Delta: Literary Punch Line

DeltaI couldn’t let more time go by without posting about Delta (I know, you’re just wondering why I let so much time go by without posting at all)…(wait, that’s assuming you actually care when/if I post)… (daring assumption)…(daring over-use of multiple parentheses)… But back to Delta.

Yes, Delta. Just when you thought it was safe to open those over-head bins, another snafu by the airline comes tumbling into your aisle seat. In this case, it came in the form of art imitating life. Now using “air travel” — and specifically Delta — in the same sentence with “art” solicits arguments of its own, but this occasion was just too perfect.

Jacket Image SILKEN PREYI recently finished “Silken Prey,” a crime thriller by John Sanford, which I enjoyed. But what I enjoyed more, was this excerpt from Chapter 20… The protagonist sent a colleague to Albuquerque, NM, to do some recon, and knowing the man should actually be on a plane, but finding him here at his kitchen table, broached the topic:

“How was Albuquerque?”

“You got me a ticket on Delta. What do you think happened?”

“The plane broke?”

“Exactly. They’re bringing another one from Chicago. Revised departure time is 10 PM, assuming that the replacement plane makes it this far. They’re probably bringing it on a truck.”

Beautiful. Just beautiful. Delta Airlines has become so synonymous with poor customer service, flight cancellations, and maintenance issues, that it’s become a target for humorous dialog  in pop culture crime fiction. And given the 4 hours I spent at O’Hare in Chicago last week waiting for a flight to Minneapolis, I’m inclined to agree. And laugh. Now, if we could all just bank Sky Miles for the hours we have to spend waiting in terminals courtesy of Delta, we’d all have Platinum Status by now!

Just for fun, let’s take a poll… 

Overheard, Overhead, and Just Plain Over It

courtesy independenttraveler.com

We’ve all been there. We’ve all participated. Whether we wanted to or not. It’s the latest in business travel communications: the ONBOARD CONFERENCE CALL (OCC). Ah yes, it’s coming back to you, isn’t it? The boarding process is nearly complete, stragglers are filing in, and then that ONE individual boards who just happens to be in the middle of some self-important business call. And then the OCC kicks in. It’s something none of us ever really anticipated, this opportunity to brainstorm and provide real time feedback on a piece of business we don’t own, nor for which we can ever bill. But it gets dropped in our lap, nearly every time we take to the air.

One of my favorite things about the OCC is that the host is typically oblivious to anyone or anything outside of the ongoing call, and always seems to obnoxiously project the conversation all the way to the back of the plane. Hell, even the ground crew can hear it. And his briefcases or backpack beat fellow passengers up side the head with every twist and turn as he moves down the aisle toward his seat. Iced coffees get handed off to seat mates — or land in their lap — while he maneuvers past the aisle and middle seat to the inevitable window seat, only to discover he is in the wrong row. And then begin the apologies — not to fellow passengers, mind you, but to the person on the other end of the phone. “OH, SORRY, RICK. JUST BOARDED THE PLANE AND TRYING TO GET SETTLED. SORRY CAN YOU HANG ON A MINUTE?” Requests to wrap up the call by a flight attendant are met with a smile, nod, and a “one minute more” index finger that all of us want to return with a smile, nod and a “shut it up now” middle finger. But instead, we share eye rolls and sniggers, listen a little more intently, and secretly hope the competitive data and merger next steps being discussed on the OCC might prove potentially valuable to us or our clients.

Oddly, this same individual seems to dial right back in to the same OCC the minute wheels touch the runway, even pre-taxi status. “OH YEAH. MADE REAL GOOD TIME. SO, LIKE I WAS SAYING…” And so it begins again, but this time around, the OCC host cradles the phone against his shoulder, grabs his briefcase in the other, and then — while continuing his OCC — shrugs, smiles, and pantomimes that there is no way he can get his roller bag out of the overhead compartment while keeping the phone conversation going, visually pleading for some poor schmuck across the aisle to lift his bag down for him. And inevitably, someone does. And in unison, the silent screams of the rest of the passengers race toward the heavens and universe at large in the hope that cosmic karma will prevail, and the OCC host will hop in a cab with a driver he can’t understand, who won’t take credit cards (when all he has is cash), drop him at the wrong hotel, and drive away with his Blackberry buzzing on the back seat.

Is that so wrong?

Can You Hear Me (Flush) Now?

Courtesy pointsincase.com

As a business traveler, I’m all about connectivity. Email me, text me, IM me, Facebook me, DM me, or yes, call me. But do not expect me to answer the phone from a urinal or, worse, a bathroom stall. It will not happen. I promise you. It. Will. Not. Happen. However, I can’t vouch for the rest of the male world. Sorry. It’s definitely happening. There are men all across the country who are downloading their co-worker on a client meeting or updating their boss on financials while adjusting their junk at a urinal or sitting on a toilet with their pants around their ankles. Classy, right? It’s true. And so very wrong. I came across a statistic in a training session the other day that boldly claimed that roughly 46% of people have used their smart phones while in the bathroom. And when asked for a live show of hands in the session, that statistic was embarrassingly confirmed. And yes, ladies, you are included in that statistic. I’d like to believe that the majority of that “use” percentage reflects surfing the Web, but the phone conversations I’m not only privy to, but inadvertently participating in, at the urinal, lead me to believe otherwise. Huffington Post Tech recently shared stats from a Google survey calling out that 39% of smartphone users have used their phones while going to the bathroom. Not in the bathroom — going to the bathroom. These conversations also beg the more important questions: Are our bathroom conversationalists washing their hands? Are they washing their phones? If there is a stat on that, I don’t think I want to see it.

Scroll Down, Moron

Paperless Boarding Pass

Travel sucks nowadays. We all know that. Airlines can’t guarantee arrivals or departures. Meteorologists can’t guarantee the weather. The only thing guaranteed is bad food and weak drinks for as long as you are stuck in the airport. However, there are a few technology bits that at least make it more fun, if not more convenient, if used correctly. Yes, bolded and italicized for a reason.

Paperless boarding passes are not all that new. I’ve been using them for a while now (yes, you can thank Chris, like that’s any big surprise). They download quickly. They pop up quickly on my iPhone. Done and done. The challenge? You have to remember to scroll down to view ALL of your flight information.

I flew into Chicago Midway for a quick in-and-out day at the OLSON Dig offices, worked hard, played hard, and headed home. Got to Midway, got through security, got to the electronic scanner, and: “Invalid.” Tried again. “Invalid.” So, I head back up to the Delta ticket counter to alert them that their scanning device was acting up, only to have them discover that my flight was out of Chicago O’Hare and NOT Midway! WTF?!?! Yeah, Chicago O’Hare. Scroll down, moron. Scroll down. Idiot!

MORE of the Paperless Boarding Pass

I look down at my watch, look back at the Delta ticket agent, and she points to the airport door and says: “Go!” So I go! Plowing through travelers and doors and diving into the nearest cab! In the meantime, I mentally insert myself into that car commercial where the woman is driving the man to the airport, weaving in and out of traffic and squealing to a stop at the curb, only to see him look at his ticket, hop back and say: “LaGuardia, not JFK!” — and the car peels out through traffic. That was me. (Later, we’ll discuss the efficacy of that commercial, given I have no idea what make or model the car was, just the faces of the man and woman through the windshield…) $75 and an hour and 15 minutes later? Safe and sound at Chicago O’Hare, sipping a weak Margerita (yes, I added a shot), eating someone else’s fries (don’t ask) and talking HR with a woman named Cindy who was trying to get to Nashville to see her boyfriend. Sometimes being a nervous traveler and getting to the airport 2 hours ahead of your flight works to your advantage. If you’re willing to pay for it… and poke fun at yourself.

Cross Check and All Call

I’ve been traveling so much lately that these words have become my mantra. They may even become the names of my next generation of Dachshunds. Just imagining the look on people’s faces when they ask the names of my cute little mutts gets me through a rough take-off or landing nowadays. But I never knew what the words actually meant until today. I mean, I figured I kind of new what they meant, but it never hurts to Google, right? Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my quest for knowledge: 57, 700 hits on Google confirmed that air travelers everywhere are hungry for the answer. So, here it is… or, at least one version:

From my friends at salon.com (who knew they had an “ask the pilot” column?):

  • “Cross-check” is a generic term used by pilots and flight attendants meaning that one person has verified the action of another.
  • “All-call” is another variation on the doors procedures, above. Each cabin crew member reports to the lead flight attendant or purser that the doors and slides are properly set.

Now I wonder how our sexy Delta in-flight video star would bring those terms to life? That’s another video just waiting for production… Hmmm… “Gut-check” and “Last call”? Have at it.

One Way Ticket to Paradise

Photo courtesy: NYMagazine

Living in Minneapolis, I am well aware of the monopoly factor when it comes to airlines. Delta has us locked down, the same way other airlines lock down Chicago, Denver, Dallas/Ft. Worth, etc. And then when I think about how the airline industry as a whole has us locked down in general — from time on the tarmac to baggage costs to seating choices (within coach, mind you) — well, you know what happens: I POST ABOUT IT! Today is no different… After fasting, praying, visiting psychics, paying bookies, and yes, even throwing in a donation or two to the Humane Society in the hopes that Delta would actually offer a reasonable fare for a round-trip ticket for Chris to see his mom for the holidays (you remember her last experience with Delta and air travel? she won’t be visiting us for years, thank you very much, Delta), and STILL not finding anything under $65o for the measly one-hour flight, I called my buddy, Dan (buddy? god, I just had a straight moment) to commiserate and discovered he had found a way to beat the system.

He has some time off between gigs, and decided he wanted to spend it with friends, but was constantly frustrated with the cost of round-trip air travel. So he altered his plans a bit, added a few lay-overs rather than directs, and SURPRISE! Affordable air travel! Check it out:

  • NYC – Palm Springs = $130 (1-stop)
  • Palm Springs – Seattle = $120 (1-stop)
  • Seattle – Sacramento = $129 (direct)
  • Sacramento – Palm Springs = $84 (direct)
  • PSP – Orlando = $129 (1-stop)
  • Orlando – Minneapolis = $109 (direct)
  • Minneapolis – Cincinnati = $199 (1-stop)
  • Baggage Fee on 4 flights = $25 per flight

GRAND TOTAL: $1,000 in air transportation costs (tax included)

Now can you beat that? Really? $900 in air fare to 7 cities? So I started to think about the friends I had in cities close enough to one another for a quick drive between them or the cities with multiple airports within 20 miles, and I realized that while not necessarily convenient (and really, is air travel convenient anyway?), there was a method to Dan’s madness. Now, it helps that he is cheap. Really cheap. Cheaper than my sister-in-law, Gail (love you both. mean it.)… And on certain occasions, the last thing I want to do is spend that much time working out my travel schedule. But why not? Am I that addicted to immediate gratification? Apparently so. But New Year’s is just around the corner, and I’ll deal with that resolution then. In the mean time, I’ll celebrate Dan’s ingenuity and good fortune. I do get a visit out of it, after all!

United Downgrades Their Upgrades

I’m in Utah this weekend for the glorious wedding of my sister, Jana. In typical Mormon fashion, when the deal was signed, the date gets set, and then you have anywhere from two weeks to six weeks to lock in all the details. Including flights. So I hopped on Travelocity to land some budget airfare, and succeeded with a cross between Frontier and United — neither of whom I fly frequently (remember Delta? yeah…).

So today I went to check in on United as soon as I could, knowing that my seating options would be miserable if I didn’t get on as close to 24 hours prior as possible. This whole notion of with-holding seats never made sense to me. Until today. Today? It made cents. You got to check in, and you are immediately met with an option to spend $139 to upgrade your flight to premium status — “because it’s worth it,” according to the United website. So, of course I decline. What’s the point of the discounted airfare in the first place, right?

So, I move to the seating assignments, only to find that there are no available seats, except for the premium seating, and the back of the plane is blocked from view, with no scrolling features or links to get you there to view availability. I hate air travel as much as the next guy, so the thought of middle seats was too much. $19 gets me front of the plane in premium seating. Done. Added to shopping cart. Then I move to the second leg of the flight (yes, connecting flights… remember the discounted fare?), and again, nothing available, same lame trap. But on this flight, the cost of the premium seating is $39! I contemplate a bit… remember the incredibly large people on all sides of me (and no, I would NOT let them leave the middle arm rests up!), and gave in. Done. Added to shopping cart.

$58 later, I’m now trying to check out. And, of course I’m met with yet another offer to “fly through the airport security lines” for an additional $19. Are you kidding me? Enough already. I click on “skip this for now” (like they really think I’m going to scroll back after a few moments’ thought?) and  move to the next screen. ANOTHER OFFER! This one is to upgrade my mileage secured on the trip through a purchase of, you guessed it, $19! Ridiculous. All I wanted to do was check in for my flight, and I’m bombarded by one financial upgrade offer after another. Was I checking in or checking out? Give me a break. Focus on flying, United. Leave the web shopping to Amazon.