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Watch the Laptop

July 25th, 2008 No comments

I remember the first time I flew for business – I was working for a small consulting company and I was heading to Chicago for a few days of training. I was pretty excited to be on the road (and on expense account) but I was more than a little paranoid about loosing my laptop. Turns out I was right be be concerned: nearly a quarter million go missing each year. I’ve been traveling more then last couple of years but there’s still a little gulp when I put my silver beauty on the old conveyor belt – so far so good (knock on wood) but I just hate having to take my laptop out of my bag along with my oh so dangerous liquids.

Driving home from Fourth of July fireworks, MPR had a blurb on this topic (Future Tense has a wrap up in this podcast.) The TSA is proposing the ultimate laptop bag though the usefulness to travelers is questionable. I doubt I’d purchase one but I have admit, it would ease my mind if I didn’t have to pull my MacBook Pro out of its safe, snug little case each time I went through security…

Categories: Off Topic, Travel Tags:

Duplicate Flights

January 21st, 2008 10 comments

In early December, I did something that, a mere year earlier, I thought was pretty darn strange. I spent a Saturday in the last month of the year on a plane. Travel you say? Gee, you’ve never, ever, ever written about that. Ever. No, this trip was different, this trip was special – I wasn’t going anywhere; this time I was just getting status. I flew from Minneapolis to Chicago, walked one gate over to take a flight to Detroit, bought some chocolate for my mother-in-law (at Gayle’s Chocolates you see!) and then retraced my steps back home. Since I’m not quite as frequent a traveler as Ted, Neal, Brian, Venkat or the rest of the gang, I needed a few more legs to put me over the top and spending a few hours in the air was the cure.

Of course I’m not the only one to do something like this – heck, the previous year a good friend of mine flew to Germany to retain her status. Yep, all the way to the land of Riesling where she spent a few hours in the airport only to return home. I thought she was crazy, but now I get it.

Anyway, I checked my mileage summary a month or so ago and noticed I’d only received credit for two of the four legs leaving me ever so short of my goal. Luckily, the website has a form one can use to request credit so I gave them a few bits of information and sat back. A couple of weeks later I still didn’t have the legs so I submitted the request again. Now, my miles program knows several ways to get in touch with me – they have my home address, a phone number and of course my email address. Yet I never received anything via any of these means explaining why my credit hadn’t shown up. So, after digging around the site for a few minutes I finally found a phone number.

Today I called. As you might expect, I faced off with an elaborate phone tree that mostly wanted to tell me things I either already knew or could easily find online. Saying “Help” didn’t, ah, help but pounding zero got the job done (should have used get human.) After explaining my situation to the very helpful (I mean it!) agent, she quickly diagnosed the problem. You see, the software had decided my flights were duplicates since they occurred on the same day. Huh.

Now, I’ll grant that what I did isn’t on the happy path and represents a bit of an edge case but lets reason through this a bit. Let’s imagine the query: select flights where date = whatever they entered on the form. OK, so if that returns multiple records we somehow decide some of those clearly are the same because, you know, they happened on the same day. Hmm, what *other* information might we be able to use to discriminate? Well, there’s the departure and destination airports and last I checked flying to Chicago from Minneapolis isn’t the same as flying to Minneapolis from Chicago. But, perhaps the system doesn’t check for locations – after all the form only asks for frequent flier number, date, and ticket number.

If we grant that the location information might not be that helpful we’re left to ponder…what else could we use to disambiguate these aberrational flights? How about flight number? Why yes, I think we’ve hit on something here! Each of these flights had a unique flight number. Wow, I can’t imagine how a software program could possibly tell the difference between flight 656 and 676 (or whatever the numbers might be.) Yeah, that right there is one of those unsolvable problems, maybe the X Prize Foundation can get involved.

The agent (again, she really was very nice) took care of the problem but oddly, she couldn’t just fix it for me. Nope – she had to send an email to a clerk and have them manually add my legs into the system (which apparently takes up to two weeks.) Boy, not only can’t the system correctly tell the difference between two, ah, different flights, they don’t even have an easy way for an agent to fix the problem. Sigh.

Categories: Off Topic, Software, Travel Tags:

Seat 21C

January 4th, 2008 164 comments

When I was in graduate school, one of my professors gave us a trip report on a conference he had attended. After class we started chatting and he told me that the goal was to travel enough that you wanted to start traveling less – needless to say, I now know exactly what he meant (see here, here and here for various tales of the glories of trips past…) For those of you that don’t fly much, the Jet Lagged blog’s A User’s Manual to Seat 21C pretty well covers the joy that is getting on an airplane these days. Of course some of my friends fly so much that they haven’t seen a seat past row 4 in years but even they have their own horror stories to share ;) .

Categories: Off Topic, Travel Tags:

A Quiet Friday Night

July 28th, 2007 3 comments

It’s a Friday night and as you might expect of someone with a young sentient being in his care, I’m not at the local bar killing off precious brain cells. No, on this beautiful evening I’m enjoying the hospitality of one of the many Northwest gates at good old MSP. Yes, that’s right, I’m on my way to someplace even hotter than the big Minne has been the last few weeks – I’m heading to the “dry heat” of Phoenix. I’ve made the joke about Minnesota winters and a dry cold but how you can say temps in the hundreds are anything but oppressive is beyond me. Oh well, as is typical of my trips these days, I’ll see little more than the airport, a shuttle bus, and a hotel ballroom.

As luck would have it my already late night flight is delayed – so far by only half an hour but still…good thing I’ll be sleeping in tomorrow! Sitting here in the G concourse I’m reminded of just how self absorbed people can be. On one side, I’ve got the guy who thinks his Bluetooth headset requires that he SHOUT to be heard by his friends – either that or he thinks the rest of us really care whether or not his anonymous partner went out with that guy from the office. Well, maybe if it was someone from The Office, we would care… Then on the other side of me I have the couple that is excitedly describing their free trip to the “cigarette company ranch” to some poor family. Man – thank god I was reading when those two showed up but I can tell you a set of noise canceling headphones will be purchased very soon. Too bad the darn iPhone has that goofy recessed head phone jack. Hmm, this phone is getting more costly by the day.

Just another glamorous night on the speaking circuit. Hey – maybe Jake was on to something about my blog…either that or I’ve been reading way too much of Peter King‘s stuff. I promise, one of these days I’ll write about something technical. Maybe. We’ll see.

So – I thought this would be the end of the story, but alas it wasn’t to be. First, shortly after I put my laptop away, we were told of a gate change and as is usually the case, it was essentially on the other side of the terminal. It’s quite something to see a couple of hundred people all simultaneously bolt for the proverbial exits… Anyway, after settling in at the F concourse, the gate agent informs us that we’re waiting on the pilots who are flying into (of course) G but as soon as they land, we’ll start boarding so after they are spirited over we’ll be ready to go (apparently their delay is why we’re behind). Considering they could have just canceled the flight, this seemed acceptable.

After everyone was on board, the pilots arrived only to find that their dinners somehow hadn’t managed to make it. The captain tells us he’s very sorry but they’re going to just run back into the concourse and grab a quick bite to eat – shouldn’t be more than 20 minutes. Now, frankly, I want a pilot that’s focussed on, you know, flying the plane and not on his rumbling stomach but still…this is turning into a long night. They finally return and we push off – alleluia!

After starting the engines, we (oddly) just sit on the tarmac. Given the hour and the lack of any weather, I found it strange that we weren’t moving…after sitting there for a bit the pilot informs us that one of the three navigation computers is showing an error and since we need all three to fly, we’ll have to pull back up and get it fixed. Now, I’m guessing the plane can actually fly without all three computers but at this point more than a few passengers are wondering what kind of hotel Northwest will be springing for tonight. Speaking of passengers, for whatever reason, I seem to be on a lot of flights filled with teeny-boppers. Now that I’m a thirty something and have a child I think I can say things like that.

Anyway, on this particular flight we had quite a number of that age group that is never wrong and this crowd was…interesting. First off, I’m not entirely sure how three of them managed to get an exit row – it’s not like they needed the leg room and I doubt they have status. They also didn’t handle the delays very well. One shouted “Northwest sucks” at least once and was quite proud of herself while others made angry comments to (one assumes) their legal guardians about the setbacks. Of course the young lady that said “we should have landed hours ago” clearly doesn’t understand time…or how flight works. I can only assume she didn’t quite grasp the time shift. Oh well.

Once we returned to the gate, three mechanics showed up and kept going in an out of the cockpit. At this point the stewardesses sprang into action and started handing out water. After about a half hour, things finally were under control – the pilot informed us that they had to “reboot” the navigation computers (I can only surmise they were using Windows Vista Supreme Ultimate Avionics or something similar). After a two plus hour delay, we were *finally* in the air and my adventure was over…or was it?

Upon landing in Phoenix, I called the hotel and asked for a shuttle – I was told it’d be five to fifteen minutes. OK, no problem, the hotel is *very* close to the airport so this shouldn’t be an issue… Well, twenty five minutes later I called back wondering where the shuttle was and again I was told five minutes tops. Keep in mind that it’s 1 am but my body insists it’s 3. After another phone call, the shuttle finally arrives and I’m whisked to the hotel. I’m just happy Jay scheduled me for a later time slot this morning. Speaking of the hotel, I’ve got to say, what a comfortable bed! Kudos to Crown Plaza for doing what EVERY hotel should – they put a night-light in the bathroom. Such a simple thing yet this is the first hotel I’ve stayed at in recent memory that did that… Well, enough of this – time to shower and spread a little Ajax goodness!

Categories: Off Topic, Rants, Talks, Travel Tags:

Travel Notes

July 20th, 2007 No comments

As my regular reader knows, I’ve been doing a fair bit of traveling the past couple of years and while I mostly tolerate the security theater (seriously – a laptop battery is far more dangerous than shampoo) I’m still amazed at what people try to do. Maybe I’ve just been traveling too much, but how can you not know about the (silly) liquid rules? Even if you haven’t read them, most of the airports I’ve been flying through are continually reminding passengers about the magical quart bags via the public address system. As if that weren’t enough, there seem to be signs everywhere – many conveniently located right at the head of the security line where in some cases you can actually get a complimentary plastic bag (who said all the romance was gone from traveling?)

Flying home from Salt Lake City one guy tried to carry on full bottles of mouth wash and liquid soap – he seemed *stunned* that they weren’t going to let him through. Of course that was topped by the woman that was behind me coming back from Milwaukee. She had what can best be described as a pallet of bottled water she brought from home and seemed quite put out that the screener was going to make her throw all that reasonably priced liquid refreshment in the trash. But that doesn’t hold a candle to the things that get confiscated on a daily basis – apparently you can get a pretty good deal on an impact drill if you’re willing to hunt the government warehouse store. And how can two people a week walk through security forgetting that only air marshals and pilots get to carry heat? Of course the real thing to remember – don’t carry anything through security that a TSA agent doesn’t understand (via Threat Level)…

Categories: Off Topic, Rants, Travel Tags:

That’s Interesting…

June 3rd, 2007 1 comment

OK, so maybe these observations are only interesting to me but what do you expect – it’s Friday night and I’m siting in the middle of good old A concourse (as I’ve said before, this traveling stuff is so very glamorous). That’s right, sometime early Saturday morning I should find myself in Oklahoma for the next No Fluff event…and since I breezed through security, I’ve got some time to kill. Anyway, couple of things caught my attention this week.

Now, as anyone that knows will attest, you won’t often find me at the gym blasting my quads. But occasionally guilt or some perverse sense of pride prods me into wandering in and breaking a sweat. Yesterday just happened to be one of those days and I couldn’t help but notice the promotion the club was running (posters were everywhere…you couldn’t avoid them). The idea was, refer 5 people and you get your name in a drawing. All right, that makes sense – drum up some leads from your current members. And the grand prize really was something though I suspect it might have a perverse affect on the member that won it, you see, they were giving away a Bow Flex, that king of infomercial hard bodies (something tells me they do a little more than 30 minutes 3 days a week – or perhaps they don’t eat.) Maybe it’s just me, but it seems somewhat counterintuitive for a health club to award a member something that, in theory, obviates the need for a membership. But I suppose you’d really just lose that one member…

Today at the airport something else stood out in my sleep deprived mind. If you’ve ever been as MSP, you know that A concourse is, well, nearly in Stillwater and the easiest way to get out there is on the tram. Like their weak cousins the moving walkway, trams area staple at airports big and small and most seem to be operated without a human driver. That makes sense, it couldn’t be *that* hard to program right? Anyway, it has been raining here in the big Minne and as I looked out the front of the car, I noticed a windshield wiper. Now, there’s no driver…but we’ve got a windshield wiper. I appreciate the clear view of the track ahead but I can’t help but wonder what purpose that serves. Do people somehow feel better knowing that the the window is free of precipitation? Could be.

Well, I suppose that’s enough random chatter for now. By the time I post this I’ll be begging for some espresso…and missing home.

Categories: Off Topic, Travel Tags:

Random Travel Notes

February 8th, 2007 No comments

I’ve already described my harrowing mad dash to the airport but there were a couple of other random travel notes I just had to throw out there. First of all, I’ve traveled on some smallish planes this year but Tuesday was the first time I’ve ever heard a stewardess utter these very comforting words “Someone from the first two rows needs to move to the back of the plane to balance out the weight.” Huh. So, this aircraft is so sensitive that we need to move a couple of hundred pounds 30 feet. Well, that makes me feel *very* secure. I know this is pretty standard but still, gives a guy pause…

As you no doubt know by now, it was snowing on Tuesday which means deicing. Frankly, I wasn’t that concerned – it wasn’t that snowy (though it was plenty cold) but still, flying in less than ideal conditions makes you think. Anyway, the first officer gave us the spiel about how we’d be taxiing to the deicing station where we’d stop and then we’d be off. After getting a bath in propylene glycol, we were ready to roll…well, not quite. At one point my seat mate leaned over and quipped “I didn’t realize we were driving to St. Louis.” I’m sure it wasn’t that far but it really did seem like we’d be “driving” for quite some time and I was starting to wonder what the time limit was on that deicing fluid…

Speaking of which, the spare pilot (seriously, what *is* their role? Don’t get me wrong…redundancy in pilots is a good thing…) makes a comment along the lines of “we are really hoping to get in the air shortly or else we’ll have to return to be deiced.” Huh. Not that I really wanted to return to the terminal area but I couldn’t help but wonder – should we really be taking off with the deicing fluid at the end of it’s effective life span? Obviously, it wasn’t a problem but still…

One last little travel note – why is it, when you have *plenty* of time to get to your gate, it’s about 50 feet from the security checkpoint but when you’re rushed, it’s on the other end of the world? Leaving St. Louis, I alloted ample time (hey, I learned my lesson…) and while I didn’t expect any issues getting through security, of course my gate was literally down the hall from where I went through the gauntlet that protects the world from dangerous shampoo. Oh well, who ever said this speaking gig wasn’t glamorous huh?

Categories: Off Topic, Rants, Talks, Travel Tags:

Ah Travel

October 20th, 2006 No comments

The glamours life that is the speaking circuit. Last night around 8 PM I picked my lovely wife up at exotic MSP only to return 12 hours later to fly to Toronto for the NF event. In general I like MSP – well, I’m familiar with it – but I have to say, “they” have really sucked the romance out of travel. Off with your shoes, take off your belt, put your laptop through separately please, take out your little plastic baggy full of travel size liquids and gels, throw that water away… Man – these new rules *must* be a boon for the in airport kiosk industry.

But you know what the secret is? Never forget, the people working here are doing their best (mostly) and their just following orders. Be civil to them and you’ll be amazed at what you get in return. I know, some of them are, well, dinks, but a smile and a warm comment go a long way. At least it does for me – YMMV.

Today I’m flying out of good old concourse A, a relatively new part of MSP and one I’ve never been to. The kindly woman who checked me in (and also shared a neat little trick, what did I say about that smile? No, I’m not telling…) was right – it is half way to Stillwater! I hope I’m not flying on the plane I see out the window…what was that I said about glamour?

Most of the time I’m traveling out of the main part of the airport where you can’t go fifty feet without running into a Caribou or a McDonald’s but when you’re at A, you better be ready for the duration. Or have the time to run back to C. Seriously, vending machines are you options down here (but they are cheaper…) One thing I can’t figure out though – why does the “the walkway is ending” voice have a British accent? Is that particular vernacular more comforting to international travelers? Oh well, in a few hours I’ll be in Toronto settled in for what I’m sure will be a great weekend and then off to Boston for *the* event of the fall. Other than missing my wife, I’m pumped!

Categories: Off Topic, Rants, Talks, Travel Tags:

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