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Thursday, April 08, 2010
Coming and Going

A few years ago, a couple of the major airlines started charging passengers for checked luggage, ostensibly to help offset higher fuel prices. Now, nearly all airlines--with the notable exception of Southwest--have followed suit with an array of fees and surcharges that apply to almost all checked luggage. Despite the fact that fuel prices have fallen from their 2008 highs and since stabilized, it seems unlikely that the airlines are going to roll back these charges and give up this new found revenue streams any time soon.

Since airline passengers are at least a semi-rational lot, many have reacted to these checked baggage fees by taking steps to avoid paying them. The most commonly employed tactic is to pack smaller bags that can be carried on. This allows passengers to not only save a little lucre by not checking a bag, but also allows them to avoid having to wait for the checked luggage after deplaning. Can you really blame passengers for behaving in such a logical manner?

Well, if you're an airline you certainly can. On a recent Delta flight from Denver to Minneapolis, I found it amusing (and a little irritating) to listen to flight attendants haranguing passengers about the quantity and size of carry-on luggage. During boarding, the chief attendant made a couple of scowling, snippy announcements along the lines of:

"Since we have a lot of passengers carrying on luggage today," (eyes rolling) "'re going to have to make sure your bag is stowed properly in the overhead bin." ( Bitter sigh) "And if you have two bags, only one can go in the overhead bin. You'll have to place the other bag under the seat in front of you."

"You stupid f***ing people and your stupid f***ing carry-on bags can all just go to hell!"

Okay, the last line is bit of an exaggeration, but that was definitely the vibe that we were getting from Delta's representatives. I was tempted to stand up and scream:

"Quit yer bitchin'! You don't like us carrying our bags on? Then tell your airline to quit gouging us for checking bags. This ain't rocket science here lady. Your airline created the problem, now shut up and deal with it."

But discretion and even more fear that my outburst would be labeled as terrorism and I'd get a one-way ticket to Gitmo (still open, eh?) or be placed on President Obama's Predator Drone Hit List of American Citizens lead me to keep my peace.

The solution to the problem of too many bags being carried on because of fees to check luggage? If you're in the airline business it's obvious: charge fees to carry-on:

One solution to paying fees for checked baggage -- carrying your baggage onto the flight -- is on its way out. Privately-held Spirit Airlines announced today it's going to start charging as much as $45 for carry-on luggage that's put in an overhead bin. The airline said anything stuffed under the seat in front of passengers will still be free, which should add a new headache to the boarding process.

"Bring less; pay less. It's simple," Spirit's Chief Operating Officer Ken McKenzie said in a statement.

So far no other airlines have followed suit. "I personally think that would spark a major customer backlash," Standard & Poor's analyst Jim Corridore told Reuters. "The general public is sick and tired of fees. They pay them because they have to."

Is that true? Does the paying public have to? Or do they just consider exercising what little power they have as consumers (not flying) a less appealing alternative to paying airline fees?. Airlines charge fees because customers will pay them.

We've close to reaching a level of absurdity where airlines are trying to game it so that whatever option you choose involves a fee of some sort. Oh, you want to wear pants on the flight? That'll be an extra thirty dollars. A shirt? Twenty dollars. Wear less; pay less. It's simple.


Thursday, December 03, 2009
The Jet Set

Our recent trip to Miami highlighted that while having "elite" status might not mean as much as it used to for an individual flier, it certainly does have tangible benefits for a family travelling with three little ones. When going through the airport rigmarole with children, the waiting is indeed the hardest part. Having access to shorter lines to check in and get through security did much to prevent meltdowns and misbehavior and helped preserve a measure of parental sanity.

However, even while enjoying such "perks" air travel with young children is a chore. You take all the usual hassles and inconveniences of flying and multiple them many times over. The lack of space, the restricted access to food and bathrooms, the inexplicable delays, etc. are all exacerbated when it's not just one antsy, impatient individual but four. It will likely be some time before we embark on another such family journey by air. Maybe we need to look into this whole Greyhound thing we've been hearing so much about...

UPDATE: Forget to add that one of the reasons that air travel (travail) with youngins is difficult is because of all the temptations that it provide for them. In the mind of a little boy, the zipper on the suitcase of the person in front of them in line is just begging to be opened. The divider ribbon that helps organize and separate the queues is just begging to be detached. The tray table latch on the plane is just begging to turned. The seat belt is just begging to be unfastened.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Time Out Of The Mainstream

After returning from a ten day vacation in Miami (spent at the abode of relatives), I'm working on getting back into the groove of "normal" life again. The time off was a nice break in the action, not only from work but also from the new cycle constantly being churned by the media-political complex. While I did keep abreast of the state of worldly affairs by occasionally checking various news sites, it was a dramatic departure from my typical daily diet of media. No talk radio. No television news or commentary (except for watching my brother-in-law in his role as a local weatherman a couple of times). No newspaper reading. Very little blog reading (except of course for regular check ins at Fraters Libertas in the hopes of finding a rare Atomizer nugget).

Not that the vacation was entirely media free. I did catch a decent bit of sports (when my nephew wasn't on the PS2). Mostly football, but even a little college hockey which I was surprised to find on the NHL network last Friday night (SCSU vs.. DU). And with five children ten and under in the house, I also was exposed to a fair amount of television and movies aimed at the younger set. But it was a relief to get away from the relentless grind of day to day politics. I spent very little time thinking or talking about health care, Afghanistan, budget deficits, or climate change (other than how nice it was to enjoy Miami's rather than Minnesota's at this time of year).

It wasn't what you would call it exciting vacation. Other than beaches, parks, and restaurants, we didn't go to many places. And we didn't do that much other than playing, swimming, eating (in, out and everything in between), and drinking (several new beers rated). It was truly a low key family vacation. But that meant it was also a relatively low stress vacation and that it had a certain timeless element to it wherein it was easy to lose track of the time of day and even the day of week at times. That's not always an easy state of mind to achieve. Especially when you're caught up in the daily currents of everyday life.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Theory of Relativity

In many ways, a three hour and fifteen minute flight from Miami to Minneapolis with three kids in tow seems to take longer than a twelve hour flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo solo.


Monday, November 23, 2009
Instant Karma's Gonna Get You

It wasn't like I tried to do it. I was just sitting in my seat trying to keep tabs on the two kids next to me on the flight to Miami. So when the flight attendant caught my shoe as she tried to make her way past, took a header, and uttered a "GD" as she sprawled out in the aisle, it wasn't the result of some elaborate plan of sabatoge on my part. It was simply an accident. A case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and all of that. But, as I thought about all the times I've had my elbows, knees, or feet rammed by a beverage cart guided by flight attendants, I had to wonder if there wasn't at least a little karma at play.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Free To Go

All of the recent commentary and remembrances of the fall of the Berlin Wall remind us again of how the Wall became a stark symbol of the divide and differences between the Communist block and the West. It brought clarity to the Cold War struggle and made efforts to claim moral relativism between the two sides more difficult (although certainty not impossible as proven by many on the left). Building it turned out to be an enormous public relations blunder for the Communists. It was hard to argue that your system was better when you had to build a wall to keep your own people from escaping to the other side.

One of the difficulties in the current struggle against radical Islam is that aren't such concrete examples readily available to highlight the differences between the combatants. Yes, we see the evil in suicide bombers, terrorizing civilians, oppressing women, etc. but there isn't that one symbol that really clarifies matters as the Wall did. If the Islamists had their way they probably would like to erect their own version of a wall around their fantasy "caliphate" to keep their own people in and keep the forces of modernity out.

Thoughts of the Wall also lead to the observation that you can still judge a country by how difficult they make it to enter and exit. For example, coming into the United States--even for a US citizen--isn't always a breeze. The immigration folks are going to check your passport and almost always ask you some questions about where you've been and where you're going. But there are almost no controls on leaving. If you fly out, the airlines will make sure you have a valid passport, but that's about it. Pretty much the same for an EU country. Show your passport when you arrive, leave with ease.

Other countries that I've traveled to--Mexico, Russia, China, the Philippines--control your coming and going. For Russia and China you need a visa to enter and are expected to have your passport on hand at all times. In Mexico and China you fill out an entry card upon arrival and are expected to turn it in when you leave (someday I'll recount my tale of evading that requirement once in Mexico--after the statue of limitations expires). In all of these countries you have to go through some form of emigration control before you leave and in Manila you even get to pay an "airport users charge" for the privilege of departing. None of these examples are anything like the Wall of course, but the degree of a country's freedom and prosperity can still be related to how easy or difficult it is to leave.

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Monday, November 02, 2009
In Economy, Stupid

You warily glance down the aisle and spot a beefy gent clad in a t-shirt and gym shorts struggling through the narrow passage way. You avoid eye contact, bow your head, and silently plead, "Please no, please no, please no..." A shadow falls across your face and you feel (and possibly smell) his hulking presence near. You dare not look up. Then, just like that, he's gone, moving past you toward a different destination. You exhale a sigh of relief and look to see who approaches next. Hmmm...that slender Japanese girl might not be bad...

Our current economic difficulties have meant changes for almost everyone. In an effort to save a few bucks, that company that delivers my paycheck is no longer allowing us to travel in business class on flights to Asia. It's an understandable action and one that few are gripping about. At this point, the pain of flying economy seems like a small price to pay to remain gainfully employed, so it's an acceptable sacrifice to make. But make no mistake, it is a sacrifice.

When you're in business class or even in economy on a short haul domestic flight, you usually don't pay too much heed to who you sit next to. But when you're facing ten, eleven, or twelve hours of flying time in economy, you have a significant stake in your seat mates. One of the few tangible benefits of having "elite" status as a frequent flyer is that you get to board the aircraft a bit earlier than the masses. This is important if you have carry-luggage so that you may secure a place for said baggage and not have to fight the overhead wars. It also means that you're usually in your seat (always an aisle for me) before the others in your row.

Then the waiting and guessing game begins. Since most flights these days (especially inter-continental routes) are usually packed, the chances that you will have an open seat next to you are slim. I was extremely fortunate to have the middle seat vacant on my flight from Tokyo to Minneapolis last week. As an added bonus, a Japanese teenage girl who probably weighed all of eighty pounds had the window. Space--at least to the side--was not an issue. But that's a rarity. As much as you hope that you'll get lucky in such a manner, you grimly accept the fact that someone will sit next to you. Then it becomes a matter of who.

In general, you profile preference is something like this:

Women over men

Young over old

Thin over fat

Short over tall

If you're traveling in Asia, you can add Asian over American/European. It's not about wanting to sit next to some fine young thang either. The perfect seatmate is probably a twelve-year-old Japanese girl who's going to listen to her iPod or sleep the whole flight. You really just want the person next to you to take up the least amount of space and cause the least amount of trouble possible.

A few more thoughts on travel after a few weeks on the road:

- Would it kill Northwest Delta to have a flight attendant under forty on their trans-Pacific flights? For the most part the "service" is sullen and at times bitchy and bitter. That goes for the men too.

- My kids are at an age that makes it tough for me to travel. They're getting old enough to know that I'm gone and are still young enough to care.

- Despite their villainous reputation, multinational businesses have done more to bring people and cultures together in a constructive manner than the U.N. ever has.

- Wrapped up the last night of this trip with my room service standby: the venerable club sandwich. This one included turkey, bacon, eggs, and prawns. That last ingredient sounds a little odd, but it worked. The great thing about the club is that you can many varieties all sharing the common denominator of great taste.

- Being away from your family for a few weeks on a business trip helps remind one just how much the men and women in the military sacrifice to help keep us free. They're gone for long periods of time on extended deployments in difficult and dangerous conditions. They deserve our thoughts, prayers, and most of all our thanks.

UPDATE: One more travel puzzle for the ages. The Japanese are among the most advanced and organized societies on earth. So why can't they figure out how to board a 747 at Narita without it turning into a complete clusterfarg?


Thursday, October 29, 2009
Hoppy To Be Home

After spending most of the last two weeks on business travel in Asia (the Philippines and China), my plans for sustenance tonight contain the following key elements:

Pale ale and pizza.


Monday, October 19, 2009
Elder Care

So I wonder how our beloved Elder fared in his trip to the Orient?

If memory serves, it was about 39 hours total flight time, one way, all in coach.


He's a tender little guy too (Uncle Rico: Poor kid. I've been takin' care of him while his grandma's in the hospital. He still wets the bed and everything. Ilene: You're kidding. Uncle Rico: Yeah, he's a tender little guy. He still gets beat up and what-not. Uncle Rico: Anyway uh... so we still feelin' pretty good about this, uh, 32-piece set here...) so it probably felt more like like 80 hours. I was telling him that it was especially brutal that he had to make the journey on a Saturday because God forbid they let him leave on a Friday and not squeeze another 8 hours out of him.

Saturdays are mine. I don't consider them to be good travel days at all. It might even seem like it's better if the flight is later in the afternoon, but then you have it hanging over your head all day and most of your time is spent preparing for the trip.

So attention corporate muckitees: don't make us travel on Saturdays or Sundays, dig?


Monday, December 01, 2008
Staying In For The Night

Jefffery Goldberg's tips on How to Stay Alive in a Terrorized Hotel include yet another reason to opt for room service:

2) If you can't help but stay at a behemoth, order room service whenever possible. This minimizes your exposure to restaurants located off the lobby. Obviously, the lobby is the most dangerous place in a hotel; it is akin to the security lines at American airports, which are prime targets for suicide bombers precisely because they're entirely insecure.

One of his other interesting tips is to make plans to both escape from your room and to survive a siege if necessary. The former is rather obvious advice, the latter isn't, but in light of recent events it seems a very wise course of action to follow.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Fear of Flying

Most people have probably experienced the school "stress" dream at one time or another in their lives. They can involve high school or college settings. You show up at class to discover that you have to take a test that you didn't know about. Or you're trying to find the classroom that you need to get to take a test and you're late and lost. Or you show up at a class to discover that for some reasons you missed all the previous classes that semester. Or you show up at registrar's office to drop a class that you attended once and find out it's past the deadline so you get an "F" (wait, that actually happened).

When your brain really wants to screw with you, it adds additional stress to these dream scenarios by stripping off your clothes. Not only are you late for the big test, but you're naked as well. Gee, thanks.

While I still have one of these school nightmares on occasion, I've found that most of my stressful dreams now involve travel. I'm late for the plane and trying to get to the gate. Or I can't find the right gate in an impossibly vast and complicated airport. Or I get on the plane for a long flight and find the space that I'm supposed to occupy incredibly claustrophobic (yes, even worse than real life). Or I get picked up from the airport in a tiny car crammed with other people for a long ride to wherever we're going knowing that we can't stop. And I have to go the bathroom.

Not all of my travel related dreams are nightmares. Sometimes I board an airplane to discover that it's roomy and comfortable beyond all expectations. In one particularly vivid dream, I can still recall the full-length bar available for passengers. My fellow travelers were attractive, entertaining and fun and the entire flight was more like a club scene than anything else. Unfortunately, those dreams are few and far between.

What's interesting is that for the most part, my real life travels haven't been all that bad. The travel nightmares are usually unlike anything that I've actually experienced, but they seem so real and so authentic that the stress and fear they induce is quite palpable. It's as if my subconscious knows to keep it close to the surface of reality so as to not allow my dreaming self to recognize it as a dream. It's also fascinating how it picks and chooses real life experiences to turn into dreams and how those experiences are different at various stages of your life. The mind is a mysterious and mischievous thing.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008
The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

You know this whole air travel thing wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for one thing...

..the waiting. Not the waiting at the gate to board or the waiting on the plane to takeoff (under normal circumstances of course). It's the waiting in line--sometimes one intermit table, never-ending line after another--that saps your energy, crushes your spirit, and drains whatever sense of adventure and pleasure that modern air travel still possesses.

Today was a perfect example for me. I waited in line for the quarantine check crew to arrive in Nanjing this morning so that we could pass through their inspection. Then, I waited for the ticket agents to show up so we could check in. Then, I waited in the immigration/security line. Three lines. So far.

In Hong Kong, I had to wait in a transfer line to get a boarding pass for my Philippine Airlines flight to Manila. The line itself wasn't particularly long, but it moved at a snail's pace. Every transaction going down in front of me apparently required two or three phone calls by the agent, a half dozen puzzled expressions, and several thousand keystrokes before a boarding pass could be printed. A frickin' boarding pass. Then, it was another wait in yet another security checkpoint line.

Lest you think that all my accounts of air travel are nothing but self-indulgent whining about what doesn't work (yes, I got your e-mail Atomizer), let me share a few positive experiences. On my Philippine Air flight from Hong Kong, the Airbus 320 had a video camera installed somewhere near the front wheel. As the plane taxied to take off we were treated to a live shot from said camera on the cabin video monitors. After takeoff, the camera was aimed down so we could see the runway and then sea grow increasingly distant as the aircraft took flight. Very cool.

And on my Dragonair flight from Nanjing to Hong Kong, I told the flight attendant that my son liked dragons and asked if there was anything she could give me with the company's logo on it. A deck of cards perhaps. She returned with a goodie bag with three Dragonair postcards, two in-flight entertainment (distraction) kits for kids, and two decks of cards. Now THAT was was service above and beyond the call.

By the way, when I arrived in Manila and passed through immigration, I was the first one in line. No waiting.


Monday, July 14, 2008
An Exclusive Club

One of the side benefits of business travel in Asia is that you usually get to stay in much nicer hotels than you would elsewhere. In Nanjing, I'm holed up in a place called the Frasier Suites. My suite includes a full kitchen, a living room with a sectional couch and large flat-panel television screen, an office, a bedroom with another large flat-panel television, a balcony, and two full bathrooms; one with a washer/dryer. Pretty sweet digs (pun intended) for a slob like me. So far, the stay has been enjoyable.

Except for the food. The service in the restaurant has been slow and the food subpar. Earlier, we calculated that of five meals that we have had there so far, three have been disappointing to the palate.

But as often occurs, hope overcame experience on Sunday night as I looked to the house restaurant to come through with a room service standby: the venerable Club Sandwich. The Club is a simple sandwich in principal. Yet all the elements must be executed properly to pull it off.

The bread must be of good quality and toasted properly. The bacon needs to be crisp, but not overly crunchy. The lettuce needs to be crisp as well, the tomatoes ripe. The chicken should be plump and juicy and the mayonnaise judiciously applied. And, if said Club includes a fried egg--and my past favorites have--the egg should be done, but not overdone. When carried out just right, such a simple sandwich can be sublime.

Unfortunately, the Frasier continued with its poor culinary performance and delivered to my room a sub-standard Club that failed miserably to live up to its reputation. Starting with the soggy bread, continuing with the scraggly chicken and wilty lettuce, and ending with an egg fried beyond recognition, it was easily the worst room service Club Sandwich I have ever had the displeasure of trying to choke down. It was a major letdown and, in my opinion, the final nail in the restaurant's coffin. If you can't nail The Club, why should I have confidence in anything coming out of your kitchen?


Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Freedom Of The Skies

In yesterday's WSJ, Philippe Reins shows that when it comes to air travel, good plans can bridge the partisan divide:

After logging nearly 150 flights on every major domestic airline, and racking up almost 100,000 miles over and between dozens of states, I have a few suggestions for Gerard Arpey, chief executive of American Airlines. Mr. Arpey introduced the latest fad of charging passengers $15 per checked bag, and recently said: "If we are going to have an airline business, our customers must ultimately compensate us for the cost of flying them around the country."

But why stop at checked bags, Mr. Arpey? Here are some more ways to make a few extra dollars:

- You could charge an extra $1.99 for the option of boarding the plane from the middle or back doors, rather than parading coach passengers through first class, only to be sneered at by people sipping Mimosas.

- When the plane is on the ground, the lights work, the brakes work, the TVs work ? but not the air conditioning. The plane costs some $100 million and includes some of the most sophisticated technology known to man--surely the engineers at Boeing can devise a way to cool the plane at sea level. I'd shell out an extra $9.99 for that amenity alone.

- I'd happily throw in 99 cents for someone to explain to me what the refrain "1L 1R . . . 2L 2R" signals and why it has to be done via the PA.

Flight crew prepare for cross-check and all-call...

- Passengers don't want to hear how we're going to be delayed "a bit" because the starboard engine is a "little broken," or told at 8 a.m. Saturday that the "pilots haven't shown up yet" from wherever they were Friday night. Or how there are "Fifty ways to leave your lover, but only 10 to get off this aircraft." I'll cough up another $4.99 if we keep the cabin communications professional, concise and mundane.

- I like kids, I swear. But I'd pay almost anything not to sit in close proximity to one who is misbehaving. I will fork over 15 cents for every year of age over 10 for each passenger sitting directly next to me, in front of me, and behind me. So if I'm in a window seat, and the three passengers closest to me are each 50 years old for a combined 150 years, that's an extra $18. And I'd tack on another $5 to have my row and the rows in front and behind me completely child-free. That's another $23 right there.

- C'mon. My BlackBerry is not going to bring the plane down. I don't know of a single documented case of a consumer electronic device interfering with a plane's avionics. If they did, al Qaeda would just fly around with iPods. Since we don't fear an iBomber, why not just let me use my BlackBerry as much as I want, whenever I want. (I do anyway.) This one would be free, because it would be offset by negating the need for the flight attendant to expend energy cruising the aisle before takeoff searching for perps, like a prison guard working the tiers of Sing Sing.

This last complaint has long been a major point of contention with me. How is it possible that whether my iPod is on when we takeoff and land is a concern for the flight crew? I once raised the ire of one of Northwest's attendants when I dared to break out my iPod while the plane was boarding. "You can't use that now," she hissed, "If you want to listen to music, you can listen to the music we play for you." Yeah, can't get enough of that repetitive wuss jazz loop or Vivaldi's Four Seasons, the only musical selections that Northwest has offered in bidness class for the last five years.

My sharp-as-a-tack six-year old niece recently flew from Miami to Minneapolis. I asked her how the flight was and she said good, expect she couldn't figure out why she couldn't use their portable DVD player until about half an hour after takeoff. I half-heartedly tried to explain that it could possibly interfere with the navigation or communications systems on the aircraft, but judging by the incredulous look she gave me it was pretty clear that she wasn't buying it either.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Happy Father's Day

Just after noon Sunday--Leave home for airport.

12:30pm--Pick up work colleague at his hotel.

1pm--Park and proceed to self-service check-in.

1:15pm--Put on first class upgrade wait list. D'oh!

2:20pm--Check boarding pass while waiting at gate and notice that I'm in seat E8. E? Hmmm, that sounds like a middle...

2:30pm--Board aircraft and confirm that E is indeed the MIDDLE seat.

2:32pm--Sit down and pray that flight is not full. Know in heart how vain that hope is.

2:35pm--Am now sitting between two fairly large gentlemen, silently cursing Continental Airlines with gusto knowing that there is no way in hell that I selected a middle seat.

2:37pm--Begin to feel like Steve Martin in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" as "gentleman" on left completely hogs arm rest and gentleman on right removes shoes and leans head against my shoulder to better sleep.

2:39pm--Begin deep breathing exercises to calm mind and prevent complete meltdown knowing that I'll be spending the next three plus hours in this small circle of hell.

3 something pm--Plane FINALLY takes off bringing some relief as I know that miserable current state of affairs will eventually come to end.

3:45pm--Pull out IPod and noise reduction headphones. Turn headphones on and discover that battery is dead.

3:47pm--Pull out 10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn't Help by Benjamin Wiker (a very fine read by the way) from seat pocket in attempt to escape present reality. Discover that some F***wad has stashed his previously-chewed, powerfully-flavored mango gum in said seat pocket and said gum is now all over back jacket cover of book. Resist urge to unleash a torrent of profanities. Spend rest of flight reading and sleeping unfitfully, fruitlessly hoping to not wake until we land and the nightmare is over.

5:30 something pm--At last we land in Houston. Don't really feel the urge to thank flight attendant as I exit aircraft.

From there, everything was a piece a cake. The almost three-hour layover in Houston? Spent the time with pleasure. The flight to Chihuahua? A veritable two-hour paradise compared to the Minneapolis to Houston anxiety inducer. When I finally put head to pillow in the hotel in Chihuahua around midnight, one of the last thoughts rattling around the noggin before nodding off was, "Happy Father's Day."


Tuesday, June 03, 2008
And now you're under their thumb

Tom e-mails to recount his recent Black Diamond run:

This morning I had an opportunity to use the "Black Diamond" expert lane at MSP. Observations:

1. There wasn't any choice or self-selection. A TSA agent sized me up and instructed me to "step this way" into the expert line. By the way, I don't wear a "suit" so I'm not sure how she knew - a special school somewhere perhaps?

2. I'm not certain if the expert line was any faster. I stepped into line at the same time a fellow with a Vikings cap stepped into the casual traveler line. The guy with the Vikings cap and I arrived at the ID checkpoint at the same time. I'm not certain the number of people in either line so maybe more people went through one line or the other in the same amount of time.

3. The guy three ahead of me in the expert line put his keys, shoes, laptop, etc into the holder bins that are screwed down to the cart (the holder cart bins have six inch letters in red magic marker with the words "DO NOT USE THIS BIN!"). The barback (or whatever they call the non-TSA person who brings the cart replenished with more empty bins) was standing behind him silently while he tried to pick up the screwed down bins (oh the bonuses of a low paying job) until the guy next in line pointed out that he couldn't use those bins. The guy turned red realizing his mistake and over-apologized to the next three people he made eye contact with while he removed and reloaded his items into non-screwed down bins. This of course caused a delay.

4. I said a prayer that Agent Probert was on duty to review the expert line hold up with the fellow in observation number 3.

5. My prayer went unanswered. Given that I was departing for Philthydelphia, there is always hope that upon my return, Dave Schultz or Dave Brown or some other Broad Street Bully passed the TSA exam and will be the agent in charge over the expert line if they have one.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008
You Know It's Only Begun

A couple of e-mails on yesterday's post on the new TSA "Black Diamond" security lines both notice the same problem with the program: no consequences for non-experts going where they should fear to tread.

Tim from Colorado is skeptical:

Regarding the TSA's new "Black Diamond" program, color me dubious at best. I don't think it will work for very long.

At a ski area, if you are less than an expert and go down an expert run, you'll probably get yourself killed. The inexperienced can see the dangers from the top (sometimes the bottom) and will wisely back off.

At the airport, once the inexperienced see how much faster the "experts" move through security, they will deem themselves experts, too. It's kind of like skiing or golf; there are a lot of people out there who think they're better than they really are.

At the airport, their will be no consequences if somebody gets in the wrong line and ends up delaying everybody behind them.

Tom has the same concern, but thinks he has the answer:

As a person who goes through airport security at least twice a week and sometimes four roughly 3 of every 4 weeks, I would welcome this program at MSP or any of the airports I fly from. The upside to "Black Diamond" lines on the ski hill is that the penalty for choosing this over the bunny hill is a probability of broken limbs and as the excerpt suggests people self selectively opt out. With travel, many people will want to go through the fast moving line. At MSP, in the Land of 10,000 Entitlements, I would hate to be the poor TSA schlep having to explain to some fairness expert and resident of our open minded capitol city that because she and her partner and their two children only travel once per year she has to go through the bunny line while the "corporate" "suits" get to go through the fast lane. Before leaving the fast line the aggrieved traveler will have to blog about it, file suit and arrange for a full protest and boycott. The fast line will be just as slow as ever.

Maybe if the TSA had a bone crushing enforcer at the end of the Black Diamond line if you held up the line for longer than a specified amount of time, it would work. I'm sure there are some former hockey goons looking for good government jobs. JB, get the tapes out.

WARNING: Failure to navigate through the Black Diamond security line in a forthright manner will result in an extensive passenger debriefing with Agent Probert. Proceed at your own risk.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Out On the Street For a Living

Scott McCartney reports from The Middle Seat (WSJ-sub req) that even an organization as nightmarishly bureaucratic as the TSA can come up with a good idea at times:

The government is introducing segregation into airport security lines. And many travelers seem to like it.

In an effort to ease traveler anxiety and maybe even improve airport security, the Transportation Security Administration is rolling out a new setup where fliers are asked to self-segregate into different screening lanes depending on their security prowess. There are lanes for "Expert Travelers," who know the drill cold; "Casual Travelers," who run the airport gauntlet infrequently; and people with small children or special needs who move slowly through screening.

Hal-a-freakin-luyah. Many is the time I've wished for just such a system to separate those wise in the ways of security checkpoint procedures from those who react as if someone has just asked them to fill out the complete New York Times Sunday crossword. In Aramaic. The nameless, faceless TSA bureaucrat who proposed this system deserves a heartfelt thank you from all frequent travelers.

The idea, akin to how ski resorts divide skiers by ability, was suggested to TSA by focus groups of fliers. The agency didn't think it would work, says TSA chief Kip Hawley, but a test showed travelers liked the idea, and it had some benefits for security screening. So TSA has now rolled it out in 12 airports, from Seattle to Boston, dubbing the program "Black Diamond," the name it uses for expert lanes, borrowed from the ski-resort term for expert trails. More "Black Diamond" setups are coming.

"You have to see it to believe it," Mr. Hawley said. "It has improved the flow and calm at the checkpoints."

Sigh. Okay, we should thank the nameless, faceless TSA bureaucrat who had the common sense to at least try something different. Improving the flow and increasing the sense of calm at security checkpoints are both huge factors in reducing the stress and needless anxiety that usually accompany any trip to the airport.


Thursday, February 07, 2008
By The Numbers

Some data points from last week's trip to Singapore:

- Number of miles flown: 18,838

- Number of hours spent flying: 38 1/2

- Number of hours I was able to sleep while flying: between 5-6

- Number of times some clown woke me up by grabbing the back of my seat to get up, tripping over my feet trying to get to the aisle, or dropping a bottle of water into my lap: 14

- Number of movies watched while flying: 3 (3:10 to Yuma ***/Shattered */Eastern Promises ****)

- Number of Top Ten finishes in the Northwest in-flight trivia game: 2 (including the top spot)

- Number of magazines read cover to cover while flying: 1 (February First Things)

- Number of books read while flying: 1 1/3 (Sins of the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno and a third of A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles by Thomas Sowell)

- Number of times I was forced to listen to the insanity inducing Northwest pre-flight music: 4

- Number of beers consumed at the Narita lounge from the automated beer pouring machine: 1 (there is a downside to short layovers)

- Number of times I wished I was at home instead of being stuck in a flying metal tube: ∞


Saturday, February 02, 2008
We're Trying To Have A Civilization Here

Memo to Northwest Airlines:

During the boarding period on your international flights, please cease and desist with the playing of the seemingly endless loop of Kenny G sounding pap jazz. It's the same freakin' loop that you've been using for at least the last four years and I for one am I damn sick and tired of it. Thank you.

Memo To Fellow Air Travelers:

During the flight, please cease and desist using my seat as a crutch to lift your lazy butt out of your seat. Unless you have some sort of legitimate physical disability, you should be able to get yourself into an upright position without having to jerk MY seat (I can't stress that part enough) around and disrupt my rest and peace of mind. It's the same thoughtless behavior that's been going on for years and I for one am damn sick and tired of it. Thank You.


Friday, February 01, 2008
Long Days Journey Into Mid-Afternoon

Leave the hotel in Singapore at 4am this morning (2pm on Thursday Minneapolis time).

Leave Singapore at 6am, arrive in Tokyo six and half hours later.

Leave Tokyo at 3pm, arrive in Portland eight and a half hours later.

Leave Portland at 9am, arrive in Minneapolis three and a half hours later.

Get picked up at the airport at 2pm on Friday. A very long day.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Ill Communication

Being sick blows.

Being sick away from home really blows.

Battling fever, chills, and nausea while laying in bed watching King's Ransom on HBO in a hotel room in Singapore blows beyond belief. Take my word for it.


Monday, January 07, 2008
Lots of Business, Not Much Class

I recently had the "opportunity" to experience business class on both Northwest and Delta airlines on a trip to Russia. Over the years, I've been in business class a number of times on Northwest (for obvious reasons), but this was my first experience with Delta and so I thought I'd do a bit of compare and contrast:

Seats: Essentially the same seats. It's nice that you can position them in a variety of ways, but until they get much closer to the ninety degree incline (as other airlines do), extended sleep is still a dream (at least for me). Slight edge to Delta for ease of use.

In-flight Entertainment: Delta's system is harder to navigate than Northwest's, but offered a much better selection of movies. I still don't understand while most--but not all--of Northwest's movies are edited. Delta's are not. If I'm going to watch a movie, I want the full-on version. Plus Delta also featured a variety of programs from HBO. which was nice for a non-premium cable channel guy. Delta.

Food: While neither was out of the ordinary, both had decent food. Since I did an enjoy an honest to goodness ice cream sundae (more of everything!) on Northwest, I'll give them the nod.

Booze: Probably the most important category. I was disappointed with Delta's selection of whisky, although I did enjoy the Woodruff brandy they served. They did have a decent offering of wine, which was a plus. The wines listed in the NW menu were the not the ones available on the flight and the flight attendant wasn't really sure what wines she even had on her cart. Room for improvement on both carriers. Because of the wine fiasco, I'll go with Delta here.

In-flight Service: In the last three years, I've flown Northwest's World Business Class to know that service is not a differentiator for them. The service isn't outright bad as much as indifferent. For the most part, the flight attendants do what they have to do, but nothing more. There is a perceptible attitude of "I'm here to do my job" rather than "I'm here to serve you." This seems to lead to an inattention to details and failure to follow through. It's not egregious, but it is noticeable and is annoying.

Again. this is not based on any particular experience with any specific crew on any individual flight. It's the cumulative experience of more than a couple of dozen of flights in recent years. And of course there have been notable exceptions of superior service, but the very fact that they are exceptions rather than the rule speaks volumes about the overall state of Northwest's service.

On the other hand, I wasn't exactly blown away by Delta's in-flight service either and I wouldn't want to draw any broad conclusion based on one flight. However, the service I received on the one Delta flight was definitely better than what I've typically gotten on Northwest. Advantage Delta.

Shortly after the recent trip, I received an e-mail from Northwest asking me to complete a survey on their World Business Class service. I hope that my responses help prompt changes that bring a bit more class into their service.


Friday, January 04, 2008
Fly The Bitter Skies

NWA is official airline for GOP convention:

Northwest Airlines has been named the official airline for the Republican National Convention in St. Paul Sept. 1-4, the party announced Thursday.

The airline, based in Eagan, will offer convention guests a discount on airline fares, said convention spokesman Matt Burns, although he declined to be specific.

The airline will also offer guests the surliest, least attentive flight attendants in the industry (more on that later). We better have an extra helping of "Minnesota Nice" to serve up when the guests hit the ground.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Devil without a cause...I'm going platinum

A coworker recently determined that he was on the verge of qualifying for Platinum Elite frequent flier status with Northwest. Those of us who have ever reached the rarefied air of Platinum Elite know the joys of easy upgrades and preferential service that come with it. We also know how painful it is to fall back to earth. When you go from Platinum to Silver (as I did a few years ago) it feels like you're back to traveling in steerage class.

Anyway, this guy only needed only two-hundred-and-thirty miles to reach Platinum Elite. He called Northwest and asked what he could do to get them, thinking he could buy his way to Platinum. No sale. The only way to get the miles is to fly 'em.

And so today he flew to Chicago, had dinner with a business acquittance, and flew back. That's two-thirty the hard way. But now he's Platinum baby.


Thursday, December 13, 2007
I See Red When I See You

I've done a lot of traveling this past year (twenty three round trip flights from Minneapolis to Kansas City, to be exact) and even though I haven't banked nearly as many frequent flyer miles as our friend The Elder has, I do think I qualify as an experienced traveller. Unfortunately, being an experienced traveller comes with the painfully heavy burden of becoming quickly and easily annoyed by the hordes of inexperienced travellers out there.

I ran across one of them at 6:00 this morning as I was attempting to pass through the security checkpoint. An unwashed 20-something chucklehead in front of me (let's call him Tad) did almost everything on my list of pet peeves in the security line. We had spent close to ten minutes waiting in that line and this little puke waited until he was at the very front to empty his pockets of metal and carefully place them in his coat pockets one by one. Then Tad takes his coat off, folds it very neatly and places it in the bucket.

On to the shoes he goes...bend over, unlace one, slip it off, stand up and into the bucket. Bend over, unlace the other, slip it off, stand up and into the bucket...all the while oblivious to the growing logjam behind him and the empty scanner machine in front of him.

A curtain of bright red rage was beginning to cloud my vision when, before even bothering to shove his crap into the gaping maw of the empty scanner, Tad pulls his ID out of his front pocket, pulls his wallet out of his back pocket, puts the ID into the wallet and puts the wallet back into his pocket. The word rage cannot explain the level I was on at that moment.

After finally finding his way through the metal detector (if that thing had gone off, I swear I would have tackled that filthy bastard) Tad proceeds to do his little philistine polka all over again but in reverse. I somehow managed to wedge myself in enough to quickly grab my laptop, bags and shoes and then I headed to the nearest chair (far enough away from the congested security checkpoint SO I WOULDN'T BE AN OBSTACLE TO THOSE BEHIND ME!) to re-shoe myself and, more importantly, to calm down.

Seriously, the only thing that prevented me from putting a boot in Tad's ass (I was wearing steel toes, too) was the fact that we were in an airport. If Tad, or any of his lazy slacker buddies, ever pull this sort of crap in a line I'm in that is not being monitored by armed federal agents I'm going to be cleaning bloody entrails off the toes of my boots...and dirty boots make me angry.

The Elder Amens: Airport security lines are but one public area of modern life where a sizable portion of the population seems to lack what I would call "situational awareness." It's the ability to understand what's going on around you and how your actions impact others. It's really about paying attention to what you're doing and--more importantly--what you are going to do, planning, and then acting appropriately. You often encounter people with poor situational awareness on the roads, in checkout lines, and of course at the airport.

There's really no excuse for not being prepared to go through a security checkpoint. You should have nothing to do while waiting your turn except watch what's happening in front of you. If everyone is taking their shoes off, you will too. If everyone is taking their laptops out, you will too. If everyone is taking their coats off, so will you. Its' not exactly rocket science. And yet, it almost never fails that someone in front of you will reach the metal detector completely unprepared for it.

All that is required is just taking a couple of minutes to analyze the situation, plan, and act. Before I even get in the security line, I make sure I have nothing metal in my pockets, my laptop is easily accessible, my coat is off, and that I have my boarding pass and passport ready. It's just common sense and common courtesy towards your fellow travelers. You know, we're living in a society.


Sunday, December 02, 2007
Spreading The Word Of English Wit... hotel room at a time. A few years ago, I accidently left one of my PJ Wodehouse collections at a Shanghai hotel room. Yesterday, when I went to pull out Black Mischief, Scoop, The Loved One, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold--a compilation of four of Evelyn Waugh's works--on the flight to Moscow, I discovered (much to my consternation) that I had forgotten it in my hotel room in Chelyabinsk.

I had never read Waugh before, but a reader of Fraters hepped me that "Scoop" was an amusing take on the media. Unfortunately, I was only through the first four chapters of "Scoop" before my organizational lapse. I thoroughly enjoyed "Black Mischief" and the small portion of "Scoop" that I read.

Sigh. Oh well, I guess my loss is some hotel maid's gain. And Amazon's.


Saturday, December 01, 2007
You Get What You Pay For

Earlier today, when I checked in to the hotel in Moscow, I was surprised to see a sign at the front desk advertising a complimentary mini-bar in the room. "Is it true," I asked incredulously "Everything in the mini-bar is free?" Assured that it was, I was jubilant. Free mini-bar? It don't get much better.

Upon arriving in room and cracking open said mini-bar (approximately thirty seconds later), I was disappointed--but not surprised--to find the complimentary mini-bar consisted of two bottles of water, one beer, one candy bar, one bag of peanuts, and one bag of potato chips. Gee thanks. Not exactly the packed to the gills offering that mini-bar dreams are made of.

So far I've only had a water, beer, and bag of peanuts. Anything left tomorrow morning is coming with me. What? I don't want to get ripped off.


Monday, November 26, 2007
How Can I Say What Has Never Concerned Me

Just doing a little math for a bidness trip that I'm departing on tomorrow. According to my latest cipherin', I'll be spending about eight hours in various airports and sixteen hours on various airplanes before I reach my destination. Throw in a half hour for transport on the front and back ends and you're looking at a total trip time of about twenty-five hours. One-way. If everything goes according to plan. It's going to be a long day indeed.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007
A Dream Delayed

Boeing delays launch of 787 by six months:

Boeing Co. is delaying initial deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner by six months until late next year due to continued challenges in completing assembly of the first airplanes, the company said Wednesday.

The delay is an embarrassing setback for Boeing, which has for months insisted it would meet its delivery timetable, and mirrors delays suffered by rival Airbus on its A380 superjumbo.

Boeing said deliveries that had been scheduled to begin next May will be pushed back to late November or December 2008. The first flight, already pushed back once from the initial target of earlier this fall, now is anticipated around the end of the first quarter of next year.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007
The Road To China...

...will now go through Detroit:

In what's being called a much-needed victory for metro Detroit's economy, Northwest Airlines Corp. said Tuesday that it won preliminary approval to fly nonstop to Shanghai, China, from Metro Airport.

"It's very much overdue," said Detroit Regional Chamber President Dick Blouse, one of the most vocal proponents of Northwest getting the coveted route. "China is a significant player and we need to be there."

Northwest applied for the route in July after failing to get approval earlier this year. By flying nonstop to Shanghai from Detroit, the carrier has said that it will create a direct entrance to China and provide better access to the nation's booming auto industry. Northwest will offer the 14-hour daily flight to Shanghai starting March 25, 2009, said company spokesman Dean Breest. The airline plans to use a Boeing 787 on the route, which boasts better fuel efficiency, larger windows and a more comfortable cabin.

This is also good news for Minneapolis to Shanghai travellers, who now have another alternative to the twelve hours to Narita (Japan) and then three to Shanghai. Going through Detroit might be a little longer overall flight time, but it's preferable to make the long leg the last. At least on the hop over. On the way back, there are some advantages to being "home" after you pass through immigration and customs, but it's always better to have more options.

Plus you get to fly on the Dreamliner. Mmmm....Dreamliner....


Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Goin' Up In The Sewer In The Sky

The Wall Street Journal continues its efforts to convince us to "go Greyhound" with another article on the joys of air travel, this one called the filth of flying:

This summer, rampant flight cancellations and delays are forcing many travelers to languish, sometimes for hours, before they can board their flight. Unfortunately, that's nothing compared with what may await them on the plane.

Tales of sweaty waits on un-air-conditioned planes, smelly bathrooms, dirty seats and tray-tables smeared with mysterious schmutz abound this season. Travelers complain that the environment on packed planes can degenerate quickly -- and often long before the plane actually starts moving.

"When you get off a plane, it looks like the morning after a fraternity house party," says Tim Winship, publisher of, a Web site that offers frequent-flier program information and advice.

That reminds me of waking up somewhere in Missouri on a bus bound from Grand Forks to Daytona Beach for Spring Break back in my college days. Although to be fair, most flights don't have beer and vomit running down the aisles. Most flights.

One of the most high-profile horror stories this summer was a trans-Atlantic Continental Airlines flight in June, on which sewage overflowed from a lavatory and spilled down the aisle. "It smelled like an outhouse," says Dana Bushman, who was on the flight. Continental later apologized and offered vouchers to the passengers, but Ms. Bushman says she is trying to gather support from fellow passengers to sue the carrier. Continental said it determined that the blockage was caused by someone attempting to flush latex gloves.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Fly The Friendly Skies?

Scott McCartney reports that the bad dream of air travel has become a complete nightmare in today's Wall Street Journal (sub req):

The first half of 2007 has been the worst for air travel delays since the Department of Transportation started keeping detailed statistics 13 years ago, the government said yesterday.

And preliminary numbers show July won't do much to reverse travel woes, either.

June 2007 was the second-worst June on record for flight delays, with only 68.1% of flights arriving on time as a result of more jets in the sky and particularly bad weather at key airport hubs like Dallas-Fort Worth International. Last year in June, 72.8% of flights arrived on-time. Only June 2000 was worse than this year at 66.3% on-time, when surging travel demand and airline labor battles clogged air transportation.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics said 462 flights in June 2007 sat waiting to take off for more than three hours after departing the gate, and 12 were stuck for more than five hours. Continental Airlines Flight 728 from Newark, N.J., to Denver on June 8 had the longest tarmac delay of the month at 383 minutes -- more than six hours. That day, a Federal Aviation Administration computer failed and left planes grounded across the East Coast, then thunderstorms popped up in the Newark area in the afternoon.

As bad as those numbers are, they don't even tell the whole horror story. Northwest actually ranked second best in on-time flights in July. Why? Because your flight can't be late if it never leaves:

Flight cancellations in July soared, and not just at Northwest Airlines Corp., which has been canceling flights liberally all summer because of a shortage of available pilots. FlightStats counted 1,895 canceled Northwest flights in July compared with 264 flights Northwest canceled in July 2006. American, JetBlue Delta and Continental all saw large percentage increases in cancellations, too.

I'm actually fortunate in that most of my business travel is international and airlines appear more hesitant to cancel or delay the flights that bring home the big bacon. For those harried domestic road warriors, it's been a long, hot summer which looks to get worse before it gets better. Be sure to bring a good book (or four).


Sunday, July 22, 2007
Step By Step

My biggest frustration with air travel is not the overall time that it takes to get through the process from entering the airport door to being seated on your plane. Nor is it typically the queue time at any particular step in said process. No, what tries my patience (and sanity) is the number of steps involved.

Despite a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth from travelers, the US process is actually not that bad in this regard. E-ticketing, internet check-in, and self-service kiosks have greatly reduced the amount of time (and hassle) that it takes to get checked in. Security can be (and often is) a nightmare. But once you get past security at a US airport, you're usually home free. Some airlines still require a passport check at the gate for international flights. In most cases though, all that remains to be done is present your pass and board the aircraft. Psychologically, it's fairly easy to handle this three step process.

Compare that to boarding an international flight at Shanghai's Pudong International Airport:

- Check in: Not that bad although your checked luggage is hand-searched before your actually check in which can add time and another mini-step to the process.

- Customs clearance: A form must be filled out and then you wait in line to hand it to an inspector and put your carry-on through a customs x-ray machine.

- Immigration: Another form must be filled out and you again queue up to wait your turn. This turned out to be the biggest bottle-neck in the process.

- Security: The immigration bottle-neck actually reduces the passenger flow to a trickle so security lines are not long. And you get to keep your shoes on which is always a plus.

Clear sailing now, right? Wrong.

I've now flown out of Shanghai three times and the boarding process is always messy. On this particular flight, they take your boarding pass at the top of an escalator and flight of stairs which lead to the gate. There are allegedly two separate (and not equal) lines for Business Class and Economy, but it's not clear which is which and where one begins or ends. Invariably people get in the wrong lines or ignorantly believe they can cut in front because THEY'RE in Business Class. Guess what a-hole? So am I. Now get to the back of the line.

Okay, but once you've handed over your boarding pass it's smooth sailing, right? Again wrong.

You get to the bottom of the stairs and find yet another line, this time to have ANOTHER security person hand search your carry-on bags on the jet way. But the fun's not over yet. Just in case someone somehow slipped through the gauntlet there are MORE security people waiting check your boarding pass and passport. That's right, TWO MORE STEPS to get through when you're so close to the plane (and your seat) that you can almost touch it.

By this time, even the most fanatically devoted Jihad Joe type would have found his spirit broken and no will to do anything other than collapse in his seat in defeated resignation. Screw slaying the infidels, martyrdom, and that whole seventy-two virgins thing. Get me a double Scotch.

To recap. Steps in the US:
1. Check in
2. Security
3. Boarding

Steps in Shanghai
1. Check in
2. Customs
3. Immigration
4. Security
5. Boarding
6. Jet way carry-on security search
7. Jet way boarding pass and passport check

Is there a method in their apparent madness?


Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Respect Your...

Joshua e-mails:

Ah, now we know what this Asia trip is all about.

Former Leaders Create Freelance Global Diplomatic Team:

JOHANNESBURG, July 17--Melding serious statesmanship and a dose of audacity, the former South African president, Nelson R. Mandela, and a clutch of world-famous figures plan to announce on Wednesday a private alliance to launch diplomatic assaults on the globe's most intractable problems.

The alliance, to be unveiled during events marking Mr. Mandela's 89th birthday, is to be called the Elders.

Just doing my part.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007
An Exclusive Club

It's a well-established fact that nothing beats a club sandwich when it comes to room service comfort food. It's also been my experience that the Shangri La Edsa hotel in Manila boasts the best club sandwich I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying.

I was able to reconfirm that last week in Manila with another delicious club experience. When I arrived in Shanghai this week, I thought that I might be crowning a new club champion. For this time around I'm fortunate enough to be lodging at the St. Regis Hotel.

The place is all class. From the butler service available to each room (right ho Jeeves!) to the executive lounge on the 40th floor, it's top-flight, top-notch service in every way. So when I ordered up a St. Regis club sandwich the other day (advertised as a "favorite"), I expected it to give the Shangri La a run for the money.

And it was a good sandwich. Definitely above average, but not in the same class as the Shangri La. The champion retains its crown.


Saturday, May 12, 2007
I Am A Rock, I Am An Island

Tom e-mails on parental chatter and flying alone:

If I had a blog, my post responding to the subject posts would be titled "I Am A Rock, I Am An Island". I'm beginning to think that Laura Billings had a point that today's blogger is a loner writing withering social commentary dressed in his underpants, from the comfort of his basement.

I wouldn't disagree that conversations at the play park are at best forced, but I usually found them a good source of local news such as neighborhood real estate trends, going values for babysitters (value = rate / quality) and the micro-local police blotter. Think of it this way, if anyone in your neighborhood watched the channel 5 news, you would be a celebrity. Small talk on a plane can be enjoyable - if it's an attractive member of the opposite sex. I'm sure decorum and Atomizer's spouse checking in on his blogpostings put the kibosh on him mentioning this in his post. Otherwise, some pleasant chat can make the flight go by much faster.

By the way, is the airline concerned that someone with Atomizer's legendary affinity for spirits (especially after a couple of hours spent in an airport bar on an expense account) is also the person responsible for punching out and guiding his fellow passengers to safety? Perhaps a breathalyzer installed in the seatback in front of the exit row will weed out those not able to perform the instructions given them by the flight crew - like Atomizer.

Unfortunately Tom, life is not a "Seinfeld" episode and most of us don't end up sitting next to a model in first class asking for "more of everything!". I'm with Atomizer on this one, stick with a book.


Monday, May 07, 2007
Travelin' Man, That's What I Am

I've been no stranger to airplanes during the last four weeks. Every Sunday night I take the late flight from Minneapolis to Kansas City and every Thursday after work I make the return trip home. One thing I have discovered after logging all of those miles is that traveling alone has some very definite advantages over traveling with others.

First and foremost, my schedule is paramount. I don't have to worry about anybody but myself. If I'm late to the airport and find myself hurdling unpredictable obstacles to make my gate before the cabin door slams shut I only have myself to blame. Conversely, if I turn up at the terminal 45 minutes early I can while away the time catching up on my reading and sipping on as many overpriced adult beverages as my heart desires without the reproachful looks from my better half that usually accompany this behavior.

As a solo traveler I've also enjoyed an increased level of seating flexibility. By paying close attention to internet based airline check-in services, I've been able to score an exit row seat for six of my last seven flights. For those of you who have never enjoyed the luxury that is the exit row think of it as first class seating without the service. Even a short 80 minute flight is made infinitely more enjoyable with those extra few inches of precious legroom. Finding one of these seats available is like striking gold so the possibility of finding two of them together is nigh on impossible.

Unfortunately, as with so many things, with the wheat comes the chaff. Flying without a travel partner inevitably leaves one open to forced social interaction with strangers. With nobody I care about next to me to talk to I'm often targeted by other passengers as someone who cares about what they have to say. I try to stave off these unwarranted attacks by loading my carry-on bag with books, magazines an iPod and some liquor so that at no time during the flight am I in a David Puddy like staring contest with the seatback in front of me.

This tactic has always worked for me. Several times I've had to endure a couple inane queries or comments from one of my rowmates but a brusque grunt while moving the book I'm reading closer to my face has always ended the annoying interruption. Granted, I usually get the stinkeye throughout the rest of the flight but, frankly, what the hell do I care? I have enough damn friends. I certainly don't need to make any new ones just because I'm forced to sit next to them in an overcrowded airborne metal tube.

My confidence in my ability to deflect these attacks was absolutely shattered last week while sitting next to a yokel from Bismarck who simply wouldn't get the obvious hint that I had no desire to hear him prattle. He told me about how he just got his seat on standby when the plane he was on had a flat tire. I grunted, smiled and turned the page. He told me about the time he flew to Europe and missed his connecting flight due to similar complications. I sighed, grunted and moved my book closer to my face certain that I had heard the last from him.

About two minutes later, he wondered aloud why it was taking so long to close the cabin doors. Shortly thereafter he pointed to the guy just boarding the plane and explained to me that they were just on the same plane together. I groaned, sighed, grunted, turned the page and pressed the book up against my nose. Then, probably out of frustration that I wasn't interested in being his best friend for the next hour, he asked me if I brought a book just so I could read on the airplane. Amazed at his question, I dropped the book in my lap, sighed loudly and told him that I did, in fact, bring this particular book to read on the airplane. I refrained from telling him that if he persisted in interrupting me I was also going to use the book to knock him senseless so I could continue reading it in peace.

Fortunately, it didn't have to come to this. My final parry hit the mark and I enjoyed the remainder of the flight in silence. Oh, there was a stinkeye or two cast in my direction but I didn't have to endure any more of my transitory neighbor's incessant chattering.

Bottom line here, people, is please...for heaven's sake, when you know you're going to be cooped up in an airplane for hours at a time, bring something with you to keep you occupied. A novel, a crossword puzzle, a Sudoku book....anything. You may just find yourself seated next to me, and I may not be so charitable next time.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

FCC: 'No' to cell phones on planes:

Striking a blow for cell phone haters everywhere, a government agency on Tuesday said it will keep a rule in place that requires the divisive devices to be turned off during airline flights.

The reasoning behind the decision was technical. But the avalanche of comments the Federal Communications Commission has logged from airline travelers have been nothing short of visceral.

"These days it's impossible to get on a bus without at least one person hollering into their cell phone, invading the private space of everyone around them," one member of the public wrote in an e-mail to the FCC. "That's bad enough when one can get off in 10 minutes. To have to suffer through HOURS of such torture, with nowhere to go and miserably cramped conditions--someone is going to explode."

Amen brother. You could add that 99% of all cell conversations are nothing but inane blather over trivial matters. Thank you FCC.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Not The Cart Again

Attention airlines! I have a simple suggestion for you that will not only increase customer satisfaction, but cut costs:

Can the ridiculous beverage "service" on flights that are three hours or under.

Don't get me wrong. I like to knock back a few pops when I'm flying up front as much as the next guy. But I'd gladly give that up to be spared the annoyance of the damnedable beverage cart banging my elbow up and down the aisle, creaking and groaning every time the flight attendant stops and resets the brake, and causing a major disruption for a very minor reward.

Can we not attend to our own needs when it comes to in-flight liquid refreshment? Are we really nothing more than helpless infants while on a plane?

"Do you want a snack?"

"Do you want some juice?"

Yes, mommy. Why not go ahead and just put it in a frickin' sippy cup for me?

If I want a Coke or a water, I can buy one at the gate. If not, I think I'm perfectly capable of making it through a two-hour flight without a drink. And I might actually be able to catch a couple of minute of shut-eye for a change.

UPDATE-- Bert e-mails to add:

One other thing about the drink cart; when the airlines give away drinks without something to eat, that liquid goes through most passengers startlingly fast. (whatever they're saving on snacks, I bet they're losing on whatever that blue stuff is in the toilets) I'd keep either both drinks & a real snack (without paying $5 or whatever), or get rid of both.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007
The Business Of The World Is...

[Belated scribblings from a few weeks back]

After a half-hour spent living the life of Puddy, not reading, not napping, just staring straight ahead in mindless bliss, I eventually summoned the energy to put pen to paper and jot down a few observations from the Northwest WorldClubs lounge as I waited to board a flight to Manila.

In the past, the lounges that airlines reserved for use by their First Class passengers probably carried an air of sophistication and luxury. Today, they are far more utilitarian places, which no doubt suites the needs of the majority of their users just fine. For while you still will see the occasional well-heeled couple who truly are First Class travelers, most of the seats in the lounge are occupied by business fliers, allowed entry into the once exclusive domain on their company's dime.

The experienced American business traveler is easy to spot: non-nonsense button-up shirt, jeans or Dockers with appropriately colored belt, sensible slip-on shoes, and a laptop, cell phone, or Blackberry (or some combination of) in pretty much continuous use. They like to give off the impression that they are relaxed yet industrious and whatever they're working on is quite important.

You can usually differentiate a Euro (or at least a Continental) from a Yank by the clothes. Their outfits are not garish or obnoxious, just slightly off, at least to this American eye. It's the little differences, as Vincent would say. Individually, the shoes, the shirts, and the trousers are not especially offensive. But when combined together, they just don't mesh, especially when you throw in the oft funky spectacle frames.

Of course, they have nothing on the Japanese when it comes to fashion. Sometimes it seems as if Japanese travelers, especially the younger set, have intentionally made wardrobe selections that seek to maximize the clash of color: red shoes, striped brown pants, and a bright green parka are but one example that caught my eye today. You have to admire their willingness to be bold, if not their fashion sensibility.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Mmm... Open-faced Club Sandwich

If there's one thing that I've learned in my business travels to far-flung parts of our pale blue dot, it's that the one reliable "taste of home" room service selection--whether you're at a hotel in Mexico, China, or the Philipines--is the club sandwich. You order a hamburger and Lord knows what you're going to get: is that supposed to be ham or burger? Pizza or pasta? A crap-shoot at best. But the good ol' club never lets you down.

After a grueling day of meetings and bidness strategery in a foreign locale, when you finally get back to your room and sit down to watch a movie on HBO with a club sandwedge, fries, and a couple of local beers you're instantly back in your comfort zone again.

In my opinion, the Shangri-La in Manila makes the best club sandwich on the planet. The secret? A fried egg. With the toasted bread, the various meats, and mayo, it's simply delicious. Wash it down with a San Miguel or two and you're living large.

I'm not the only one who appreciates the simple joy of a room service club.

UPDATE: Club sandwiches make for strange bedfellows.


Monday, February 05, 2007
Fly Away Home

Even when one is at the top of his game physically, the flight from Manila to Minneapolis (fifteen hours in the air plus layover time at Tokyo plus pre-flight at the airport in Manila) is not a pleasant experience. When one is suffering the ill effects of a serious cold, it can be a veritable hell. How bad was my return home yesterday?

So bad that I passed on my traditional layover beer at Narita.

So bad that the kindly Northwest flight attendant who brought me cups of hot tea throughout the Tokyo to Minneapolis flight was moved to ask, "Are you as miserable as you look?"

Inspecting myself later in the plane's bathroom mirror, I had to agree with her assessment. I looked like hell and yes, I felt like it too. It's good to be home.


Thursday, December 07, 2006
You Get To Me, You're Always Outta Champagne

In last Saturday's Wall Street Journal Eric Felten pined for the good ol' days of highflying libations:

Now there's no expectation that the flight attendants should have cocktail-mixing knowledge beyond an ability to distinguish the minis of vodka from the minis of gin. But in the early days of air travel, cocktails were an essential part of the luxuries provided. In the late 1930s Pan American World Airways had a fleet of flying boats called the "Clippers." The biggest of them, the Boeing 314, featured a cocktail lounge at which various proprietary cocktails were mixed in silver shakers, including the Clipper Cocktail -- rum, dry vermouth and a dash of grenadine.

A few years after the war, Pan Am was flying Boeing Stratocruisers, and among the plane's selling points was that it featured a downstairs cocktail lounge. As they would on Boeing 747s decades later, passengers got to the lounge via a spiral staircase. The idea for devoting so much space to a lounge wasn't just about pushing liquor. Travelers were used to the freedom of roaming the decks of a ship or wandering the length of a train and found airplanes confining. The lounge gave them someplace to get up and go to; the cocktails gave them a reason to get up and go.

The various indignities that one has to endure when traveling by airplane these days could be somewhat alleviated if you at least could get a decent drink once you've finally made it to your seat. I don't expect flight attendants to be "bartenders in the sky," but is a little basic knowledge of mixology too much to ask?

I don't know how many times I've been frustrated by their inability to answer such simple questions as, "What kind of Scotch do you have?" or fill such simple requests as, "with just a splash of water." After looking on in dismay as I receive a glass filled with one part Scotch and six parts melting ice one time too many, I've taken to explicitly ordering one glass with the whisky and one with water to avoid the horrors of dilution.

And these experiences are not limited to a certain locally based carrier not exactly renowned for superior customer service either. It happened to me while flying on Singapore Airlines, oft-touted as the epitome of world class air travel. In hindsight, I probably should have ordered a Sling.


Thursday, November 02, 2006
Oh Baby!

The flight home from Miami today went fairly well. The boy had a bit of an ear infection, which we feared could lead to much wailing and gnashing of teeth on his part (mostly wailing since he's several choppers short of a full set). Thankfully, it was not much of a factor and, other than a brief snit, he was a content traveler.

A bit of advice for would be traveling parents: If you're flying with an infant and using frequent flier miles for the trip, it's well worth your while to lay down a few more and upgrade to first class. The extra room comes in handy as does the early boarding and exiting. Plus if the kid doeth protest too much, you can always mix a drop or two of Scotch in the bottle (I kid, I kid).

I'm also proud to say that I've officially joined the Mile High Club.

That's right, I changed a diaper at 38,000 feet. If you think it can be difficult to do your business in a cramped airline restroom, try diapering a baby who isn't anymore happy to be in there than you are. Talk about earning your wings.


Sunday, October 22, 2006
These Are The Memories That Made Me A Wealthy Soul

After years of experiencing few if any difficulties while traveling, 2006 has not been a banner year for me. It started in January with a day turning into a night of hell in Houston trying to get to Chihuahua, Mexico. Then, in July, I had an unplanned detour to Gander, Newfoundland on my flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis.

When this last Thursday dawned, I was expecting a fairly routine day of travel. Check out of the hotel in Veenendaal, The Netherlands, drive to the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, drop off my rental car, and check in for my 1pm flight back to Minneapolis. The traffic to Schiphol wasn't too bad and by 10am I had returned my car and was ready to check in. So far , so good.

After using the self-service kiosk to print my boarding pass, I went to check my luggage and noticed that the flight was denoted as "delayed" on the status screen. Oh well, I can always kill a little time at the airport, especially one with the amenities of Schiphol, I thought.

When the KLM agent punched up my info at the baggage check, she informed me that my flight was delayed. "I know," I responded, "How long is the delay anyway?"

She paused for an instant before blurting out, "Tomorrow. It looks like your flight is delayed until tomorrow."

Tomorrow? TOO-MAH-ROW? What the hell do you mean TOMORROW!?!?


"Yes, I can book you on the flight tomorrow at 9am and then you can take a shuttle to a hotel..."

Great. Just frickin' great. A whole bleepin' day at the bleepin' airport hotel in Amsterdam.

"...or because you have elite status I could try to book you on another flight today..."

Hal-a-freakin-lujah! There is hope! I just about jumped over the counter.

"Yes, please see if you can get me on another flight today."

After a couple of calls, she informed me that I was booked on a flight from Amsterdam to Washington Dulles and then to Minneapolis. I had to go back and get a new ticket from KLM, but this agent came along with me and made sure that I went to the front of the line (passing up some other poor slobs who had just discovered the news about their flight to Minneapolis). She did a fantastic job in a very difficult situation and epitomized customer service.

When I got my tickets, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I would be flying business class to D.C. Our company only allows you to fly business class if the flight is over eight hours. Minneapolis to Amsterdam is right around that and, unless you can scam an upgrade, you always fly coach. Getting business class on the this flight was a much needed ray of sunshine on a otherwise gloomy day.

Not only did I have a bidness class seat, I didn't have anyone sitting next me. Bonus. Perhaps a little karma was at play. A couple of Scotches, a couple of glasses of red wine, a pretty decent meal (especially by airline standards), some reading, and a much needed nap later we began our descent. After a rough start, the day was turning out to be okay after all.

Then I arrived at Dulles. I realize that the airport is under construction (what airport isn't) and someday it will be a paradise for the weary air traveler, but right now its pretty much a hellhole. The unpleasantness began immediately after leaving the aircraft when we were shuffled onto these oversized people-moving contraptions that seemed more at place in the drab dystopian future of "Soylent Green" than the United States of America in 2006. They looked like East German subway cars placed on the frames of giant dump trucks. I could only imagine the negative impression that first time visitors to the United States were getting. Maybe all that talk of George Bush's police state wasn't an exaggeration after all.

After a tolerable wait to clear immigration and customs, I emerged at the main terminal and encountered the security line. It snaked and stretched through the terminal like the lines of British troops waiting to get picked up from the beaches of Dunkirk, except that the Tommies were much more orderly and less panicky. It was a nightmare. Video monitors flashed ominous Department of Homeland Security warnings about liquids and gels, while harried TSA agents strode up and down the line hectoring the crowd about being ready to go through security. "Take out your laptops!" "Put you liquids and gels in a plastic bag!" "If its more than three ounces, throw it away!" It seemed a trifle absurd since it would be a good forty-five minutes since we would get anywhere near the checkpoints.

The fact that five years have passed since 9/11 and we still can't get our airport security shiite together is a damning indictment of the failure of the DOHS bureaucracy. Encountering an excruciating airport experience in Moscow is somewhat understandable. The Russians have been beaten down by seventy years of communism and now suffer under Putin's kleptocracy. But this is the United States of America. We're the leaders of the free world. You can't tell me that we can't figure out a way to get travelers through airport security without being subjected to the hassles and degradations of the current process. The first thing that I would do if I ran the DOHS would be to ask the good people from Disney to come in an teach my employees the basics of customer service. Because at this point, they don't have a clue.

Like a painful kidney stone, I eventually passed through the security checkpoint. Then, after a three-and-a-half mile walk, I reached the concourse where my flight would depart from. And I have to admit that it was pretty nice (as opposed to the main terminal). I sampled a few brews from the Old Dominion brewery and killed a couple of hours before my flight to Minneapolis, which thankfully turned out to be uneventful.

By the time I got home and laid head to pillow, nearly twenty-four hours had passed since I woke up in The Netherlands. Regular travel teaches you a lot of things--none more than the power of patience--and this trip provided another valuable lesson: avoid Dulles at all costs.


Thursday, August 10, 2006
Small World

On a conference call tonight with three people from Minneapolis, two from Tokyo, and one from Shanghai, my colleague from Shanghai asked the Tokyo folks if one of their co-workers was going to be in the office today.

"No, he's at Heathrow."

We all groaned in sympathetic understanding. Nothing more needed to be said.


Saturday, June 10, 2006
What A Country!

As I type this, I'm sitting in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport listening, via the 'net, to my compadres interview Michael Yon on the Northern Alliance Radio Network. Somewhere Yakov Smirnoff is smiling.

Lots of colorfully attired World Cup fans (especially the Brazilians) and lots of soldiers passing through DFW today.


Friday, February 10, 2006
Eats, Shoots and Heaves

Matthew e-mails:

I wish to take this time and thank you for your web site. I find it entertaining and informative. Also you have a better understanding of grammar than the likes of Hugh Hewitt. I was just on his web site and found this "I think it is clear that the last thing we need is more Carters in D.C." Obviously he has a problem with his conjugations. Next, he will start arguing about what is is.

Well glad to hear about your trip to Mexico went successfully, in spite of the delays. The flight was delayed due to a sick pilot? I am familiar with Dengue fever from my Peace Corp days in rural Thailand. Out in the country side is where it was mostly contracted from mosquitoes. Curious. And not pleasant.

Thanks for the kind words Matthew. We never did find out exactly what happened to the Continental first officer whose illness ruined a day for me and an entire trip for my fellow travelers. We just hoped that it was something as serious as dengue fever and not merely a case of his having thirteen, fourteen rum and Cokes the night before.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Don't Leave Home Without It

I want to weigh in with a hearty "Amen" to JB's post on BYOB when flying. One of the key lessons learned from Monday's travel nightmare (beside the obvious one that Continental Airlines is run by lying pig-dog wreckers) is to be self-sufficient when it comes to your drinking supply. Maintaining a SAR (Strategic Alcohol Reserve) at all times is critical, especially when on the road when you might run into a situation where the airport bars close at 9:30pm (thanks again Houston) or you get to your hotel too late to procure your pre-sleep nightcap. JB gave me a nice pocket flask for Christmas and I considered filling it with a little single malt before this most recent trip. My decision not to take pursue such a prudent course of action has haunted me ever since.

UPDATE--Nick e-mails to report that flasks do not pose a threat to Homeland Security:

I flew out to Vegas last year from St. Paul. When I was going through
security they spotted a flask shaped object in my inner jacket pocket. I
confirmed their identification of my stockpile and didn't have to deal with
it at all beyond that. Point being, at least on the ground end there's no
problem slipping a flask onboard a NWA flight. They didn't even demand that
I take a swig to prove its contents.


When All My Dime Dancing Is Through

In the Elder's travel travails yesterday he probably missed an article in the WSJ about how airline perks are drying up. Important perks. Booze, for example.

Starting Feb. 1, Northwest Airlines--the last remaining US carrier to give out free booze in international coach class--will phase in a $5 per drink fee on Asian-Pacific flights.

But what's that you say, you have enough miles or prestige to ride in bidnez class where the beer flows like wine?

Also, some frequent travelers say they have noticed that the drink cart rolls through less often, and the pours are less generous, even on flights and parts of the plane where drinks are still free. "They generally wait for you to ring if you want a refill, even after meal when you're in business class," says David Balcon, a 55 year old documentary filmmaker from Toronto.

So, given that those of us who can handle our drink and like to throw back a few on boring flights are now being denied one of our most cherished constitutional rights, what are we to do?

One fine American, Richard Brklachich from Orange County CA, brings his own half liter bottle of vodka onto flights in his briefcase because he doesn't like the airline's selections. He pours the liqour when the flight attendants aren't watching and sometimes shares with his seatmates. "I haven't had any trouble with flight attendants. I keep it to myself and they don't bother me."

I see no other recourse to enjoy a little sauce in the air without having the approval of our nannies in the sky.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Made it to Chihuahua this afternoon safely but hardly soundly. At least I've got a couple days free of air travel now. It's going to take a lot of cerveza (and no doubt years of therapy) to make up for yesterday's hell.


Yeah, We Definitely Have A Problem

8:22am and I'm STILL in Houston. After spending a night in a seedy Ramada Inn near the airport, I will be flying to Chihuahua at 9:30am this morning. Allegedly.

Last night, our flight was cancelled shortly after 11pm. By the time we got done running Continental's "customer service" gauntlet, were able to wrangle hotel stays out of them (barely-more on this later), and were actually in our rooms it was after 1am. I'm wearing the same clothes that I spent 22 hours in yesterday and other than a shower, my personal hygiene routine missed several critical steps today (brushing my teeth, applying deodorant, etc.). Why? 'Cause we couldn't get our bags back last night. I'm just lucky that I stuck an extra pair of boxers in my carry-on backpack.

We don't like to engage in the use of gratuitous profanity here as we strive to maintain our family friendly image, but the only words that even begin to describe what occurred yesterday is A FUCKING NIGHTMARE. A FM of biblical proportions.

More later as time and sanity allows.


Monday, January 16, 2006
Blame It On The Rain

It's almost 10pm and I'm still sitting stewing at the Houston airport. Our flight was supposed to leave at 9:10pm, but thunderstorms have pretty much screwed up all flights coming or going here. I've been up since 3am and in Houston since 11am. But hey, that EIGHT DOLLAR food voucher from Continental really came in hand. Yeah, a crappy turkey sandwedge really makes up for WASTING MY WHOLE FRICKIN' DAY! Thanks guys. The Elder's getting upset!!!


Manic Monday

Oh, that flight that was supposed to leave Minneapolis at 5:40am this morning? Well, the first officer wasn't feeling so hot, so he called in sick. Which meant that the flight was delayed by almost two hours. Which meant that we missed our connecting flight to Chihuahua in Houston. Which means that we are faced with a TEN HOUR layover in Houston, since the next available flight to Chihuahua leaves at 9:10pm tonight. Which means that I'm sitting in a Barnes and Noble at the Woodlands Mall outside of Houston trying to kill a little lot of time. Which means that I'm just a tad bit cranky, since I managed to catch less than two hours of sleep last night. Which means that the EIGHT DOLLAR food voucher and free in-flight drink coupon provided by Continental for my troubles hasn't exactly swung around my feelings toward the airline.

And unless it turns out the first officer had Dengue Fever, I don't see that attitude changing anytime soon.

How's your Monday going?


Friday, November 11, 2005
You Call That A Drink?

I stumbled into Shanghai a couple of hours ago. After the nearly twenty hours it took to get to Singapore from Minneapolis earlier this week, the five hour hop from Singapore to Shanghai was nuthin'. But the flight itself was a bit disappointing. I had heard a lot of good things about Singapore Airlines and was looking forward to experiencing their vaunted service for myself. And when I checked in at the airport and discovered I was flying "Raffles Class" (a.k.a. bidness class) I had high expectations.

It wasn't as if the service wasn't good. The flight attendants were pleasant and attentive. Their intentions were good, but their follow through always wasn't. Prior to takeoff, they were taking drink orders to be served immediately after we become airborne. I ordered a Scotch neat AND a glass of water. Perhaps my instructions were not clear because what I got was a glass of Scotch with ice and water. It was hopelessly diluted before the first drop had passed my lips. When next she came around, I sent it back and specified that this time ALL I wanted was a glass of Scotch. No water. No ice. This time she got the message.

The food was tasty, but not especially noteworthy although the dessert was quite good. The seats were obviously not designed for men of my impressive stature (my stature being all of five foot nine and one half inches). After reclining the seats to the fullest extent possible, my feet dangled uncomfortably over the leg rest. This might seem like nitpicking, but we're talking "Raffles Class" here and I would expect better.

The personal entertainment systems also fell far short of the mark. Unlike the offerings available on Northwest, where you select the movies and start and stop them at your whim, the SAL system merely let you choose between a number of movies that started at a set time. The video quality was also poor.

Having experienced both services in the last week, I would have to give Northwest's international business class the edge over SAL's Raffles Class. At least on the flights that I was on. However, I will say that the SAL airport lounge in Singapore was absolute nirvana. Top notch, first class all the way.

I must retire to get some much needed shut eye, but before I sign off I want to report that the demise of the Communist government in China is inevitable. It may not happen any time soon, but believe me, it's only a matter of time. Why am I so certain of this? I saw a billboard on the way from the airport promoting the latest American franchise to establish roots in China.

Hooters has come to Shanghai baby. We will bury you. In chicken wings, cleavage, and short shorts.


Thursday, November 10, 2005
Running Down The Dream

One of the joys of traveling to foreign lands is taking in the wide scope, breadth, and depth of anti-Americanism out there these days. I'm not talking about the garden variety that you see on the domestic front espoused by the likes of Jimmy Carter and Michael Moore. No sir, this is real deal "America is the greatest threat in the world" type of stuff.

Usually I can get more than my fill by watching CNN International and the BBC. Occasionally I'll come across it in the most unlikely of places. Last night, I was watching a travel show on a Singapore arts and entertainment channel. It featured a couple of young Aussies (or perhaps Kiwis) who were making their way through Laos, which doesn't exactly have a reputation as a tourist haven.

The man and woman were traveling together but were not romantically linked. In fact, they didn't really seem to even like each other all that much as evidenced by their bickering and backbiting behavior. Which made for decent viewing as conflict is often at the heart of good entertainment.

At one point in the show, they each went their separate ways, which for the man meant a village that had been ruthlessly bombed by the imperialist Americans during the Vietnam War and was still suffering as a result to this day. To back up his claims, he interviewed a villager who showed him bomb fragments, craters, and even some unexploded ordinance that was still easy to find (or at least that's the appearance we were given). The villager was not an expert in military matters by any means and much of what he said was simply ludicrous. Of course, the Aussie host took it all in at face value and solemnly nodded in agreement with the villager's assertion that (cue finger wagging) "America is very very bad country."

Since no one can give Uncle Sam the shiv quite like one of his own, the host also dredged up a self-described Vietnam War draft dodger who happened to be traveling through the area. This son of liberty explained that he was loathe to admit his nationality since "everyone knows that Americans are assholes" which was followed by laughter and more knowing nods from the host. But don't you dare question his patriotism. He also stated that America dropped more tons of bombs on Laos than were dropped by both sides in the Second World War combined. I've heard this same claim made about Cambodia and I imagine that there is some validity to it. But I highly doubt that we dropped more bombs on EACH country than the total in WW2.

At this point in the program, I was getting a little peeved and wishing that someone would provide some much needed historical perspective on the matter. The host must have also realized that he needed more than merely the anecdotal information so far provided. And so he reached out to an authority on the matter. A well known American university professor and author. A straight shooter who could weigh in with an objective viewpoint.

Noam Chomsky. That's right. Noam F'in Chomsky came on to further detail the atrocities committed by Amerika in the Vietnam War. I really wish there was a transcript available to do justice to the outrageous BS flowing from Chomsky's pie hole. Essentially he said that there was absolutely no reason for the United States to bomb Laos during the war and that we did it because "The U.S. had all these bombers in the area with nothing to do." Yeah, we just thought it'd be fun to kill a bunch of the yellow men for the hell of it. It's not like there was any military reason for it. It wasn't like Laos was part of a sophisticated logistics system that fueled the war in South Vietnam was it Noam?

It always amuses me when Americans take on a superior air and proudly tell you how they get all there news from the international media, because they're telling you the real story unlike the jingoistic cheerleaders at Fox News. Guess what? When you travel around a bit and see this vaunted international media in action first hand you realize that a good deal of it is utter crap. I'm far from an apologist for the American media, but if you think you're getting the "real story" by watching a documentary on global warming from Germany (which I also did last night) or the latest news from Iraq as reported on Mexican television, you're living in a dreamland.


We are the wind beneath the right wing.

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Podcast Archives

This week on The First Team:

Brian and John continue to voice their heated rhetoric and troublesome vitriol.

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11/7--Roland Burris
10/31--Levi Johnston
10/24--Alan Grayson
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4/25--Janeane Garofalo
4/4--Damon Greene
3/28--Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
3/21--Charles Grassley
3/14--Seymour Hersh
3/7--DL Hughley
2/28--Sean Penn
2/21--James Clyburn
2/14--Chuck Schumer
2/7--Nancy Pelosi
1/31--Nancy Pelosi
1/24--Richard Lugar
1/3--Caroline Kennedy

2008 Loons of the Week

2007 Loons of the Week

2006 Loons of the Week

the don of design

Adopt a soldier


Misericordia Orphanage

MN Patriot Guard

Soldiers' Angels

Spirit of America

Tee It Up For The Troops

World Vision



Keegan's Irish Pub Thursdays at 8pm