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Posts from the Popular Culture Category

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.

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 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.”

By now I am sure you have seen Casey Neistat’s video documenting his recent experience in Emirates First Class after an upgrade. If you haven’t, I have embedded the video below.

I appreciate that Casey shared the experience via his vlog. Showering at 35,000 feet is one of the coolest features of first class Emirates (and now Etihad). That said, the episode was a little click-baity. The headline is definitely attention grabbing but what is the reality of people paying $21,000 for a first class ticket? The general assumption is that high level executives and the independently wealthy are the ones filling the best seats on the planes and while that might occasionally be the case, for the most part, people are not paying full price.

Airlines can price the first class cabin at whatever they want, the higher the price, the more of an exclusive feel. Behind the scenes though, airlines are discounting those seats for companies that have large corporate contracts and releasing the seats for rewards or upgrades. So yes, there might be a few people out there who actually pay full price for first class, but the reality is that a lot are paying far below the published price you will find on a website.

The video is definitely a great look at Emirates’ first class product and all of its features. Casey didn’t really know why he was upgraded and I wonder if it had something to do with his Boosted Board being confiscated by security at the Sydney Airport.

Edit, not too long after posting this story, Cynthia Drescher clued me in on a great theory of why Casey was upgraded:

* The links to Amazon on this post are affiliate links that do generate revenue for me and this site. *

My friend Patrick tweeted a few months ago about how excited he was about the season two of Bosch being released. I had never watched the show and actually only really heard about it in passing, so I decided to watch an episode and see if it was something interesting. About three episodes into the first season and I was hooked. So hooked in fact that I watched the entire first season in a couple of days. When the second season was released, I watched it just as quickly.

I usually watch things on my iPad when I am traveling because the inflight entertainment on most airlines is not filled with the greatest content or things that I want to watch. Well, after I finished watching Bosch I read up on the book series that inspired the show and was intrigued. The show is an adaptation of Michael Connelly’s Bosch series. From the titles, you may not realize they are Bosch books but they are and Amazon is pretty good at showing you which ones are in the series and what Connelly’s other titles are. Note, Connelly also wrote The Lincoln Lawyer, which became a movie and is Connelly’s first novel in the Mickey Haller series.

After digging into all of this I decided I would buy the first three books in the Bosch series, The Black Echo, The Black Ice, and The Concrete Blonde. I am about halfway through The Black Echo and really enjoying Connelly’s writing style. He is detailed but not so much so that you lose interest and skip descriptions. The details add value to the story and I appreciate his taking the time to think through putting you into Bosch’s mind. The books don’t completely line up with the Amazon show, so if you are expecting that, just be aware that the two are set in different time periods and Bosch in the books is a Vietnam vet, not an Iraqi war vet. It’s a minor difference and not one that has diminished the reading experience.

The books are great “lounging around” reading. I am pretty much carrying it everywhere I go and reading little bits as I get the time. Doing a bit more reading has been a recent goal and the Bosch series is definitely helping to kick start that habit. I guess I have Patrick to thank for piquing my interest in the show!

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.

Iran’s blogfather: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are killing the web (The Guardian)

Even before I went to jail, though, the power of hyperlinks was being curbed. Its biggest enemy was a philosophy that combined two of the most dominant, and most overrated, values of our times: newness and popularity. (Isn’t this embodied these days by the real-world dominance of young celebrities?) That philosophy is the stream. The stream now dominates the way people receive information on the web. Fewer users are directly checking dedicated webpages, instead getting fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex and secretive algorithms.

I miss when people took time to be exposed to opinions other than their own, and bothered to read more than a paragraph or 140 characters. I miss the days when I could write something on my own blog, publish on my own domain, without taking an equal time to promote it on numerous social networks; when nobody cared about likes and reshares, and best time to post.

The whole article is worth reading but that last paragraph is a truth I can’t agree with enough. It seems like it is harder and harder to just write something and have someone read it or take a picture and have people enjoy it. Instead everything has to be “curated” and cared for to catch as many views and likes as possible.

I am even guilty of it here. On Twitter I linked to my link post here rather than the article itself. I want people to read my thoughts on the article rather than the article alone…

What it feels like to be adopted at 17

This beautiful and sad story of pain, suffering, and ultimately redemption and healing is worth reading.

Afterwards there was a moment when I hugged my mom, and all my siblings came around me and wrapped their slinky little arms around legs or purses or whatever they could get to. My dad even bumbled in on it, and he’s not one to get very emotional. I was shaking and I couldn’t let go of my mom — memories of the things they had done to fight for me over the years shot through me like fire. I closed my eyes and rested on her shoulder. I had found my way home. These people had always been my family.

Seeing as we are just a few days from Christmas, I thought this was a fitting story to share (even though the original is a couple of years old) since it took place around the same date in 1943. The story is that of a B-17 crew that was trying to make its way back to England after being heavily damaged during a bombing mission over mainland Europe. The crew was injured and the plane was flying lower and slower than usual, making them a giant target for German anti-aircraft gunners and fighter pilots. The German fighter pilot who rose to intercept them instead, incredibly spared them.

As Stigler’s fighter rose to meet the bomber, he decided to attack it from behind. He climbed behind the sputtering bomber, squinted into his gun sight and placed his hand on the trigger. He was about to fire when he hesitated. Stigler was baffled. No one in the bomber fired at him.

He looked closer at the tail gunner. He was still, his white fleece collar soaked with blood. Stigler craned his neck to examine the rest of the bomber. Its skin had been peeled away by shells, its guns knocked out. He could see men huddled inside the plane tending the wounds of other crewmen.

Then he nudged his plane alongside the bomber’s wings and locked eyes with the pilot whose eyes were wide with shock and horror.

Stigler pressed his hand over the rosary he kept in his flight jacket. He eased his index finger off the trigger. He couldn’t shoot. It would be murder.

You can read the full story on CNN or buy the book, A Higher Call, from Amazon (Referral link).

It’s a great story and a reminder of the grace and mercy that we can show each other everyday, even in the hardest of circumstances.