Monday, December 13, 2010

Another Flawed Premise

A recent CNN article asserts that the airlines will continue raising fees until the customers start to revolt. “Airline Baggage Fees Top $2.5 billion” The author fails to realize that in many markets the consumer doesn’t have a choice with respect to such fees and, therefore, is coerced into paying if they want to travel. Sure, you can carry your luggage on-board, but then you have to jump through the TSA maze of how much of this and that you carry (such luxury items as deodorant and toothpaste…) and make a choice about getting a close shave while on the road (some of us don’t do well with electrics and I’d rather use sandpaper than a hotel disposable.) So what choice do we have other than to take the abuse? The agents at the ticket counter have no input (they just get to endure the wrath of the annoyed customers) and the poor flight attendants now get to play baggage handler.
Rest assured that if Southwest Airlines served my local airport they would earn the majority of my business; they don’t abuse their customers with baggage fees or gouge them with unreasonable change fees. Apparently they still value their customers while all the other airlines merely give lip service to the value they place on their customers. One day the airlines will wake up and find themselves facing certain bankruptcy, not because they have bypassed an opportunity to bilk every available dime from their customers, but because they have consumed every ounce of goodwill that they have ever generated with their customers. Several times a year I travel to areas that I can only reach by flying Delta. I recently got a Delta credit card for the sole purpose of avoiding baggage fees. A quick calculation indicates that I’ll recover many times the annual fee (free the first year) even if I travel alone.
I’m really stunned that such a large group of alleged intelligent people such as the people who manage our airline industry can be so horribly short-sighted to believe that there will be no consequences for their abusive behavior. If they are that inept then their collective boards of directors must even be worse.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Review of Timbuk2 Custom Messenger Bag

Customize your own Messenger

Not bad
By Kit the Multitasker from Wilmington , NC on 8/21/2010
Pros: Attractive, High Quality, Comfortable , Roomy 
Cons: Not Flexible, Not enough compartments
Best Uses: Extended trips , Airplane travel , Commuting
Describe Yourself: Career, Practical
I love the look and construction of the bag. The adjustable strap is a huge win, but I don’t know if I could tolerate a loaded bag without the add-on padded strap. The compartments that are provided are adequate for some uses but too small for others while the large central pocket is too large to keep items organized. I’m most disappointed that the laptop sleeve is sewn in to the bag – this wasn’t obvious on the website and the written description led me to think that the sleeve was like the other bag accessories, not an integral part of the bag. A flap pocket would be nice, but isn’t a deal breaker.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Clueless Travelers

Tuesday we flew home from a conference in Las Vegas. Curbside check-in was a breeze and only a few minutes later our IDs had been checked and we were in the process of going through the security check. (I'd like to point out that the TSA folks were exceptionally courteous and efficient - a rare combination.) I politely invited a lady to move ahead of me in the line since Lourie was behind her, thus allowing us to stay together. Boy, was that a mistake! Despite the fact that she had on NO excessive accessories (large belt, jewelry, etc) that needed to be put through x-ray, had no laptop or other large electronic device that needed to be removed from her luggage and was wearing slip-on shoes she was the SLOWEST person I have seen in the security line in ages. As she removed each shoe it was given a careful examination with commentary on the flaws she discovered along with lamentations over the lack of quality in their construction. This was all done while standing in one spot - heaven forbid we slide our belongings towards the X-ray machine in the process and make some degree of progress! Then she had to remove her hat (with even more commentary) and finally made it through the metal detector. In the epoch that it took her to remove two shoes and a hat I removed my laptop and placed it in a bin, put my wallet and Blackberry in my bag, removed my shoes (cross-trainers, not slip-ons) and had everything on the belt, ready to pass through x-ray. I was reasonably confident that by the time I passed through the metal detector she would have slipped on her shoes, plopped on her hat, grabbed her suitcase and gone on about her business. WRONG. She was standing with her suitcase blocking the exit from the X-ray machine, slowly collecting her shoes and hat, then carefully putting them back on. I grabbed my bag, laptop and shoes and moved around her to the "dressing" area. I was re/un-packed with shoes tied by the time she managed to sashay past. Despite all the written and verbal instruction provided by TSA this poor lady was so clueless that it must certainly be painful! I'm certain that if they had an "experienced traveler" line she would have made that choice.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Air Travel

I would consider myself an above-average user of our airline system and a fairly saavy traveler.   About ten years ago I flew almost weekly, these days it averages out to about every 6-8 weeks, almost exclusively on two airlines.  In all of my flying I can count on two hands the number of unpleasant experiences I’ve endured.  I can count on one hand those experiences that were not related to the weather and of the remainder there are just a couple that occurred on the plane – most are due to surly ticket agents and carry-on luggage nazis that “pre screen” the number and size of your items.  Ironically enough, the longest ramp delay I’ve ever experienced doesn’t even rank among my most unpleasant.  While inconvenient and a general nuisance, the overall circumstances were about as tolerable as they come.
I was flying Delta (yes, I’ll mention names – and do my best to give praise as readily as criticism) leaving Atlanta for Oklahoma City on an August evening a couple of years ago.  It should come as no surprise that there were thunderstorms in the area, so traffic was a bit sluggish to begin with.   After lining up for one end of the runway the winds changed, so ATC reversed the field and sent everyone scurrying to the opposite end of the runway. (I’d love to see this ballet from the tower, I’m sure it’s a challenge both in the air and on the ground.)  As we reach our place in line at the other end of the runway a huge storm parks over the field and ATC shuts down operations.  At this point we are already 30 minutes beyond scheduled departure.  When the Captain informs us that we will be sitting for a while there are mostly shrugs – we’re fortunate to be on an MD-80 that is only about 2/3 full, the sun has set and we have a crew that has just come on duty.  We can move about, use our phones and electronics, visit the restrooms and generally make ourselves comfortable.  Snacks and soft drinks are also available if you take a short walk to the galley and the 1 1/2 hours passes without incident, in large part due to the courtesy of the flight attendants and the updates from the captain. When the storm passes, guess what? The winds have changed again, so it’s back to the other end of the runway. Fortunately we were adjacent to an intersecting taxiway and ended up #2 for departure, which caused a bit of a scurry as everyone re-prepped for takeoff, but the mood remained light.
Fast forward to the past few months. I’ve flown a bit more frequently in late 2009 and the first half of 2010 on a combination of business and family trips. Now, those of us who travel with such extravagant items as a razor (electrics have never worked well for me) shaving cream (for use with said razor) toothpaste, and deodorant (of all things!) are forced to pay an additional fee to check our bags. They call it “un-bundling fees” but apparently they think we all have the logical capacity of an opossum.
For those of you who were in a coma the past several years, there was a huge run-up in fuel prices after a combination of storms and mishaps impacted refining capacity. Those issues have long since been resolved and prices have moderated significantly (a decrease of about $2 per gallon, generally speaking)
In the midst of all this airfares increased, fees became “un-bundled” and passenger services were cut. Keep in mind that self-service check-in also increased (so your services were cut even before you got on the plane) and luggage weight limits were decreased from ~70lbs to 50lbs. (Don’t even get me started on flying internationally, where your 50lb suitcase is just fine for the trip over, but on the way back it becomes ~22.7 kg, which exceeds the 22kg limit imposed on the other end of the trip!) Now your empty suitcase consumes nearly 20% of your alloted 50lbs, assuming you have something of fairly recent vintage. In many cases airlines also added seats to some planes, decreasing precious legroom. I’m of average height (5-9) and if my legs are cramped I know something is wrong.
Now, every time you board an aircraft, thanks to all these additional fees and decreases in service you get to enjoy any number of inconveniences. First, and most likely, as you come down the jet bridge you get to run the gate-check obstacle course. No one has been able to explain to me why it apparently costs the airlines nothing to place these bags in the hold while my bag, checked at the counter and handled most of the time by machinery, costs them some portion of $15-$23, depending upon the airline. After we survive the obstacle course and make it on the plane we are faced with what I like to call “The Gauntlet.”
“The Gauntlet” consists of making it to your seat without suffering grave injury from the wild combination of suitcases falling from the overhead, passengers moving upstream with items too large to fit in the overhead and flight attendants squeezing through the aisle attempting to mitigate the damage from the two prior insults. After you finally get to your seat the danger still exists, especially if you are seated on the aisle. Somehow, all the angst and discontent that this exercise creates – all in the name of “un-bundling” – is lost on the airline bean-counters. As someone who doesn’t haul everything into the cabin I find it an affront that I’m forced to deal with the headache when I’ve paid to avoid it. Hey, airlines – how about preferred boarding for those who pony up for checked baggage? Let me take my seat before the circus starts, at least then I’m not having to deal with the salmon-esque machinations of everyone else.
Upon arrival at your destination there’s a whole new obstacle course to navigate, this one of feet and carry-on bags as everyone lines the sides of the jetway waiting for their luggage to be retrieved from the cargo hold. With all the other irritations, change fees have gotten outrageous as well. I’ve never failed to inform the airlines of how stupid they are on this issue when the chance presents itself. Last summer I was booked to fly from OKC to ILM on Monday morning. Sunday morning it became apparent that our meetings would end much earlier than anticipated so I called Delta to inquire about changing to a Sunday evening flight. There were seats available for Sunday evening, but Delta wanted a $100 change fee, plus an additional $300 for the difference in the cost of the airfare. I told them (not politely, mind you) that they were out of their minds and spent the night in OKC. The next morning they ended up compensating two people $400 each due to the flight being overbooked. I refused to take a bump on the principle of the matter and politely informed the gate agent that I attempted to fly out the night before but Delta’s asinine policy put revenue ahead of common sense. Given the choice to use something that is about to become worthless (such as an empty airline seat after the plane leaves the gate) and replace it with something of potential value (an airline seat the next day) doesn’t logic dictate that you at least try to preserve value? Obviously not in the airline industry.
Again, how does this specialized handling of baggage represent a cost benefit to the airline? I’d love to hear an answer to that one. Better yet, explain to me how you can claim rising fuel prices were the catalyst for cutting services, then fail to reinstate the services when the fuel prices dropped? Southwest Airlines allows two free checked bags and has the most reasonable cancellation and change policies I’ve ever seen, along with ridiculously affordable fares. Perhaps the other airlines should learn from their example?
As it is, the only thing the airlines are proving is that they will squeeze the markets where they have no competition to extract every dime they can, no matter what the cost.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Here We Go!

Carnac predicts:
  1. Much slicing and dicing of the healthcare legislation in the “reconciliation” process.
  2. Constitutional challenge to the participation mandate contained in the legislation (assuming it survives reconciliation)
  3. A massive purging of the Senate and House in the mid-terms
  4. A single term for Obama.
None of this has to do with my personal feelings on the legislation itself, it’s how I’m reading the public reaction.
Just as ‘W’ insured the election of anything that the Dems nominated, through his short-sighted strong-arm tactics, Ms. Pelosi has just returned the favor and given the GOP an early gift.
 As my Razorback, Yalie, Pinko Kalifornia brother pointed out – FDR didn’t get accolades in his time, he was often accused of being a Commie.  The negative perception of health care reform (does it have an official name that is less than 20 words long?) on top of the struggle for positive spin over the past year means that Obama will get covered up by the fallout.  Everyone who is not in lock-step with the administration now has fodder to carry them well past the mid-terms.  The mid-term fallout will overshadow the beginning of the 2012 Presidential campaign season and Obama will be fighting an uphill battle to clinch a second term.
As usual, the public reaction is unfettered backlash that is lacking in thoughtful examination of the reality of the proposed program.  A monumental amount of work has gone in to the legislation, and anything this large and complex is going to have warts and blemishes.  Along with the rough spots there are some sections that give much-needed relief to people with genetic diseases. 
We’re on the brink of a system that will allow people, regardless of their genetic predisposition for (pick a disease) to be screened at an earlier stage without fear of jeopardizing their future health care coverage.  How many lives will we save or improve from this single aspect of the program?
At first glance my biggest problems with the plan are:
  1. Mandatory participation
  2. Any involvement of the IRS in the enforcement of participation
The IRS is marginally competent (at best) at managing our tax system, they need to stay far away from our health care system or we’ll all be signing up for the death squads to put us out of our misery.
The last election gave the Dems the opportunity to bring things to the center and hold power for at least 2-3 Presidential terms, but by all accounts they have replicated the failings of the GOP and overestimated their popularity, ultimately to their own detriment. Term limits, anyone?
Common sense is certainly dead within the halls of Congress – time for that change that Obama promised….