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Posts from the Current Events Category

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.

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.

I am probably not the customer Starbucks wants using their rewards program. When I am in a city where there are not a lot of local coffee options, Starbucks is my backup. The blonde roast is drinkable and if it is not being brewed they are happy to make a pour-over of it. All of this to say, a lot of my recent work travel has not been close to local coffee shops, but Starbucks were readily available.

The recently announced changes to Starbuck’s rewards program are not going over well.

Under the new plan, the “stars” that are stockpiled to earn free drinks and other rewards are awarded at a rate of two stars for every $1 spent. Currently, customers earn one star per visit. But it will take 300 stars to get to the company’s Gold status, up from 30 stars, and it will take 125 stars for a reward, instead of 12.

Stars will now be earned based on spend instead of number of transactions, meaning people who buy the expensive Frappuccinos will earn more stars than someone like me who orders a grande coffee. I am sure this is specifically targeted at a customer like me who earns 12 stars by ordering coffees and then redeems (or has someone else redeem) an expensive drink. Or worse, the person who orders a coffee and a pastry but in separate transactions to earn two stars and then redeems for something expensive.

Are the Starbucks changes aggressive? Yes, but just like in the airline mileage earning and redemption world you have to remember: Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered. Starbucks could have probably made some rules changes that simply limited the number of transactions per day to something reasonable (2 per day maybe?) but they decided to go fully revenue based. The revenue based rewards are quickly becoming commonplace across tons of different industries as a way to “reward” someone for their spend rather than their loyalty. The thing to remember is that spending more to earn a reward usually is not beneficial to you mathematically. Well, unless you’re buying the office coffee on a corporate card; Then you’re making out like a bandit.

In the end, this probably will not change my habits when it comes to Starbucks. If there is no local option when I travel, I will visit Starbucks. And that’s probably exactly what Starbucks wants. Spending habits stay the same but the number of rewards will decrease.

Alaska Airlines, arguably the hometown airline of Seattle, Portland, and Anchorage, unveiled a their new brand and livery at an event yesterday in Seattle.

new_alaska_livery
In a blog post, they give details on why they are refreshing the brand and a few insights into why they went the direction they did.

“We’ve added 90 new markets in the past five years. As we continue to grow, we are updating the outward expression of our brand so it shows up bolder wherever we fly.”

Essentially, we now fly Boston to San Diego non-stop and want to make our logo simpler for that market. I get it, it is not like they were going to change the name of the airline or anything. The first thing that stands out to me though is how close the new tail livery looks to some of the low cost carriers and how the entire livery looks a little Southwest-ish. The second thing is what I pointed out to Seth yesterday, the multicolored cheat lines look like the engines are spewing out the Northern Lights.

southwestlivery

Maybe that’s what Alaska was going for. The colors also match up pretty well to the Seattle Seahawks, the Mariners, and Sound Transit System. Coincidence?

I am no branding or livery expert but I just find the new look to be less Alaska and more Spirit/Southwest/Frontier. Maybe that is what they were going for. There is even a hint of Eurowings in there. There is a pretty great breakdown of the entire brand, livery, and other customer facing materials at Under Consideration. Their impression? Underwhelmed.

Overall, it’s not a highly inspiring redesign and rather than double-down on the quirkiness and ruggedness of the brand equity established they have moved away to safer territory.

Maybe Alaska should have gone to an all retro livery… (to be fair, some of the colors do match up)

old_alaska

— Updated at 12:30pm PST

I should add, if employees like the new look and it motivates them to better serve customers, then I am all for it. From the video of the unveiling of the new brand it does seem like the employees are excited about it and that’s a good thing.

Patrol Car Recording Released After Officer Shoots Dog

The 911 call features a woman who said she was driving past a home in the 2600 block of East Fifth Street and saw a man who appeared to be drunk and a woman trying to get away from him. The video shows Griffin arriving about 4:45 p.m., and he can be heard trying to verify which home was referenced. Not long after leaving his patrol car, Griffin is heard shouting, “Show me your hands” and then, “Get your dog!” That was followed by Cisco’s bark and a single gunshot.

I can understand why the officer had his gun drawn, he was told there was a disturbance and did not know what he was walking into. However, he was at the wrong address. If I was the Austin Police Department I would want to know why the address was not verified by the officer before he left his car. He can be heard asking which apartment unit the disturbance is at. Clearly there was a breakdown of communication.

As a dog owner, I am well aware that spooked dogs are scary. Though they may not bite, a scared dog looks intimidating. It makes me wonder though, had the officer clearly identified himself while walking up to the house whether or not Paxton would have returned the dog to the back yard. The officer says, “Show me your hands” and then immediately “Get your dog!”. If I have a gun pointed at me and am being told to show my hands, my brain is trying to figure out whether or not I should actually get the dog.

I look forward to hearing what the investigation from the Austin Police Department reveals. I know that restraint is not always an option, but I would think a little restraint in instances like this would not be too difficult. It just sounds like the officer was a little on edge walking into an unknown situation (again, at the wrong address) and that adrenaline lead to the shooting of the dog.

There is a Facebook page for Cisco, if you’re interested in that.

The cover takes a look at the airlines from a chemistry standpoint. Overall, the article is pretty good and gives a look at the merger from a perspective we as consumers aren’t necessarily used to seeing.

The cover still throws me off a bit, but the story behind how they design covers at BusinessWeek is very interesting.

When asked about being edgy, here is what the designers said –

It’s funny because I don’t think we are [edgy]. Everyone takes covers, interprets covers in a slightly different way. When you’re privy to the process, it demystifies it a bit. When you’re part of the process it loses the surprise value. So, I don’t see this one as particularly surprising. I think it’s fun. But, yah, it’s nice that everyone thinks that.

I think it’s an edgy cover and pretty much unnecessary.

Yes, I’m sure you’ve already had enough of the headlines. I just thought it was pertinent to post a few interesting tidbits that have come out of the news of bin Laden’s death.

  1. Pakistan was not informed of the raid or of bin Laden’s killing until after the raid.
  2. This speaks volumes to the amount of trust, or lack thereof, that we have of the Pakistani government. Sure, they were supplying us with phone taps and some other intelligence, but they were clearly unwilling to act upon any of it.

  3. There was intelligence in place as far back as 2007 that lead to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, most importantly, the real name of a courier that was making trips to the compound.
  4. It is not clear where all of this intelligence came from, but there are a number of places stating that it was gathered from prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay facility.

  5. Lastly, the President ordered a daring raid rather than a bombing mission against the compound
  6. My hat is off to President Obama. Rather than taking a risk of having bin Laden miraculously escape a bombing raid he made the tough decision to put American lives at risk by sending them deep into Pakistan. He certainly could have gone the Clinton route and ordered a cruise missile strike but instead made sure that the job was done right. Good job Mr. President. And good job President Bush.

In closing, I do not think that the death of Osama bin Laden will lead to less of a threat for Americans or westerners in general. The United States and other fighting forces had put the clamp on Obama’s ability to effectively wage war in Afghanistan and I think that’s why we have seen a lot of build-up in places such as Yemen. Bin Laden was a figurehead and while it is good that he is gone, we should not be eager to let our guard down.