Info ~ travel musings for the masses

From Bloomberg:

American Airlines Group Inc. would consider barring passengers from changing nonrefundable tickets if Congress limits what carriers can charge for the adjustments, Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker said Tuesday.

This is coming from some legislation making its way through Congress:

Doing away with changes to nonrefundable fares would make airline flights more like baseball games or concerts, where customers aren’t typically reimbursed if they buy tickets and can’t use them. Carriers currently consider the ability to change a nonrefundable ticket as a service that carries a cost. Such fees, which run up to $200, anger many passengers.

The language limiting what carriers can charge for ticket changes is being supported by consumer groups as a bipartisan provision. It is in a version of an aviation-policy bill sponsored by Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota, who is chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Parker called the proposal “really bad for consumers” last week.

I can’t say I blame American Airlines. Change fees have been around since the days of regulated aviation in the U.S. and the only reason I can think of to change the rules now is to appease some percentage of the voting public.

Is a limitation on the cost of change fees good for the consumer? On the surface, it’s easy to say yes, but when you dig into how airlines oversell flights and offer last minute seats or adapt to weather situations, I think the answer becomes a more complex “no”. Maybe Congress should simply focus on the transparency of the fares and underlying fare rules. If it becomes clear what consumers can and cannot do on a fare, rather than having to dig through pages and pages of fare rules, it becomes easier to make decisions.

When my wife made the jump from an iPhone to the Google Pixel  2 we thought everything would be easy. For the most part, everything was. All of her photos, contacts, and other random phone data ported over without issue. But even after following the steps to disable iMessage and move to regular SMS on Google Fi we still have a number of issues. And this is months after the initial move. With Google now pushing forward with Chat, I think this problem is about to get worse before it ever gets better.

The texting landscape before smartphones was pretty straightforward, 140 characters, sent via the SMS protocol to another phone number. Then MMS came along and we could send grainy photos to one another. Then iMessage showed up and things started to fall apart. If you have an iPhone and send a text to another iPhone user (both with iMessage turned on, which it is, by default), that text is sent as an iMessage via Apple’s servers. If one of the users doesn’t have iMessage, then theoretically, there is a check done and the message will be sent as a regular text message (via SMS or MMS, depending on if any media is in the message). If a person used to have iMessage enabled then the waters become even more murky as the iMessage system may swallow the message and never deliver it to the recipient. It sometimes takes sending 2-3 messages to that person before their regular texting kicks in, even if you follow all of the steps to disable iMessage.

Then you enter the Android device texting fiasco and things get even more confusing. Now with Google coming out with Chat and saying that it will fix all of the issues I think the landscape becomes even more rocky. Google’s product will not be end-to-end encrypted, which is surprising and a huge disappointment. One of the things that iMessage has going for it is the fact that Apple never sees the text of your messages, it is always encrypted. Most people don’t care about the government necessarily having access to their texts, but what about people who don’t want their phone used as a weapon against them (an abused child/wife/etc texting for help). The encryption of this data is important and Google dropping the ball is a shortsighted mistake.

This brings up the question of the chat apps that are out there (Signal/WhatsApp/Telegram/etc). I have all three installed on my primary phone but really only have experience with WhatsApp and Telegram. Signal is limited to a single device at a time and that’s a flaw to me. I like to be able to send message from my iPad, computer, or phone and not having that capability immediately makes me less likely to use the app.

I prefer Telegram’s interface over WhatsApp but Telegram uses a homegrown encryption method that I don’t think is completely proven and that makes me a little uncomfortable. WhatsApp’s Facebook ties aren’t my favorite, but they do use an encryption standard that is widely recognized.

The key with all of these independent apps is uptake and having friends who use the same application to communicate. If a few of your friends go with Telegram while others use Facebook Messenger and others are on Signal, then everyone just reverts to SMS/MMS and messages get missed and we are back to square one. Ideally, the SMS/MMS protocols would be updated with some “smart” functionality (if a device is an old school flip phone, revert to 140 character maximums). Or, Google would implement end-to-end encryption and large numbers of people would move over to that. I have strong doubts either of those things will happen though and the landscape will just stay fragmented and hard to navigate.

With all of the recent security issues with Facebook, I think this advice from Krebs on Security is probably some of the most relevant information on the internet today.

From “Don’t Give Away Historic Details About Yourself“:

I’m willing to bet that a good percentage of regular readers here would never respond — honestly or otherwise — to such questionnaires (except perhaps to chide others for responding). But I thought it was worth mentioning because certain social networks — particularly Facebook — seem positively overrun with these data-harvesting schemes. What’s more, I’m constantly asking friends and family members to stop participating in these quizzes and to stop urging their contacts to do the same.

On the surface, these simple questions may be little more than an attempt at online engagement by otherwise well-meaning companies and individuals. Nevertheless, your answers to these questions may live in perpetuity online, giving identity thieves and scammers ample ammunition to start gaining backdoor access to your various online accounts.

These quizzes seem innocuous, but the data that can be harvested from them is enough identifiers to get into your phone account, your banking, your credit cards, and more. It seems harmless to fill in a answer but you are putting yourself at risk by exposing that history to data mining.

From FlightGlobal

Using the ATARI system, or aircraft terminal approach remote inceptor, landing signal officers demonstrated remote piloting of the F/A-18E Super Hornet while conducting carrier qualifications and flight testing aboard the Abraham Lincoln in March. The officers also demonstrated touch-and-go manoeuvres with the system.

It is kind of fitting that the system’s acronym is “ATARI”. What’s even more interesting, and somewhat terrifying, is that there was a pilot in the cockpit during the tests. Landing on a carrier deck is a mental test for a pilot when they are in control, it has to be even more of a mental test when someone else is control of the plane remotely.

My wife recently switched from an iPhone to a Google Pixel 2, which in and of itself is worthy of a post, but the most noticeable immediate difference when making the switch is the cable headache we now face. We used to have a single USB-A to Lightning cable in the living room for when we needed an immediate charge, two of the same type of cables in the bedroom for charging overnight, a single short cable in the car for road trips, and a couple of cables in different bags for travel. Basically, we have a cable for each of the places we frequently charge our phones. This prevents us from constantly packing or looking for a charging cable. When I travel, I have one of the small Tumi amenity kits from Delta with an Anker two port 24W USB-A travel wall charger, two USB-S to Lightning cables, my in ear headphones, and my Apple watch USB-A to magnetic charger. I can pretty much get by for a week with that setup.

On Twitter I posted about Anker cables and my love of them. They are sturdy and affordable, so I have decided to get a number of USB-A to USB-C cables for my wife’s Pixel 2. What I am running into now is a growing conundrum where the cables are just getting out of hand. I know soon, USB-C to USB-C will be the standard, but until then, I need USB-A to USB-C/Lightning. All of the power bricks we use are USB-A out, except for my wife’s Pixel 2 brick.

I know these changes in technology take time but it feels like USB-C has been out in the wild for a while but everyone is having a hard time moving to it as a standard. On top of this, you have micro USB still being heavily used (Kindle, cameras, other accessories). It is more stuff to carry if you want to keep your different electronics charged as you travel.

So how do you travel with all of the cables? How do you manage them all at home?

* This post contains affiliate links to Amazon that benefit me financially if clicked on.

A couple of weeks ago I was on my way to Taipei and Hangzhou with Fozz. The goal was to fly United’s last flight between Hangzhou and San Francisco. To do that, we planned to spend a day in Taipei first then head to Hangzhou, where we could transit without visa for another full day before flying back to the US.

On Friday the 13th (very appropriate) I woke up at 7am to catch my Portland-San Francisco flight and saw we were delayed by 55 minutes. No big deal, I had almost two hours to connect. The Santa Rosa wildfires had caused issues the day before as I returned from Las Vegas via San Francisco as well and I figured everything would be delayed. When I got to the airport the delay was 1.5 hours and I decided to talk to one of the gate agents about my options. She stated that there was an EVA flight to Taipei that left at 5:50pm that I would still have plenty of time for so she “protected” me on it, leaving my original United flight in the record should I get to San Francisco in time to make that flight.

By the time I boarded the plane in Portland, our flight was 2.5 hours delayed and I knew there was no way I would make my original connection but I was confident in making the EVA flight and stayed on the plane. Landing in San Francisco was uneventful and as I chatted with Fozz on the phone, the plane to Taipei was still at the gate with the door open. I might just make it! But it wasn’t to be. I arrived at the gate only to be sternly told that they were not taking anymore passengers. As I was told this, another person who was connecting was allowed to board. The only thing I can figure is that they had spoken to her previously or she was a standby passenger.

I still was not stressed, as I had an EVA flight confirmed, so I went to look for an EVA agent who could get me a boarding pass. Unfortunately, the EVA gate did not yet have an agent present and there was no one at the transfer desk. I also learned that both EVA’s and Singapore’s lounges at SFO had recently closed to make room for United’s new Polaris lounge. This left me in a position where my only option was to exit security and go to EVA’s ticket counter.

The agents at the EVA counter were very friendly and politely told me that they had no ticket for me and that I would need to talk to United to have them send the ticket over again. 45 minutes later and I was speaking with a United ticket agent who told me that the Portland agent should not have reissued the ticket the way she did and that it had been rejected by EVA. Due to the fires everything was full the next day but during this time Fozz had texted me to say that his plane was returning to the gate. The thought popped into my head that I might just be able to get back on that flight…

An aside, I still do not know why the United ticket agent at SFO did not offer to reissue a coach ticket on EVA. The original ticket was coach that was upgraded via a GPU, so my expectation was that she would at least offer coach on EVA. Maybe EVA was sold out in the back cabin due to the fires and misconnects?

Anyway, I went back through security using my original SFO-Taipei boarding pass and met Fozz at the gate. We asked an agent to relist me for the flight and she told us she could only do it after they had boarded, so we waited.

To make a long story short, the offer was to put me in coach in a middle seat (rather than downgrade the passenger they had upgraded into my seat) or to perform a carry over/carry back, essentially a trip-in-vain. At this point I was super tired and decided to just head back to Portland. Fozz was in agreement and decided to trip-in-vain as well.

I eventually made it back to Portland at midnight after dealing with multiple agents to get the tickets properly notated and reissued. It was a mess getting home, but in my mind, was the right decision. The Taipei flight landed nearly six hours late and would have completely burned our time in the city as we would have spent most of that getting to the hotel and back to the airport. I was bummed to miss the last Hangzhou-San Francisco flight, but at least I got an interesting blog post out of it.

If you’d like to hear more, Fozz and I recorded a Dots, Lines and Destinations episode about it.

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.