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badice.com ~ travel musings for the masses

In Sunday’s NYTimes.

And so, I resist. I downgrade, I discard, I decline to upgrade. More than a decade ago, I got rid of cable TV, then network TV. I cut out personal phone calls (unless the person is a continent away), then anything other than businesslike emails. If I want to catch up with a good friend or a family member, I wait until we actually see each other.

When the pop-up window on my computer asks if I’d like to install the latest version of this or that, unless it’s for security reasons, my response is, “No, thank you.” Nor do I want that “amazing” new app. My mother — yes, my mother — knew about Lyft before I did. I’ve never tried whatever Spotify is, preferring the radio and ye olde compact discs. I’m sure I’d still be using a CD Walkman if I’d ever gotten one to begin with.

Never got a Nook, a Kindle, an iPad, don’t want them. Until quite recently, I thought Alexa was a joke, a wild, hypothetical Orwellian item that might one day be foisted upon the world, not something that anyone might actually desire, pay for and willingly allow into her home.

Overall, there is some great advice in the column. Spend less time worrying about Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and more time thinking about… Anything else. But I do think the above takes it to an extreme. Sure, getting rid of cable TV is great, but what is she using to play compact discs? What about when it breaks? The answer is really something in the middle. Don’t spend too much of your life worrying about the conveniences of life, but instead on the important stuff. There have been plenty of books and blog posts about this subject.

Another day, another incident on an airplane involving passengers and violence. This time it took place on an ANA flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles. Thankfully the plane had not left the gate yet and the passenger who instigated the fight was arrested and charged with assault. Some reports state that alcohol was a factor and while that doesn’t surprise me, there is something else going on. This is the fifth or so widely circulated incident of violence among or against airline passengers.

Some people want to blame the airlines for this. They’re an easy target and in some instances, they are absolutely to blame but the general trend of people simply resorting to violence in simple instances of misunderstanding is taking place more and more often lately.

I think it’s a mix of lack of patience, an unwillingness to forgive or admit fault, and a general feeling of frustration. Life is moving so fast that people forget that they aren’t the only ones with stress or difficult circumstances and are quick dole out their anger on others.

We need patience and understanding now more than ever. As I pointed out on a recent episode of Dots, Lines and Destinations, we need to be peacemakers rather than those who encourage this violent behavior.

The Associated Press is reporting that big changes are coming to the way credit scores are calculated. The changes would be for VantageScore, a company that handled 8 billion account applications and is the prime score used for credit card applications.

Of note is the following:

Using what’s known as trended data is the biggest change. The phrase means credit scores will take into account the trajectory of a borrower’s debts on a month-to-month basis. So a person who is paying down debt is now likely to be scored better than a person who is making minimum monthly payments but has been slowly accumulating credit card debt.

The news continues:

But VantageScore will now mark a borrower negatively for having excessively large credit card limits, on the theory that the person could run up a high credit card debt quickly. Those who have prime credit scores may be hurt the most, since they are most likely to have multiple cards open. But those who like to play the credit card rewards program points game could be affected as well.

This could spell the end of credit card churning for those who partake in that game. Having multiple accounts open with large debt limits will possibly penalize you due to the risk that such behavior poses.

Without seeing it in action, it is hard to know if this is a good or bad thing, but my gut says that rewarding positive behavior (paying down debt, not having lots of cards open) is a good thing.

The AP doesn’t list a date for when these possible changes will take place, but it will be interesting to see play out.

From KHOU (autoplaying video):

Michael Hohl, the groom, said he and his fiancé, Amber Maxwell, were the last to board the plane.

According to Hohl, they noticed a man was spread across their row napping when they approached their seats, 24 B and C.

Not wanting to wake the man, Hohl said they decided to sit a three rows up in seats 21 B and C. He said they didn’t think it would matter because the flight was half full with multiple empty rows.

21 B and C are exit row seats on United planes and considered Economy Plus because of the extra legroom.

After sitting, Hohl said a flight attendant approached and asked if they were in their ticketed seats. The couple explained they weren’t and asked if they could get an upgrade, but instead they were told they needed to return to their assigned seats.

So then they tried to finagle their way into the seats by asking for the upgrade.

“I think customer service and the airlines has gone real downhill,” said Hohl. “The way United Airlines handled this was really absurd.”

So the couple could have simply asked the flight attendants to ask the man in their row to sit up (which he would have been required to do for takeoff anyway), but they opted to seat themselves in a better seat.

To sum it all up, this is a non-story.

I am sure you have seen the videos of the United passenger being forcibly removed from a flight by police after refusing to be “bumped” (called an IDB) to a flight the next day. The video and the situation in general, is disturbing and frustrating. First off, United has handled the entire situation poorly. United told everyone the situation and then after this particular passenger refused to leave the plane, police were called to remove him. He was yanked out of his seat dragged down the aisle, bloodied. As Seth points out, United had more options available to them to deescalate the situation from the beginning.

Even at $800 in comp (plus presumably the overnight hotel, meals, etc.) United failed to find the four it needed. The first two IDB candidates left quietly enough. The doctor did not and authorities were called. The resulting removal was not pretty, to say the least. Could United have gone higher in compensation offer? Absolutely? If it has strict policies that prevent such then those should be revisited. Especially when it is a case of must-ride employees and not a more common oversell tied to maximizing yields.

The passenger also has some culpability in the matter. The contract of carriage you “sign” by buying a ticket states that you can be involuntarily bumped from a flight if needed. Compensation must be provided, accommodations are to be arranged, and a new flight is to be booked. The problem is, most people do not read the contracts of carriage. Just about every airline has one and though it is a dense document, a lot of crucial information about your rights as a passenger are contained within. This article by Julia Horowitz and Jon Ostrower puts the state of the contract of carriage in perspective.

Airlines set their own policies when it comes to the order in which passengers are bumped. The terms are sketched out in “contracts of carriage” that passengers agree to when they buy their tickets.

On United flights, people with disabilities and unaccompanied minors should be the last to be kicked off, according to the company’s carriage contract.

American Airlines says it denies boarding based on order of check-in, but will also consider “severe hardships,” ticket cost and status within the carrier’s loyalty program.

Delta Air Lines also takes check-in order and loyalty status into account, as well as which cabin a passenger is slated to sit in. The carrier also says it makes exceptions for people with disabilities, unaccompanied minors and members of the military.

The lack of knowledge about the contract of carriage is no excuse for United’s actions though. And there were still other options they could have exhausted in addition to cash. Why not offer the passenger a rental car for a one-way drive to Louisville? Or what about guaranteeing a seat on the next flight (there was another flight leaving later that night)? Instead the cops were called. This seems to be the common way to handle issues onboard planes still at the gate these days. The gate agents and flight attendants are not referees and their typical operating method is to explain once, maybe twice, and then involve an authority figure.

Lastly are the police officers. Their handling of the situation was downright uncalled for. And deflecting the cause of the man’s injuries as “tripping” just makes me even more upset.

All of this to say, I still don’t think we have all of the facts yet. We know the handling of the entire thing by United was crappy but the three unanswered questions that are important are:

  1. What prompted the calling of police? Was it just the man’s refusal to leave the plane? If so, there needs to be some serious work done on policies for involving authorities.
  2. How did the man get back on the plane? It seems crazy to me that he was dragged off the plane by police and then somehow made his way back on. What transpired during all of this?
  3. Why did United agents not try harder to entice passengers to voluntarily leave? And on top of that, why exactly did they need a crew of four in Louisville so last minute? It seems like a crew scheduling issue really was the root cause of this entire thing. Maybe their regional carrier has a little explaining to do on why the scheduling was so messed up.

I actually tried to avoid writing about this topic but the general noise on social media and around the web just really made me question our intentions. It seems like we’re all itching for a modern day crucifixion of anyone that seems to have done any kind of wrong and social media gives us an outlet to express that. But without all of the facts are we really doing the most good? Or are we fueling a fire that perpetuates bad behavior in the long run? If we don’t want air travel to be like a bus in the sky then we need to treat it better than a bus and expect more of it.

Seeing tweets about banning the overbooking of flights or that having a ticket gives you “rights” is frustrating to me in a way that is hard to explain. I am sure there are good intentions behind most of it but without all of the facts the tweets seem like noise for the sake of noise. And it just seems to pile up.

As a frequent United flier I am disappointed in their handling of the situation and how they have responded to it so far. I will my voice my displeasure with them directly. I am also frustrated that law enforcement handled a non-violent situation with violence and in their write-up of the events placed the blame for the passenger’s injuries on the passenger.

Let’s hope that this serves as an example of how not to handle these situations in the future for everyone involved. If you are looking for more reading on the subject, I think Seth’s take is one of the more levelheaded and thought provoking write-ups out there. Phil Derner Jr’s piece on NYCAviation is also great.


This post may seem premature and to be clear, I have no inside information from Delta or the Port of Portland. This is simply a hypothesis.

With Delta’s newly announced joint venture with Korean Air it is becoming more and more likely that the Delta hub at Tokyo’s Narita Airport will be dismantled. For me it means that a great non-stop option to Tokyo PDX-NRT, will likely go away, or at least become Portland to Seoul.

But I am with Cranky Flier on his analysis.

This may be sad for those who liked having elevated service to Tokyo, but the vast majority of people, this new Korean relationship will be far more valuable. At the same time, Delta can continue to develop its relationship with China Eastern to further penetrate the Chinese market. China will likely become the most important air market in the world over time. While there are joint venture issues since the US and China don’t have open skies yet, Delta is now incredibly well positioned with both Korean and China Eastern offering tremendous penetration. Meanwhile, for American, China has been one of the most vexing problems, so it decided to do something about it.

As nice as having a non-stop option to Tokyo is, having a one-stop option to all over Asia is even better. The current Delta connections out of Narita are varied (Manila, Singapore, Bangkok, etc.) but mean that the airline has to dedicate aircraft and crews to a hub halfway across the world. Back in say the 1970s and 80s and really even into the 90s, having a hub in Tokyo made a lot of sense for airlines. Interline agreements, joint ventures, and airline alliances did not exist so if an airline wanted to carry passengers from a hub to a far off destination they needed all of their own resources available along the way. Today that model has changed. Airlines are leveraging partnerships to get passengers to destinations where they do not themselves fly. Delta, disappointed with the lack of Tokyo-Haneda slots that have been given out, is smart to reallocate the planes that currently fly in and out of Tokyo-Narita to places where it makes more sense (read, money).

While I will be sad to see a historic route go away, I love the idea of connecting in Seoul for other places in Asia. The airport is laid out well and Korean Air has a good reputation.

The unanswered question is, will a Japanese carrier like ANA or Japan Airlines approach PDX to offer a non-stop option to Narita or Haneda. With the new partnership between Alaska Airlines and Japan Airlines, there is a case to be made that a Japan Airlines flight is a no-brainer. But my fondness of United and the Star Alliance would really love seeing an ANA 787 parked at PDX offering a non-stop to Haneda.

I was fascinated by this story from Sam Knight. When Queen Elizabeth passes away it will be the end of an era and arguably the end of the British empire. A new monarch will ascend and all of the details of the transition are incredibly intricate.

Unlike the US presidency, say, monarchies allow huge passages of time – a century, in some cases – to become entwined with an individual. The second Elizabethan age is likely to be remembered as a reign of uninterrupted national decline, and even, if she lives long enough and Scotland departs the union, as one of disintegration. Life and politics at the end of her rule will be unrecognisable from their grandeur and innocence at its beginning. “We don’t blame her for it,” Philip Ziegler, the historian and royal biographer, told me. “We have declined with her, so to speak.”

In January I took a trip to Europe to meet up with some friends and tour the Airbus factory in Hamburg, Germany. Also on the agenda was a trip to Miniatur Wunderland, a model/RC world that has multiple regions, including an airport. Right around the time I was planning this trip was when United announced that their Newark-Hamburg flight would be changing to a seasonal schedule. The flight would disappear from the winter rotations two days before my departure.

My backup plan was to fly Portland-Chicago-Munich-Hamburg. For the return, we would be riding with a friend to Berlin and I would take Berlin-Newark-Chicago-Portland as my routing home. I put Chicago in on the return because it got me home a few hours earlier, though it turned out to almost be a really bad decision (more on that later).

United recently started rolling out their Polaris “soft product”, or their onboard service, and even more recently have had their plane with the new seats flying some domestic routes. I had the opportunity to try both the Global First version of the Polaris soft product as well as the business version.

The day before I was set to leave, Portland experienced a record snowfall, making the city come to a hault. Worried that there would be no way for me to get to the airport, I called United and asked if they could put me on the same flights a day later. After a brief hold I was confirmed in business class a day later. I would miss the Airbus tour with my friends, but at least I would get there. One little quirk was the fact I was rebooked not in R-class, the fare bucket reserved for GPU upgrades, but D, a full fare business class bucket, which allowed me to apply another upgrade certificate for United’s Global First product.

I woke up on the morning of my flight to find that the train I typically take to PDX was only running part of the route due to a derailment of another train. I rushed to get ready and get on the streetcar to the closest stop that would connect me to the airport. After a bit of waiting of sub-20 degree weather a train showed up, taking me to the transfer station for the airport. Lots of people looked confused as they were using two trains to go back and forth between the airport but because of that they were using a platform that isn’t well marked and rarely sees action.

Arriving at the airport about two hours after I left home, I had about an hour until my flight boarded so I printed out my boarding passes, because United’s printers at PDX still print on cardstock rather than heat paper, making this aviation geek very happy. I went through TSA PreCheck in a few minutes and was buying a cup of coffee just moments later. I walked up to my gate right as boarding was starting. No de-icing was needed but we did have a delay getting out of PDX for some reason. My original plan was to visit the new Polaris lounge in Chicago but that plan was quickly dashed with what turned out to be a tight connection.

Finally up in the air, I settled in for the four hour flight to Chicago O’Hare. The flight attendants were friendly and lunch service was started shortly after we reached our cruising altitude. I chose the beef option and I’ll let the picture do the talking. It was barely edible. I ended up having a few bites and avoiding the rest, figuring I would eat when I got into Chicago.

Saddest inflight lunch to date.

After the meal service I got a little bit of work done and read before we landed in Chicago. As we taxied to the gate I checked my connection and noted it was on time still, giving me 15 minutes to get to the gate. I made it off the plane, through O’Hare’s neon tunnel, and up to my next gate in about 10 minutes and realized there was no plane parked at our gate, even with a huge line of people already queued for boarding. Turns out we were going to take an hour delay in Chicago but United never posted it until 10 minutes after our scheduled departure. Guess I did have time for a visit to the Polaris lounge. Instead I chatted in the gate area with a friend who happened to be traveling on the same flight but was continuing on to Budapest.

We finally boarded and I made my way to seat 1K, a window seat in front of the pilot rest seat, where I found this.

Yep, a storage compartment was non-functioning. And that wasn’t the only “inoperative” sticker on the seat, another bin did not work in the storage area closest to the window. Disappointing but not a deal breaker.

The new Polaris inflight amenities were stacked on the seat and my first conundrum was figuring out where to put it all. I settled on the foot rest.

After settling into my seat a flight attendant presented the flight’s menu and an amenity kit and asked what I would like to drink.

I asked for a glass of champagne and it was presented a short time later with a chocolate on the side, which is a nice touch. The setup for the plastic champagne cup does seem like it could be easy to knock over with the slightest bump, so United may want to take a look at making it a little more stable on the base.

Since we were delayed quite a bit, I decided I would eat a regular dinner, figuring the entire service would take around two hours. The flight attendant came around to take orders and I decided to have the beef option, a braised short rib with grits and fava beans in a bordelaise sauce. It sounded interesting and slightly different than what United has previously offered in business class. I know, from what I’ve read, the Asian Fusion Chicken Soup is pretty good, but my goal was to see how previous entrees had been spruced up.

After takeoff the single flight attendant serving the first class cabin (five seats occupied with passengers, one by a pilot) came around to offer beverages and he seemed a little disappointed that I only wanted another glass of champagne and sparkling water. The addition of San Pellegrino to the Polaris menu is definitely a welcome change. A short time later the linens were set and a starter of black pepper tuna was offered. It was rather flavorless and the side of quinoa was a confusing addition.

Next up was the carrot ginger soup, which I passed on. I was not really in the mood for soup and was hoping by skipping it the service would speed up a little bit. It did not.

The salad course was next and it was full of fresh greens and carrots. A nice change from previous salads I had tried on United which tended to be less than fresh and in some cases, still frozen.

My main course was delivered shortly after my salad plate had been picked up and another round of wine and drinks was on offer. The short rib was cooked pretty well and the grits had decent flavor to them but the dish overall seemed bland. The fava beans were flavorless and the sauce on top of everything just did not seem to hold up to the altitude.

By this point we were almost three hours into the flight and realized that business class had been completely served while first class still had the cheese and dessert courses to go. I opted for the cheese course because after reading reports, I wanted to see just how much of a downgrade it was and wow, it was disappointing. On pre-merger United planes there was not enough space for the cheese serving dishes so the cheese service had always been lackluster. Served on a single plate with a single serving of crackers and maybe a piece of fruit, I frequently skipped it. On pre-merger Continental the cheese service was actually pretty good. There was usually a nice selection of cheeses, decent fruit options, and an ample serving of crackers. The Polaris service is definitely in the vain of the pre-merger United way of presenting the cheese course. Three types of cheese, none with enough flavor to really warrant a second bite, a sad pile of grapes, and a single package of crackers were put on the tray table. After a few bites I decided I was done.

I skipped dessert, hoping to at least get a few hours of sleep. I asked for one of the new gel pillows and hit the button to put the seat down into a lie-flat position. I really like the new, bigger pillow in tandem with the gel pillow. And the new duvet is a definite welcome addition. I ended up sleeping through breakfast and woke up feeling pretty good. Ironically, there was a blizzard hitting Munich as we approached and ended up holding for another 45 minutes before finally touching down.

My connection in Munich was tight but because the snow had closed the airport temporarily I walked through immigration and straight onto my connection to Hamburg. No time for a shower, but at least I wasn’t stuck.

Overall I think the soft product that United is offering onboard now is an improvement to what they used to have. The new diningware and glassware was a needed change, so I am glad they opted to go with something a little more modern and simple. Besides there being just a ton of stuff on the seat when you arrive, the bedding is a fantastic change. I value sleep the most on long flights so improving the pillows and blankets makes sleeping a little easier. On the ultra longhaul flights United is even offering pajamas now, so I’ll write an update when I get a chance to try those. Lastly is the food. I think it was a mixed bag. The service took way too long and I don’t know if that was because the flight attendants were new at it or if it is intended to take that long. It also seemed odd that the entire first class cabin was served by a single flight attendant. He seemed to do everything, between prepping the food and serving it, he seemed like he was simply trying to keep up. From now on I will opt to eat in the Polaris lounge or in the airport terminal rather than sitting through a 3+ hour meal service when I could be sleeping. Food quality was decent and I think the meal I was served out of Berlin on my flight home (which I will cover in part two) was better. Reading other reports, some people receive great meals while a lot of folks have similar experiences to mine, mediocre food with rather bland flavors. Rotation of menus is something United has promised though and that’s definitely a welcome change.

There is also the new seat, which is available on the 777-300ER that United will soon be flying between San Francisco and Hong Kong and Newark and Tel Aviv. That seat is all-aisle access and will definitely be a nice change for people traveling alone and has the potential to offer a more restful flight since no one will be climbing over you in the middle of the night.

Stay tuned for part two where I’ll talk about my business class experience on Berlin-Newark-Chicago-Portland.

Happy New Year!

I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions but as we enter 2017 I did want to share some goals I have for this year. Things that I hope to accomplish and hopes I want to strive for.

  • Take more photos. I was looking through my 2016 albums and realized that I did not take nearly enough photos, so I am challenging myself with a goal of taking at least one photo a day and posting it on my Flickr page. I posted the image for January 1 below.
  • Travel more. My travel in 2016 really fell off for a number of reasons but I would like to get back to seeing the world. A few of my destination goals in 2017 are the Balkans, Georgia, Namibia, Laos, Vietnam, and Japan.
  • Read more. I have let reading really fall by the wayside over the last few years but my goal in 2017 is to read 50 books. I will be tracking my progress using Goodreads’ challenge tracker.
  • Donate more. We have a few causes that we love helping and it is a hope and goal of mine in 2017 that we pursue those more closely both monetarily and with our time. I also want to be a source of encouragement for others to participate and contribute in charity and caring for those who are less fortunate.

So, those are my goals for 2017. I hope to post some of the photography work here, but definitely keep me honest via that Flickr page. Not seeing a new photo in a while? Send me a note on Twitter. What are your hopes and goals for 2017?