair and Royal Jordanian, our transatlantic partners in the oneworld global alliance – plan to apply today with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to receive global antitrust immunity. This will not only help us work together more closely for the benefit of our customers, employees and shareholders, but will also allow the oneworld alliance to compete more effectively with SkyTeam and the Star Alliance, which already enjoy broad immunity among their global air alliance members.Although these changes, if approved, will take some time to be implemented, we will be in touch as new information becomes available. In the meantime, please visit for more information.We hope that you are excited about the great benefits and choices that will take place from this proposed relationship. We will keep you posted on the latest developments. Again, I want to thank you for flying American Airlines. Sincerely yours, Dan GartonExecutive Vice President, Marketing

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Worst Giveaway Ever

JetBlue is "letting" its favored customers "test" its new terminal (T5) at JFK in a couple of weeks.

And what do you think the odds are:

- They'll lose your baggage.
- Your flight will be late.
- They'll run out of water.

And don't you think it's ominous they say "you will not...leave the building during the trial run." Even if you want to!

Clear Theft

I previously raved about the Clear service. Last week, they had a laptop stolen (subsequently recovered) and I am distressed over their handling of the situation, and am actively considering terminating the service. Here's the email I sent to Clear in response to their email to customers (belatedly) notifying us of the theft.


You'll forgive me for saying this but I find the attached letter offensive, ignorant and contradictory.

Let me first state I'm very relieved to hear that none of my information was implicated. I'd hate to think it had something to do with the theft. Perhaps you meant to say "compromised"?

Then, get your timeline right. You were going to tell me my data was potentially compromised but before you could notify me, you found the laptop. Of course, before the laptop was recovered, you found time to issue the press release about the loss. In other words, you were more concerned about the impression this might leave to non-customers before you addressed the issue with customers. I find this priority patently offensive.

Then you say none of my personal information was on the computer in any form. If none was there, why are we even having this discussion? Is it "none" or is it "limited"? If "limited," what information was it? Knowing this will enable me to take precautions if I choose not to rely on your assertion that the information wasn't accessed. How can you state this with certainty? Because Windows security is so fool-proof that if someone were to compromise your machine, you certainly would know? That is just a laughable premise. Are you so certain that rather than helping me to restore the integrity of my records, you'll instead indemnify me for any financial losses and compensate me for my time and loss of reputation and impaired function? I thought not.

Frankly your response has me more concerned than I was before I heard from you. I think an appropriate response to this situation would be to offer to those whose confidence in you has been shaken by this incident that you offer a full and complete refund of any and all fees paid to you or at the very least the outstanding portion of the contract. I'm not saying I want to avail myself of that but I am saying my confidence in you has been shaken not by the loss -- that happens -- but by your inadequate safeguards and your offensive response. I am certainly going to explore my options.


Date: Thu, 7 Aug 2008 13:27:05 -0400: clearsupport@flyclear.comSubject: Clear Privacy Update

About your clear account

Dear Jonathan Yarmis,

We take the protection of your privacy extremely seriously at Clear. That's why we announced on Tuesday that a laptop from our office at the San Francisco Airport containing a small part of some applicants' pre-enrollment information (but not Social Security numbers or credit card information) recently went missing. None of your information was in any way implicated. However, we were prepared to send those applicants and members who were affected the appropriate notice on Tuesday detailing that situation.

Before we could send out that notice, the laptop was recovered. And, we have determined from a preliminary investigation that no one logged into the computer from the time it went missing in the office until the time it was found. Therefore, no unauthorized person has obtained any personal information.

Again, none of your personal information was on the computer in any form, but we nonetheless wanted to give you details of the incident that could have affected others applying for Clear memberships because the incident involves Clear's privacy and security practices and policies.
We are sorry that this theft of a computer containing a limited amount of applicant information occurred, and we apologize for the concern that the publicity surrounding our public announcement might have caused. But in an abundance of caution, both we and the Transportation Security Administration treated this unaccounted-for laptop as a serious potential breach. We have learned from this incident, and we have suspended enrollment processes temporarily until all pre-enrollment information is encrypted for further protection. The personal information on the enrollment system was protected by two separate passwords, but Clear is in the process of completing a software fix - and other security enhancements - to encrypt the data, which is what we should have done all along, just the way we encrypt all of the other data submitted by applicants. Clear now expects that the fix will be in place within days. Meantime, all airport Clear lane operations continue as normal.

As you may know, our Privacy Policy states that we will notify you of any compromise of your personal information regardless of whether any state statute requires it. This letter is a good example of our policy: no law requires that we notify you of this incident because our investigation of the recovered laptop revealed no breach and because in any event none of your own information was affected. But we think it's good practice to err on the side of good communication with all Clear members, especially when, in this case, we did make a mistake by not making sure that limited portion of information was encrypted.

Please call us toll-free with any questions at (866) 848-2415. Again, we apologize for the confusion.

Sincerely, Steven BrillClear CEO

P.S. A reminder: One of Clears unique privacy features is that all members and applicants are given an identity theft protection warranty which provides that, in the unlikely event you become a victim of identity theft as a result of any unauthorized dissemination of your private information by - or theft from - Clear or its subcontractors, we will reimburse you for any otherwise unreimbursable monetary costs directly resulting from the identity theft. In addition, Clear will, at its own expense, offer you assistance in restoring the integrity of your financial or other accounts. So had there been any actual compromise of your personal information, you would have been additionally protected.

Jets (the Football Variety)

OK, so this isn't really a travel post but I just had to vent somewhere about Brett Favre coming to the Jets. I'm a long-suffering fan of the New York Jets. Really long suffering. I've split season tickets with a friend since the early 1980's. We laugh every game when they show historical highlights of the team because there really is only one highlight in the team's entire history: Joe Namath running off the field raising #1 after Super Bowl III. That's one highlight in about 46 years.

If forced, I could name a few more. The Monday Night Miracle against Miami. I was there for that game and it was indeed memorable. There were probably only about 10,000 of us left in the stands because the Jets were so out of it through three quarters that everyone had left. Keep in mind, this was during an off day in the Mets/Yankees World Series so everyone was distracted to begin with. I was only there because my friend and I go to the games as much to socialize as to watch the Jets and it was nice and quiet and roomy, great for conversation. And then the Jets started coming back. We kept calculating "can they really do this?" And they kept coming back. The funniest thing about it is that my friend was then the radio announcer of the Mets (he's now on TV) and so he couldn't yell as he had to preserve his voice for the next day's broadcast. So as the Jets are making this totally improbable comeback and as the 10,000 of us are screaming as loud as 76,000 normally do, all he could do was bang chairs, stamp his feet, clap...and restrain himself.

The other memorable game perhaps was the 51-45 overtime win against Miami. (The Monday Night Miracle was also against Miami; somehow those two always put on a show, no matter how miserable the teams are. The fake spike, the uncovered field and on and on and on.) Anyhow, I had a choice. I had a business trip to Phoenix. I could either go to the Jets game, fly out of Newark and get into Phoenix very late, or I could fly early in the morning and spend a lovely October day in Phoenix. I opted for the day in the sun. Of course, the day in the sun was in New Jersey, a lovely Indian summer day. Meanwhile, I land in a torrential downpour. My only option is to sit in my hotel room. I turn on the local game -- real compelling, Phoenix/Washington -- and they cut in with the incredible ending of the Jets game. The Jets tie the game on the final play of regulation with about a 65 yard hail mary to Wesley Walker and win in overtime on a similar play. Good choice, missing one of your team's top three ever moments.

So, that brings me to Favre. Shouldn't I be excited? The Jets get a Hall of Fame quarterback. No more legacy of Kenny O'Brien, Richard Todd and oh the list gets depressing. The Jets apparently have had 15 different starting quarterbacks since Favre came into the league. So why aren't I excited?
  1. Remember Joe Namath wearing a Rams' uniform? It's just wrong and more importantly...well, he didn't tarnish his legacy, but he came close.
  2. How excited is Favre to be here? This isn't his first choice. This isn't his second choice. It's probably not in his top 10. And once the small town boy -- Mississippi, Green Bay -- gets introduced to the New York media, it won't be in his top 40. And once his gunslinging interceptions get the Jets fans booing -- honeymoon period = three quarters -- he'll really appreciate what he had in Green Bay.
  3. Is he the short-term solution? I suppose he's better than what we've got now, though not compellingly. And there's a real down side. If his heart and mind aren't in to it, he could start flinging interceptions all over the field.
  4. Is he the long-term solution? Not only is that clearly not the case, it also sets the Jets back years in their efforts to find a long-term solution. Maybe he'll mentor Kellen Clemens the way he mentored and supported Aaron Rodgers. Oops. Is Clemens the guy? We still don't know. If he is, this slows his development. If he isn't, not only does this slow us down knowing, it costs us draft picks that could have been used to draft the guy. And you know Favre is going to take just enough snaps to cost the Jets the maximum draft choice under the agreement. It wouldn't even surprise me that the Jets at some point try to execute a three way trade that has Favre end up in Minnesota with the Jets claiming "we didn't actually trade him to Minnesota"...only to have the commissioner rule that the Jets violated the intent of the deal and not only do they owe Green Bay the three first round draft choices, that he adds something on letting Bill Belichick film their practices (or is he already doing that?).

So why are the Jets doing this? Asides from it being a preditably bad Jet move -- sorry, the Internet doesn't have enough capacity to capture the depths of their stupidity -- it can be all captured in one single thing. PSL. Personal seat licenses. The Jets are getting ready to ask their season ticket holders to spend stupid amounts of money ($40,000-$80,000) to maintain the rights to purchase what they already have. Will enough Jet fans get excited about the trade so that when they get hit with this bill, they think "at least the team is committed to do whatever it takes to win"? That's totally what this trade is all about. Style over substance. Money over competitiveness. Excitement over excellence.

So no, I'm not happy about this trade at all.

Monday, August 04, 2008

What's the difference...

...between Mars and USAir? You can find free water on Mars.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Whither the Fuel

A post from someone I know on Twitter ( ; a micro-blogging platform for those of you not familiar with it):

"Decline of airline industry, part 243,865: One working fuel truck at SFO, and it just ran out of fuel itself. Can only laugh.."

Friday, August 01, 2008

It's Up to the Flight Attendant???

You're probably aware that USAir/Dare/Scare has begun charging for soft drinks and water. Well, CNBC just reported that flight attendants have discretion to charge the full $2 or if the passenger balks, $1 or even free. This takes stupidity to a new level. In other words, I as a passenger now have incentive to get angry with the flight attendants??? I have long since stopped being surprised at the complete lunacy of airlines management but I've got to admit, this one takes it to a new level.
  • We're going to piss you off by imposing a ridiculous fee.
  • We're going to expose ourselves to lawsuits by people who get dehydrated.
  • And if you get upset at this, well, we were only kidding.

I'd love to have been in on the meetings where they decided this one. If this were a Saturday Night Live skit, you'd think "this is really stretching reality" but this is the airline industry where truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

In-Flight Talking

Please pass this law. Please!!

The last thing I want on my flight is someone talking on their cell phone, too loudly, for four hours. And you know someone will do that.

On the other hand, it can be a source of amusement...and value. Within the last five years, I was on a flight to the Pacific time zone (that won't help you identify the vendor). The guy seated next to me in 2D has his papers out on his lap and is talking on the airphone. Lawyer. He's talking strategy about the lawsuit they've got underway against the vendor I'm going to visit. Of course, I listen attentively...and when we land, call company executive and repeat the conversation. If he's going to be stupid enough to talk in public, I don't think I was under any moral obligation to keep his conversation in confidence. He didn't, so why should I. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

That said, no phones. And don't tell me we'll have phone/no phone seating. I remember when there were smoking and the-smoke-will-get-to-you-five-minutes-later sections. There was no no-smoking section. Just as there would be no quiet car. It works for Amtrak, not for airplanes. Where is that Get Smart cone of silence when you need it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

GPS Devices: Navigon 2100, TomTom XL 330

TomTom recently sent me an XL 330 to review. (Full disclosure: TomTom used to be a client when I was at Hill & Knowlton. I have no commercial relationship with them any more although I'd love for them to become clients.) I have been using this along side the Navigon 2100 that I purchased (for $100; a post-Thanksgiving special at Staples). I also have CoPilot software on my old Motorola Q (although it doesn't work on my new Verizon 6800; waiting for new version).

Here are some early impressions:
  • The 4.3" screen is fabulous. For these old eyes, it makes a huge difference over the smaller GPS devices. You can actually read things on screen that on the smaller devices I have to squint or guess at.
  • The TomTom routing algorithms are very good. This contrasts with the Navigon algorithm which, even after their firmware upgrade, is very poor. I can't really rely on the Navigon unless I'm desperate; the TomTom is good.
  • Navigon's claim to fame is its visual display of road signs at major intersections. It's a nice feature but doesn't alone compensate for all of the other shortcomings of the device.
  • TomTom has desktop software that makes device maintenance a pleasure. While the process of adding points of interest is a bit inefficient (after loading a POI set, you should return back to the download page), it works cleanly. By contrast, the Navigon has no ability to add POIs, its existing set is not great and the third party workarounds just serve to point out just how bad the situation is.
  • TomTom has a great feature where when you plug in a USB cable, it asks you if you want to synch to a computer or merely use the USB for power. By contrast, the Navigon, unless you're using their special cable, assumes you want to synch to the computer and renders the device inoperable. Why do vendors force you to buy their specialized cables? I'm used to that in the cell phone world where even there, it's happening less and less. On devices like this, there's no excuse for it. Thank you, TomTom.
  • The TomTom UI is fairly intuitive. There are some things I had to poke around for a while to find but ultimately I was able to do everything I wanted to (and only then did I read the documentation to see if I had missed anything; I hadn't). The Navigon is slightly worse in this regard; many options require an additional touch or two to reach which given that you might be doing this while driving -- I know; you're not supposed to -- is an issue.
  • The windshield mount with the Navigon is this overly large contraption that works well but is too bulky for travel. The TomTom has a very nice ring-type device which I fear might grow loose over time but initially is a very compact solution.
  • To keep the purchase price down, it seems no one at this low end category includes a carrying case for the device. You'll have to spend another $10-20 to get something.
  • I'm disappointed in the battery life of all of these devices, routinely in the 2-4 hour range if you're not plugging in a car charger. I'll often spend more time than this in the car in the course of a day and thus, you have to figure out when you're going to charge the device unless you carry the car charger. I don't mind doing it in client meetings -- I'm the advanced technologies guy -- but for some people, this might be disruptive.
  • TomTom has a nice community-based feature to provide interim updates to maps. Exploiting the power of the community is increasingly going to be a competitive differentiator for these companies and TomTom does it well, Navigon not at all.
  • The good news about the Navigon: when I bought it, I got a free lifetime traffic subscsription. The bad news: I don't find much utility in these services. What I want out of a service (and on the radio, for that matter) is a binary judgment: it's better to stay on your route and plan for extra time, or you really should take this alternative; it's that bad. Right now I haven't seen a traffic service that offers that kind of simplicity.
  • The TomTom acquires the satellite signal MUCH faster than the Navigon. From a cold start, it takes the Navigon around a minute to determine location.
  • The TomTom is a little slow to do route recalculations. I have a few shortcuts I routinely take and after turning off on my own, the TomTom took sufficiently long to recalculate on that I would have missed my next turn.

For the reason of the lousy routing algorithm and the POI handling, I recommend strongly against the Navigon. TomTom isn't overly flashy. There's no "signature" feature. It just does everything the way you'd want it to.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Losing, and Finding, Your Car

JetBlue on Twitter ( ) has a really useful travel tip for those of you (well, us) who have "lost" a car at airport parking: .

I actually managed to lose my car in the parking garage at Hartford Bradley Airport. I knew its general location but what I didn't realize is that the Hartford parking garage effectively has two symmetrical ramp structures under the one building. While I was going up and down one set of ramps, there was a complementary set of ramps further back doing the exact same angling. Of course, I didn't find this out until after calling security for help finding the car. When I finally went around a corner, I realized three things:
  1. There was this other set of ramps that I hadn't been searching.
  2. My car was precisely where I left it and where I thought it would be...only on the other side of the wall.
  3. I was going to have fun explaining this one to the security guard. He actually laughed and said this happened about once an hour. I guess it was my hour.

This of course was in a car that did not have one of those key fob door openers. How many of you have gone around clicking that, listening for your car's horn? Let's just say I've done that more than once. Very effective.

Monday, July 07, 2008

JetBlue on the Phone

For some reason, my JetBlue TrueBlue number is associated with my full name, with middle initial, so that when a ticket is issued in my name without initial, JetBlue assumes I must be someone else and doesn't associate my number with the reservation. I have to call JetBlue to fi the situation each time. When I did so today, JetBlue's recorded greeting was all too happy to point out that my call was being connected to Salt Lake City. Good start. And the agent was great. Just did his job quickly and efficiently. Even upsold me on the premium seating; for $30 on the transcon, you get 38" pitch instead of the standard 34". Even 34 is good; most carriers' standard coach is 31". 3" and 4" doesn't sound like much but it's huge. 31 is cozy, 34 is comfortable, 38 is spacious. And I didn't even feel bad about that upcharge; $30 for 5 hours of improved comfort seemed like a reasonable trade-off. Like first class without the alcohol. :)

I'm not looking forward to the JetBlue JFK experience until the new terminal is open in the fall. I could park off-premises but it's an early enough morning flight that I'll take a car service (even if my round-trip car service isn't much different than my round-trip airfare; is it any wonder the airline business is in a world of hurt?).

Even when they're bad...

I was going to take the 8:35 Amtrak to Boston last night. It was listed as on time...but getting there early (7:50) as is my wont, I noticed that the 6:35 was just pulling in. I dashed out to the platform, asked the conductor if I could get on this train and after a moment's hesitation -- she said my train was going to be there in half an hour; I said "yours is here now" -- she said c'mon. Full train but comfortable seat and trying to make up for lost time, they were a few minutes faster than the regular train.

The only drawback to not having my car here in Boston is for grocery shopping. I can either take the T (or a long walk, not fun in the heat) and carry what I can carry or I can get delivery via Peapod ( ). Peapod has a $50 minimum, so it's not for my every shopping excursion but I think that'll be OK for most situations.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I May Have to Reconsider this Amtrak Thing

They give me no blogging material. Boston to New Haven last night. Train left on time, arrived on time. Comfortable. Clean. Even largely full.

OK, so the first half hour served as a cautionary tale for cell phones on airplanes. Is there really anyone who thinks this is a good idea?? The person in front of me was obviously from Podunk, Iowa. They went on and on and on about how big the buildings in New York and Boston were and could you imagine, the roads don't always have lane dividers painted on them, etc., etc. I fell asleep in self-defense. (Note: on trains, always set some kind of alarm. Unlike planes, they don't automatically kick you off at your stop.) But even here, Amtrak has an answer: the quiet car. No cell phone usage.

One downside: Amtrak's awards program is really feeble. At 5,000 miles/transcon roundtrip, I can earn a free ticket on the airlines every five trips (assuming, optimistically, you can find a flight at the saver award level). By contrast, I figure it will take me thirty round trips (at $100/round trip) to earn a free ticket on Amtrak. I guess I'll have to think about the Amtrak MasterCard which, if I use the card merely for Amtrak purchases, would reduce that threshhold to 10 round trips.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

San Francisco Treats

Asides from being one of my favorite cities in the world, San Francisco is one of the great hotel cities around with a great range of properties from impersonal conference hotels (the Hyatt and Marriott) to grand old hotels (Fairmont and Mark Hopkins) to world class properties (Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton) to touristy places to boutiques. Of late, I've found myself gravitating towards the Kimpton properties ( I've now stayed at three of them -- the Monaco, Prescott and Serrano -- and they all share some great characteristics:
  • They're relative bargains. (Under $300/night in San Francisco counts as a bargain.)
  • They have character. Rooms all differ but they share a warmth and comfort level that make even standard rooms seem something nicer.
  • The staff cares. Kimpton calls out its customer satisfaction and my experience has been that everyone, from front desk staff to bellmen, understand that this is the brand promise and that it's up to them to deliver on it.
  • Location. They're all around Union Square, convenient to work, Moscone (if you're there for a convention), dining, transportation, etc.
  • Dining options. I'm not sure if this formula was started in San Francisco but it certainly seems to be prevalent there. Pair up a boutique hotel with a trendy restaurant. The benefits if you're a hotel guest: room service that's way better than usual and preferred access if you want to dine in the restaurant. And the evening wine reception offers really good wine with the really eclectic Kimpton guests, always a good combination.

Kimpton has a rewards program though I stay at their hotels not because I can also earn loyalty points but because they're such a pleasure to stay at. And I've found that because I'm a member of their program, the properties have been very generous in giving me immediate recognition, with flexibility around room level (upgrades) and check-in/check-out times.

Negatives? In probably a dozen stays across several cities (SF, Seattle, Portland), I've never had anything that would count as negative. Predictably good stays at interesting properties at affordable rates? I like that formula.

It's Not Just Me

I was flying back Friday SFO-JFK in business class and started talking to the passenger next to me, indicating my complete disgust with the state of the traditional carriers today. He indicated that he was a 2+ million mile flyer on American and that this was his last flight on American. He too was so disgusted by recent moves and their counter-productive outcomes that all his flying going forward was going to be on Southwest or JetBlue.

It's one thing when the recent moves of the airlines drive dissatisfaction among the low paying leisure passengers and potentially cause them to pay more of their share as compared with business travelers. I don't agree with the approach even while I understand the objective. However, if their approach towards achieving that objective drives away the very passengers they need to retain, perhaps someone ought to be questioning their approach...and sanity.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Let's Play "Alienate Your Customer"

You'd think it's simple. I'm scheduled on a 1:30 flight tomorrow from SFO-JFK. I'll be done a little earlier. American has an 11:15 a.m. flight. As I write, there 11 seats available. No problem, you'd think. Pay a nominal fee and you can leave two hours early. Au contraire, mon ami. If I want to confirm something, it will cost me a $150 change fee plus a fare adjustment of about $200. $350 incremental (my entire ticket right now is $439) for two hours earlier. My other option is to go to the airport in time for the early flight and go standby. Get on, great. Otherwise, sit there an additional 2-1/4 hours.

The way I see it, my options are extortion or Russian Roulette. Neither of these is good business. If this weren't the airlines business, the government would say "can we wire you; those activities are illegal."

This is the same American that shows commercials about a business traveler wanting to get home to see their family. So now, instead of landing at 8:05, getting home by 10...and seeing my kids before they go to sleep...instead now, I land at 10:10, home by, oh, midnight. Thanks, American; put that in your commercial.

Yet another reason I'm flying JetBlue next time...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Taking the Train

I guess I'm not the only one who has noticed that the train is cheaper and more relaxing than driving.

The good news here for me I suppose is that as long as I can get a seat, I'm not terribly worried that Amtrak's success will diminish the travel experience. Trains are sufficiently comfortable that even full, it's a very good travel experience.

Depressing though that now that this country is perhaps finally ready for reliable, high speed, high quality train service...we're not in a position to meet the demand. Figures.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

I'm taking American to San Francisco on Tuesday, returning on Friday. That could be my last transcon on American for the year. In July, when I'm back out in the Bay Area, I'm taking JetBlue from JFK. It's a shame their new terminal ( isn't open yet. Parking's a hassle so I may well consider taking a car service back and forth to the airport. The other bonus for me: I'll be at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay and then in San Jose on this particular trip and JetBlue actually flies nonstop into San Jose (SJC) in addition to SFO. Saves 30-60 minutes of ground transportation. That said, the rental car situation at SJC is an absolute circus with inadequate ground space and inconsistent centralized shuttle bus service. Oh well. You'd think as they've been building out this airport over the years, they could have planned something around rental cars and roadways, but it has been a mess for years and years. It always appears to be in a state of construction...but that they're making things worse rather than better.

I always find it amusing that SJC is now officially Mineta San Jose International Airport. First of all, can you think of another airport that's named for a living individual? None come to mind for me. Second, when I was at Hill & Knowlton in a previous job, the firm hired Norm Mineta to be a senior strategic advisor. I worked briefly with him on a couple of new business proposals and so it's now always weird to fly through the airport being as I know the guy. Great guy and all...but is he really the first person you'd think of to name your airport after if you were willing to name it for anyone, living or dead? And having established this precedent, how long do you think it will be before airlines, like sports teams, start selling naming rights to their airline terminals? "Welcome to Pepto-Bismol United Terminal B here at LaGuardia..."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Musings on American: Why I May Be Done with Them for the Year

I'm a Platinum flyer on American. I've already reached 25,000 miles on them for the year. Here's why that may be enough:
  • On my most frequent routes (transcon), Platinum isn't enough to get you upgraded. My upgrade rate is less than 20%, probably closer to 10.
  • Given USAir's salvo, I expect that mileage bonuses will be eliminated. Therefore, there's no value to higher levels of privilege.
  • At 25,000 miles, I already qualify for most of the priority/fee treatments.
  • I don't expect to reach Platinum Exec.

If I've already got the key remaining benefits and the coach product sucks as compared with my transcon alternatives (JetBlue, Virgin America), why would I fly American any more?

Next Vista: Frequent Flyer Miles

USAir has eliminated bonuses for its preferred level members of its frequent flyer program ( USAir's rationale: the cost of mileage redemption is a cost they can no longer afford to incur. This is the death knell for "loyalty" programs. Given the monkey see, monkey do management style of the large American airlines, we can expect the others to follow suit. When this happens, I guess they're all concluding this is a zero sum game. For every passenger I retain, the other airlines are retaining someone else, so if we all lower our benefits, there's no net change. If you take JetBlue and Southwest out of the equation, that's probably true. American, United, USAir, Northwest = zero sum game. Lowering their marginal attractiveness just moves more business elsewhere.

I haven't booked my next flight to the Bay Area for July...but if I believe anything that I've written, it's going to be on JetBlue or Virgin America.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

United Sucks

Joe Brancatelli, one of the deans of business travel, just wrote a column calling United the “Worst. Airline. Ever.” ( ) I came to that conclusion a few years ago. (As an aside, when I subscribed to his newsletter, JoeSentMe, my wife thought a name like that had to be some porn I had subscribed to. “No, it’s a travel newsletter.”)

Anyhow, I used to be among the most loyal of United flyers. I would even fly through O’Hare to get to Dallas from New York instead of flying American nonstop. It’s not like United was a paragon of customer service but I could always count on finding an employee that cared enough to go above and beyond.

Things got even better when, around 1991, someone at United tested an interesting proposition: that the frequent flyer program didn’t reward profitable travelers. The year they did this was a year I flew to Australia twice, once on a $10,000 first class ticket and once on a $7,500 business class ticket. While I didn’t even make it to 100,000 miles, and hence was not noticed by the Mileage Plus gods, I was in fact United’s 7th most profitable flyer that year. As a result, I got the super secret phone numbers. They held planes for me, they made space…they valued my business. I looked forward to flying United. They treated me even better than I got treated at home.

A million miles later, United decided to institutionalize this level of service with its Global Services program. The first year, I qualified. The second year, however, despite flying as much as ever, I had the misfortune of flying on a competitive route where United slashed its airfares and as a result, I didn’t qualify for Global Services. Missing the safety net of the magic phone numbers, I had some "standard" experiences. As a result, I started flying nonstop on other airlines. Meanwhile, I corresponded with United brass, suggesting that terminating a user after one year of lowered revenue was perhaps a foolish attitude. They asked, obviously rhetorically, “how would you feel if you had qualified and we bent the standards for someone else?” I suggested to them that given the state of the US airline business, I would applaud their efforts to attract and retain profitable, high volume business flyers and that the health of the airline was an important consideration for a traveler like me. Of course, this didn’t sway them.

As I shifted my allegiance, perhaps not coincidentally United starting finding New York a difficult market. They downsized their transcon planes to remove capacity, they stopped flying to London and Tokyo and otherwise decreased their footprint in New York. Indignity of indignities, the "United" terminal at JFK became the British Airways terminal. Fewer flights. Labor problems. Gruesome customer “service” experiences. Net result: I think I’ve flown United once in the last three years. Has anyone from United ever called to see why not? I guess that would require that someone at United really care to understand why things have gone so horribly awry. Or care, period. They're just working on their golden parachutes. Or maybe they’re afraid that I’m going to ask “where are my lost bags?” United was slow in delivering my bags two years ago. In fact, as far as they’re concerned, they’re still lost. I spent several hours calling United's Indian lost baggage call center, getting conflicting answers and other answers I just knew to be wrong. Several hours later, I decided it was just easier to go back to the San Diego airport to see what was going on. I found them sitting unwatched in the baggage claim area and took them with me. No one from United was there to watch. If they have surveillance video, no one from United ever called to confirm that I’m the one who picked up the bags. As far as they know, my bags are still lost. And so is my business with United.

Good bye United. Going, going…and soon enough to be forgotten. (Note to self: use up the last of the frequent flyer miles before United goes under. On merchandise; I'm not going to bet that they'll still be flying.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Where Will the Madness Stop?

Today it's USAir announcing that they're going to charge for all beverages and water ( I am going to go to my doctor's on Monday and get a note saying that if I go more than one hour on an airplane without fluids, I am risking my physical health. That ought to establish sufficient grounds for a lawsuit. And the bacteria count in the water in the washrooms? In the spirit of helping USAir out of our misery, here's a list of other things they should charge for. (As an you know their customer service motto? "We're not happy 'til you're not happy." They ought to be very happy today.)
  • You know how they ask us for our window/aisle preference. Whichever it is, it will cost $10 extra. I'm going to change my profile to say I want a middle seat. First, that means I'll get a window or aisle free. Second, they're so screwed up, they'd never assign me a middle seat. (By the way, I still don't think they've merged my USAir and AmericaWest accounts. Probably Piedmont and PSA for that matter...)
  • Seat bottom cushions that actually float: $10.
  • A per transaction charge for the seat belt: Every time you click and unclick, it's a dollar.
  • Much as data communications companies want to charge data plans by the megabyte, USAir will charge by the word for conversations with flight attendants, gate agents, customer support agents, lost baggage agents and the like. And there will be surcharges for effective outcomes: if they actually resolve your problem, there's a 20% premium. The good news: they'll never charge the premium.
  • Here's one I think they'll really use: taking a cue from London (congestion pricing) and Houston (parallel roads, one free and one toll), security lines will have various length and price. Short lines, high price, getting higher as the lower priced line gets longer. Wall Street will enter this game since pricing will vary even as you wait in line so you can hedge your price.
  • In flight entertainment: since there's very little to pay for right now, the Barney theme song and "It's a Small World" will be played over the PA system until the passengers have contibuted in aggregate $5,000. Bose headphones will be banned from use until such time as the, fee...has been met.
  • In the unlikely event of a water landing, egress from the plane will be on a first paid, first exited basis. Fees will be based on the size of your estate which must be verified before you exit the plane. For an additional fee, you can be pre-verified before departure, ensuring immediate exit from the plane. (No refunds in case of death.)
  • Bereavement discounts will be replaced with bereavement surcharges. It works for funeral homes and after all, the travel experience is more like death every day.

What am I missing?

New York-Boston

The numbers look compelling: Acela from New York to Boston takes about 3:40. One of the airline shuttles takes 1:05. Clearly, therefore, if you're in a hurry, take the shuttle. Not so fast...

Let's look at door-to-door, assuming downtown to downtown:

(I apologize for the formatting; somewhere I'll figure out how to get this in tabular form. Even with entering spaces, it compresses them for some reason. No, I meant to type those spaces! Sorry.)

Acela Shuttle
Time to terminal 0:15 0:45
Time before departure 0:15 1:00
Time en route 3:40 1:24
Time to destination 0:10 0:45

Total time 4:20 3:54

In a best-case scenario for each, the shuttle is only about 20% faster. If you have to check your bags, you're now talking about virtual parity.

Then let's starting adding in subjective factors:

Hassle factor Very low Have you flown lately?
Likelihood of delay Low LaGuardia...5 p.m....weekday...
Impact of weather Low Hotel room
Leg space Spacious Specious
Food It's not Lutece It's not at all
Fare (5 p.m. same day) $150.00 $339.50
(And for $68 more, you can get first class Acela that includes meal and unlimited cocktails)
Work ability The whole ride 23 minutes
Noise Quiet car Why you paid $300 for Bose

Tell me again why you're taking the shuttle? See you on the train...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


There are a lot of "social" travel sites emerging. Dopplr is one popular one but my favorite, for one simple reason, is TripIt ( That one reason: they've solved the data input problem. Most travel sites require that you enter full details of your trip (flights, hotels, reservation numbers, etc.). TripIt however has you send your confirmation email to and it automatically parses the email to figure out the relevant travel items in the email.

The social features on all of these sites are still evolving and TripIt's not the best of the breed but if only because it solves the data entry problem, TripIt is my first choice. Dopplr seems to have a lead, at least among my travel network, but I'm trying to move them all over to TripIt. At the very least, given the lack of data entry, it's reasonable to use it as your second travel site. There's minimal incremental effort and some added value.

Acela Tips

The last row of many Acela cars is a single seat, with tons of room in front of you. There's not a bad seat on Acela but this one is a cut above. As you might imagine, it's usually the first seat to go. The best way to get the seat: have a bellcap carry your bags to the train. In Boston and New York, they'll take you to the train before general boarding begins. You tip them $2-5 and voila, the best seat on the train. I sometimes get funny looks from fellow passengers who think "what's such a healthy looking guy doing have the bellcap carry his bags for him." Then they see me sitting in this seat and think "pretty smart (or obnoxious) guy."

This one qualifies as the greatest bargain in travel. $15 for your first bag on American or $2 for the best seat on Acela. Not much competition.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Ted is Dead

Song is gone and now too apparently is Ted. How ridiculous an idea was this from the beginning? We can't run one competitive airline so maybe if we start another, we double our chances of actually figuring out how to make money at this game. While we're at it, we'll pay them less which will not only piss them off -- minor leaguers -- it'll piss off the mainline employees who feel that management is trying to fire them (which of course it is, even while they never really said it).

And the flying experience on this so-called Southwest-kiler or JetBlue-killer? No first class, no pitch, no amenities...nothing a revenue-producing United customer would want in a flight so one's inclination to fly United on those routes was low. And the employees? No, they did not view themselves as the front line of United's survival. No, they weren't JetBlue-cheery either. Just United "service," only lower paid.

At least Song had seat-back video. So long, Ted; we'll miss you. Not.

Random Travel Tips: Hotwire

I'm a big fan of Hotwire and I've had experiences that range from merely good to truly extraordinary. In the latter camp, there's a new Intercontinental in Boston down on the waterfront. Top notch hotel, great large rooms...especially for a city not noted for large rooms...superior service. Since I was paying my own money this time (a few months back), I looked on Hotwire. They were offering a 4.5 star hotel in the Fanueil Hall area for $125. That's walking distance to my office so I jumped on it. Sure enough, it was the Interconti. I looked up on the web site and the cheapest rate they offered that night -- non-refundable also -- was $383.

I don't know why anyone would ever use Priceline when you can get about the same price or sometimes even cheaper without the hassle and childishness.

Oh by the way, here's the view of my room from the bathroom. (Yes, there's a pass through from the bathroom, also large, into the main room.) There's a lot more space between the bed and this desk than the picture shows and yes, that's a large flat screen TV.
The hotel bargain of the year.

Monday, June 02, 2008

A Cautionary Tale

I flew back from Phoenix last Friday afternoon to JFK, USAir of course. Boarding begins right on time, about 30 minutes from scheduled departure. Near the end of the boarding line are the two young ladies with seats next to mine. Each is wheeling their carry-on down the aisle. Let's just say these probably weren't regulation size. Their attempts to fit things in the overhead are unsuccessful. Does this deter them? No...they keep trying. After five minutes of this fiasco, the flight attendants take notice. Their response? Remember, this is an old line carrier where the employees just don't care. They make several announcements over the PA. No response from the two in the aisle. Another three minutes go by before one of the flight attendants finally fights her way past the remaining crowd to tell the girls they have to check their bags. Arguments ensue. Finally the bags are loaded below.

Normal loading, they close the plane 10 or so minutes before scheduled departure. We were on target for that. Instead, the door is closed 7 minutes after scheduled departure. 17 extra minutes. You sure you want that extra revenue? Do airline accountants understand the difference between revenue and profitability? Given that the industry in its entire history has lost money, probably not.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

No, it's definitely not the Phoenician any more

Item 1: Our reception. Five hundred people, maybe? Three bartenders. As you might imagine, the scrum around the bar was considerable. Contrast this what happened at our PC conference in the late 80's. We had commandeered (in)famous Cabana #9 for the PC staff and friends. Maybe a dozen of us. We kept the waiter busy to a point where he said "we don't normally have this much business on a Wednesday and so we're thinly staffed" (just him), but he called for he could serve us exclusively. 1:12 vs 3:500...I'd say the attitude has changed. And the staff hasn't been redeployed. Witness...

Item 2: The men's room, mid-afternoon. It's not like this was immediately after a conference break but perhaps a good 20 minutes after. Note: this is a "high class" joint so the hand towels are cloth. Need I say more?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

United/USAirways Dead?

Is the deal really dead? I love how they term it "permanent hold." Frankly, this deal makes too much sense to go through. I mean you've got two airlines who have such stellar records. USAirways is still digesting (regurgitating over?) AmericaWest. United's pilots have an oustanding record for cooperative negotiation. I'm not sure, therefore, what the difference between "permanent hold" and "we're moving as fast as we can" might be. Not much from where I sit.

I remember, back when I flew United, a conversation I had on the Dulles people mover with a United pilot, who was trying to convince me that their work slowdown was being done for us. I said "if you want to know what we want you to do, fly the damned airplane." He started to argue but several other passengers reiterated my message, forcefully, and he was smart enough to realize that advancing an unpopular position in a closed vehicle was probably not a good idea.

USAir can't do an integration. United's work force will screw things up. The biggest thing arguing for this deal is that by combining two losing ventures into one, at least there will be just a single bankruptcy filing to manage, and no doubt it will be accelerated by the merger efforts.

UPDATE: Of course it's not over.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

USAirways Boarding Mayhem

I just love when airline employees don't care. I've heard it said more than once that USAir's customer service motto is "we're not happy until you're not happy." They must have been delighted today. Flying JFK-PHX, they start boarding the pre-boards. Everyone, and this is of course a nearly full plane, makes for the gate. First class boards. People at the back of the line, evidently tired of waiting, form their own line to the right of the original line, rearranging the boarding lanes to get to the front. The gate agent not only doesn't stop this, she just begins processing people from the new line. Second gate agent comes over to help, asking "who are we boarding?" Despite the fact that they had made no announcements whatsover after first class, the agent says "groups 1-4."

The good news, I suppose, is that the plane was a little early. Also, more kudos for Clear. Security lines were longer than usual -- post holiday weekend, I imagine -- but my time in line was under a minute, and that long only because it took me three tries to get my fingerprint to read properly.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse...

Frontier is now charging an additional $25 for carrying antlers. Once Wall Street calculates the revenue potential from this move...

United's Bogus Rationale

I was just going through some old email and came across this missive from United:

"To ensure that Mileage Plus miles earned toward elite status and award travel on United are aligned with actual miles flown, we are revising our base accrual policy. Beginning July 1, 2008, for flights of less than 500 miles, passengers will earn redeemable miles equal to the actual miles flown. Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) will also be awarded based on actual miles."

It almost sounds reasonable, doesn't it. Only get miles for miles you fly. However, think of it this way. In my experience, the only flights I take of less than 500 miles are shuttle flights like LGA-BOS and LGA-DCA/IAD. On a cost/mile flown, these are among the most expensive flights operating. American at least has the decency to peg its points (as compared to its miles) to fare basis. United is now giving its flyers a double-whammy. High per mile charges *and* fewer miles.

This would bother me more but I almost never fly United any more. After over a million miles on United, I gave up on them a few years ago. I'll probably get into that with other posts but at least I don't have to muster the vitriol about United's actions the way I do American's these days.

As an aside, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised but I guess I am that I haven't heard from United. Something along the lines of "hey, you used to be Global Services, you were VIP before we even formalized the Global Services program, you were good for 50-150,000 miles/year and now you've fallen off the face of the earth. What happened?" You'd think they'd care. You'd think they'd notice. Perhaps they lost sight of what the whole value of LOYALTY programs were all about.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

It's Not the Phoenician...any more

The Phoenician in Scottsdale ( ) used to be my gold standard for hotels. Back in the late 80's and early/mid 90's, it was arguably the best hotel I ever stayed it. The facilities were over the top (as only a savings & loan cheat like Keating could do) and the service surpassed the facilities. It was so fabulous that it became a running joke in my family. Whenever we went somewhere and that hotel lacked some facility or some service attitude, my standard answer was "well, this isn't the Phoenician." "It's not the Phoenician" became the standard by which we measured service effectiveness.

Of course then came the S&L crisis and the hotel ended up in the hands of Starwood, as part of its Luxury Connection. I actually haven't been back there since then but I'll be flying out to Phoenix on Tuesday and already I've got serious concerns.

I sent an email last night to the Phoenician, asking for information and an addition to my reservation record. With the old Phoenician, I would have gotten a reply within 15 minutes and the response would have no doubt exceeded my expectations in terms of customer service. Now...well, it's about 24 hours later and I've heard not a word from the hotel. If you're going to list your email address on the home page of your Internet site and if you're going to promote yourself as "the luxury collection," you'd think maybe they'd take the time to monitor their inbox. I can't imagine the volumes are that high, especially in this straddle season. To me, it says they're not paying attention to the little things any more. Now maybe they're going to surprise me. Maybe it's going to be world class. Maybe there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for why I haven't heard back from them.

All I know, though, is that I'm going there thinking "it's not the Phoenician...any more."

UPDATE: I heard from them Monday afternoon. Not exactly timely response. And of course, the reply was "you'll have to talk to this other person." So I sent the other person an immediate email. Keep in mind that I'm on a plane Tuesday morning at 9:45. Of course, I get that person's OOF message, saying they won't be in until Tuesday. Of course no one's monitoring this inbox for time-sensitive matters even while this was the one given to me. So I finally heard from this person Tuesday morning...after I was already in the air. I got the message when I landed in Phoenix. That's real useful. NOT.

UPDATE 2: Last chance to redeem themselves. I arrive at check-in. No acknowledgement of Starwood status. No upgrade. "Ordinary" room. Yes, the rooms here are nice but nothing. Oh, by the way, here's what says about room upgrades:

"Enhanced Rooms. Rather than redeeming Starpoints for a better room, you’re entitled to an automatic room upgrade at check-in when one is available. An enhanced room includes rooms on higher floors, corner rooms, newly renovated rooms, or rooms with preferred views."

I guess it wasn't available. No, it's most definitely not the Phoenician I remember. My last hopes, dashed.

Friday, May 23, 2008

American is Listening to Me???

I think American needs to employ a new research methodology. Here's what they say in their newsletter, which was sent out last night:

"Did you know that AA employs a full-time team of research analysts who conduct various types of qualitative and quantitative research designed to gather customer feedback?
The AA Customer Research department surveys thousands of customers on a continuous basis and gathers other additional ad-hoc feedback frequently. A variety of research methodologies are used, including online surveys, in-flight surveys, syndicated tracking surveys, telephone interviews, usability testing, one-on-one interviews and focus groups to gather feedback from its customers. "

I guess their research methodology is actually highly targeted: they're able to pinpoint audiences that are guaranteed to rubber stamp whatever hairbrained idea the beancounters come up with. Given the cacophony of disgust over this baggage charge, finding people who think this is a good idea are probably few and far between so kudos to the American research analysts who are able to ferret out these supporters of the move.

Being a research analyst myself, however, I have some advice to the American researchers and marketers:

Then again, perhaps this say more about American's management. Presented with the overwhelming evidence that this was an epically stupid move, they concluded "we know better." My advice to American's researchers: prepare your resumes. Somewhere management is going to throw you under the bus. "Our research failed to appreciate how much our most loyal customers, who are not subject to this insane charge anyhow, would be distressed by it." You know it's coming.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why I Love Clear

I'm a new member of the Clear registered traveler program ( If you're not familiar with this, basically at airports that support the program (not enough, yet), you get to bypass the credential check line (though not the baggage check procedure) by going through a dedicated Clear line (where there's never a line).

For the privilege, you have to pay $100/year (plus a fee to have your background checked; terrorists need not apply). If you're a premium flyer, you may think "why would I need this; I already have dedicated lines." I'd note a few things:
  1. There are sometimes 10-15 minute lines even at premium lanes. I've never waited more than a minute at a Clear line.
  2. At key convention airports -- MCO, LAS-- there are often no premium lines or very limited, and long regular lines. If you go there once or twice a year, this alone justifies the fee. And they just announced an agreement with ATL.
  3. Only because of Clear did I make my flight last week. The SFO rental car shuttle broke down and we had to wait for busses. As you might imagine, they were slow and the net result was a bunch of people arriving all at once...and lining up, even in the premium line, all at once. I was the only Clear flyer...three minutes and I was through security. They even escorted me to the very front of the baggage check line, ahead of the six people who were waiting to take off their shoes.


  1. You still have to go through the baggage checking process.
  2. They're still not widely available in my home airports, New York area and Boston, though they're hinting at progress in New York.
  3. My fingerprints are now in someone's database. Before this, I had never been fingerprinted.
  4. It takes at least 20 minutes to go through the whole sign-up process and fingerprinting/face capture, and usually the sign-up kiosks are on the OUTside of security, so it's not like you can jump over and do it while you're waiting for a delayed flight, only if you get there early. Save yourself some time and begin the sign-up process online if you're going to do it.

If you sign up, tell them DSCAM1164007 sent you; that's my referral code and I'll get free months or something if you use this.

American's $15 Bag Fee

Beware the law of unintended consequences. Here's the scenario:

  • Infrequent flyers have to pay for the first bag.
  • So they carry on.
  • Being infrequent flyers, they slow the boarding process.
  • Flights take longer to board.
  • Things run late.
  • Which costs the airline way more than the revenue they generate.
  • Overhead compartments fill up sooner.
  • Late arriving frequent flyers get really pissed.

Even though we're not subject to the fee, we're caught in the unintended consequences.

And what are they going to do when the bins fill up? Charge $15 for the gate check?? Can they do that? If not, is that the loophole. Everyone carry on and check at the gate. More delays. More baggage handling costs. These old line idiots are really trying hard to push us frequent flyers to JetBlue, aren't they.

Why this blog

I've flown over 100,000 miles/year for 23 of the last 25 years. I'm over a million miles on United and I'll probably get there on American. Obviously I've seen a lot in the course of those 3+ million miles. Perhaps it was the straw that broke the camel's back but American's announcement today that it's going to charge $15 for the first bag just sent me over the edge. Yes, I know as an American Platinum flyer, I'm not going to be subject to that fee. But I am going to be impacted by it. (See my next post.)

So, instead of stewing about it, I'm going to write about it. I'm going to document the good, the bad and, often, the very ugly of what I see and what I've seen. Through it all, I've learned a few lessons and I'll share those.

That said, I think the deterioration of the industry is so complete in the United States that perhaps those lessons are no longer valid. Just one example: my travel mantra used to be "treat people with God-like powers like, well, God." That gate agent or hotel check-in agent had/has incredible power. Upgraded room? Pow. Seat by the lavatory. Bang. So I'd approach these people with great bonhommie -- that's my general nature anyhow -- and somehow not surprisingly these people who take so much abuse on a regular basis responded with open relief and joy. I didn't always get an upgrade, mind you, but I at least got a smile. Now, however, the abuse is so widespread, the customer so disspirited, the employer so out-of-touch, that these attempts at goodwill are all too often falling on ears so deaf that they're unwilling or unable to notice the humanity. It's as if the efficiency expert told them it take 0.03 seconds to smile and that over the course of a year that'll cost you the ability to process two customers. It has gotten so bad that I have just about given up on my attempt to show goodwill and humor.

Is this really where we want to be?? In my professional life, I talk a lot about the move from a product to a service economy (and what technology can do to enable that). The travel and hospitality industry is moving in the exact opposite direction.

And so I'll write.