This timelapse, taken at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, is wonderful, especially the long exposure shots sprinkled in. I have always wanted to fly into Haneda to watch the planes from their observation deck and this video just reinforces that desire.
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Rolling Stone did a feature on Ben Schlappig, creator of One Mile At a Time, and it’s definitely interesting. In typical Rolling Stone fashion, I am sure it was edited and in some cases sugarcoated to make the story more intriguing (I for one have never heard of “the Hobby”), but it’s a good read. There is tons of insight into the frequent flier community, including this:
Early editions of Petersen’s magazine featured stories on deals from obscure carriers; instructed fliers on how to duck airline countermeasures; and showed readers how they could win a thousand free miles by subscribing to magazines like Esquire. By 1993, Inside Flyer had 90,000 readers. Two years later, Petersen took the community online as FlyerTalk.
For some, the game has evolved from a wonkish pastime into an ends-justified obsession with beating the airlines — less Rain Man, more Ocean’s Eleven. While the game’s traditional methods remain technically legal, these Hobbyists — imagine them as the Deep Web of the Hobby — use tactics that routinely violate airline terms and conditions, techniques that can span a gradient from clever and harmless to borderline theft. (Schlappig concedes that he pushes the rules but insists he is careful not to break any laws.) Take the practice of “hidden-city ticketing” — booking your layover as your final destination, like buying a ticket from Point A to Point C, then sneaking away at B — or “fuel dumping,” a booking technique that confuses the price algorithm to deduct the cost of fuel from a ticket, often at an enormous discount.
I decided to read the Flyertalk thread that talks about the article and it was painful. A lot of personal attacks aimed at Ben and his story made it hard to read. I’ve only met Ben a few times and he’s a nice guy, I don’t agree with everything he writes or the idea of pushing credit cards on readers to receive the sign-up bonus, but I am a little jealous that he gets to fly around to really cool places and do it in premium cabins and makes a living from it. I think anyone who is a frequent flier and says they aren’t jealous of some of Ben’s travels is lying to themselves.
For me, doing a full time schedule of around the world travel, even in premium cabins, sounds good on the surface but is something I would probably really struggle with. I like having somewhere to come back to, a base of operations. But I would definitely love to fly premium cabins to exoctic locales more than I do currently.
After our move to Portland last year, I decided to match my United 1K status to Alaska Airlines. At the time, there were rumors that Alaska was matching top tier statuses from other airlines with their Gold 75K status, so I gave it a shot. A few weeks after submitting the match I received my credentials in the mail and sure enough, Gold 75K was what they gave me.
Since then I have not had much of an opportunity to fly on Alaska. Most of trips early in the year were to places they don’t fly or where their prices were not competitive. But recently Alaska Airlines has started offering flights between Seattle and Milwaukee and it has been perfect for my work trips. The flights are operated by Skywest using Embraer E-175s, a regional jet that doesn’t feel like a regional jet. They can hold normal sized carry-on bags in the overhead bins, they have tall ceilings, and for most carriers, they have a first class cabin.
My first trip on Alaska’s new Skywest E175 service was a return from Milwaukee to Seattle on the second day the flight operated. I had been upgraded to first class shortly after booking. The only seats available were the set of two in the bulkhead. Not my favorite seats, but I was not going to complain. At the airport, there was an agent helping customers use the kiosk as well as two agents helping at the counter to check bags and print boarding passes. All were very friendly and seemed excited about the new service. I arrived with a little more than an hour until boarding but with PreCheck, I was through security and at the gate very quickly. Not much more waiting and they were already announcing boarding for families with children under two and those needing extra assistance. Then active duty military were called and first class. Walking onboard I got a good whiff of “new plane smell” which, I have to say, is like new car smell just a bit more expensive.
The flight attendants had already placed small Dasani water bottles at every seat and were greeting passengers as they boarded. They both seemed excited about the new planes, the new service, and just happy to be there. It was refreshing. The plane did not take long to board and we pushed back from the gate right on schedule, the captain telling us it would be right at four hours until wheels down in Seattle. I was actually seated next to a pilot who explained that for the first few days of service, Alaska and Skywest were flying an extra crew to operate the return flight just in case there was a storm or other delay that would cause the original crew to time out and cancel the flight. He was gracious and answered all of my questions about the E-175 and the Skywest service for all of the different carriers. It seemed like he enjoyed his job and was happy to be able to fly the E-175 for multiple carriers now.
Shortly after takeoff the flight attendant visited each passenger, asking them what they wanted to drink and whether or not they would be having dinner. I asked for an Alaskan Amber and mentioned that yes, I would be having dinner. I expected to hear choices for dinner but none were presented. A short time later and the Alaskan Amber and plastic ramekin of nuts was delivered (the nuts had been heated). A little while later and the dinner was placed in front of me. The meal consisted of a sandwich, in this case chipotle chicken, a salad, and a cookie. The meal was ok. I am not a fan of those sandwich rounds used for the bread but other than that, it was fine. I will say that I found the portion to be a little small for a flight of four hours. United, on Chicago-Portland in first, serves a large portion meal followed by an ice cream dessert.
On the next flight I took, Seattle to Milwaukee, the meal was a similar sandwich and salad affair but the sandwich was a “Cuban”. I put it in quotes because it had pickles, cheese, and ham but that’s about where the similarities between what I ate and a what Cuban sandwich is end.
Let’s talk about the seat for a minute. It’s a simple first class seat with a power outlet for each passenger. The headrest is adjustable and the recline is nice. Other than that, it’s a basic seat. There is also supposed to be WiFi and streaming entertainment but neither of these have been available on any of the flights I have been on, though I am told it is definitely coming.
Overall, Alaska’s E-175 offering is a great option to get from the Pacific Northwest to Milwaukee. The food leaves a little to be desired but it’s non-stop from Seattle (I do wish it left a little earlier) and the operation seems to be pretty solid. I have taken thes flights between Seattle and Milwaukee about 5 times so far and the only inconsistency I’ve noticed is in the flight attendant service. I think this will work itself out once they are used to operating for Alaska on the E-175s, but there were a few times where the crew did not know how to operate some of the equipment or handle the service. Definitely nothing that is a deal breaker for me. I am just happy to have another option where I do not have to connect through Chicago.
The MTA website says it’s a 38-mile trip from 241st Street in the Bronx to Far Rockaway, but we think we can do better. We found a route between those same two stations that covers over 148 miles of track. It uses every subway line at least once and requires 45 transfers.
There are a couple of subway lines in New York City that I never had the chance to ride during my time working there. I plan to fix that though. Now, go see if you can find a longer route!
You can’t make this stuff up. From Aviation Herald:
A source had told The Aviation Herald that the aircraft was enroute, when the captain discovered that he was still carrying ammunition consisting of 10 bullets in his luggage, the ammunition not being permitted to be taken into Germany. The captain therefore decided to get rid of the ammunition and disposed of the ammunication into a waste bin. “Unfortunately” a passenger lost her ring in flight, the flight attendants assisted in the search for the lost ring and also checked the waste bins. A flight attendant thus discovered the bullets, dutifully brought and reported the bullets to the captain, who now decided to ultimately get rid of the bullets and dumped them down the toilet. Later the flight attendant inquired again about the bullets, the captain realized that she would file a report, explained the situation to her and informed ground.
Just poor choices all around from the pilot. He could have saved everyone a lot of headaches had he just reported the bullets initially and paid the fine when he arrived in Germany.
I needed to buy a last minute ticket for work recently and Delta was the only option left that had seats and a schedule that matched what I needed. After I bought the ticket, Delta gave me an option to buy-up to first class. The price was right and I had wanted to compare what I had read about Delta’s first class product being great to what I had experienced on United, so I purchased the buy-up.
Time to examine the hype.
For work travel, I rely heavily on airline iPhone apps to keep me updated and to do basic maintenance on my reservations (change seats, make reservations, etc.). The first thing I noticed using the Delta app is just how clunky it is. Sure, picking a seat is relatively easy, but making a booking in the app is a frustrating process. The app does validation before you submit a flight search and will pop up an error if your origin and destination are the same. So, if you need to reverse your search, you have to put in a third airport code to be able to switch the origin and destination without error. There are quirks like this throughout the app. It is the same thing for flight information as well. Some items are clickable and lead to more info, but there is no visual way to know that an item has that feature without clicking on everything so you end up sitting there, hitting random parts of the screen, looking for what you want. Compared to United’s app, which is powerful, yet relatively easy to use, Delta’s app seems to need some serious work.
Before traveling, I had added my known traveler number to the reservation and on check-in received PreCheck. Knowing I have PreCheck allows me to show up at Portland’s airport about an hour before boarding and have plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee and do some work before getting on the plane, so that’s what I did. I walked up to the security area, opened up my mobile boarding pass and saw an orange icon indicating that my flight had been delayed. Knowing that an agent would be able to help me at the gate, I proceeded through security.
Making it through security, I look at the delay one more time and realize I will miss my connection because of it. I proceed to the gate and get in line to speak with the gate agent. An agent comes over and asks if I need something, to which I reply, “I believe my flight to Minneapolis is delayed and I will miss my connection”. She says, “I am closing out this flight and I’m not working that flight, walk down the hall and there are phones where you can call Delta”. Ok, that makes sense, so I walk down the hall and sure enough, there are phones. They’re all taken by people trying to fix their plans as well but there is a sign with a 1800 number so I dial it. The prompts ask if I am in the airport and when I reply yes, the wait is no more than 2 minutes to speak to an agent. The agent tells me that she cannot find any options on the same day but that she will see if she can find something on another carrier. A few minutes later she tells me my only options are to spend the night in Minneapolis or take a redeye via Atlanta. I ask if the hotel in Minneapolis will be covered to which she replies, “you would need to ask the agents in Minneapolis”. I am not willing to take that risk so I ask her to explore the American Airlines flight to Chicago that is showing an F seat for sale. She can’t find it. I run to the AA gate to see if they will simply sell me the seat (I’d refund the Delta ticket). Nope, they just cleared a standby into it. Sorry.
Back on the phone I accept the redeye option, simply because I was not comfortable spending the night and trusting that Delta would take care of the hotel (there was weather that night in the area). Well, time to head home because I have another nine hours before my new flight leaves. Here is what I originally booked (red), versus what I was rebooked on (navy).
Nine hours later I was back at the airport for the red-eye to Atlanta. I had hoped to review the meal options on the original flight but the delay squashed that idea. Now my goal was to get as much sleep as possible but I knew that would be a challenge. Onboard there was a bottle of water, a small pillow, and a blanket at the seat. The seat pitch was pretty standard but what I noticed was the lack of an adjustable headrest on the seat. It seems that most of the Delta domestic fleet is the same, missing the adjustable headrests that you can manipulate to rest your head to one side. The flight attendants come by asking if passengers would like anything before we take off. I order a whiskey and water, a nightcap if you will, and it’s quickly delivered.
The safety video comes on. It’s cute but man is it lengthy.
The pilot makes a quick announcement that he won’t be making any other announcements until our descent into Atlanta and that our flight time will be four hours (OUCH!). A few minutes later and we’re in the air. I put on an eye mask and attempt to get some sleep, but, to be honest, it didn’t go well. The seats are comfortable but there is not a lot in the way of lumbar support and without an adjustable headrest I can’t really lean one direction. The entire flight was spent with me readjusting to try and get comfortable and I ended up getting maybe 1-2 hours of sleep.
We landed in Atlanta on time and that gave me about 35 minutes to use the restroom, brush my teeth and make my connection. I walked from concourse A to concourse B and made it to the gate right as they were starting to board. I looked for a coffee shop nearby but there was nothing, the upside being I could try the much touted Starbucks coffee that Delta serves in first.Onboard the flight attendant greeted everyone with a friendly “Good morning!”. She then came around first class asking if we would like anything before takeoff. A few minutes later and I was tasting the coffee. It wasn’t bad. Not great, but drinkable, which says a lot about airplane coffee. The taste was much more of what you expect in coffee and less of that metallic and chalky taste you sometimes get from airplane coffee. I was in the bulkhead seat on the Airbus A320 and found the legroom to be fine. There is a little cut out for your feet and that makes it comfortable. If I was a little taller the legroom would have been tight.
There was no overhead entertainment so the safety demo was done by the flight attendants and it went by much faster than the video shown above. A short time later we were in the air.
It was a quick flight to Milwaukee so the only service was beverages and a snack basket (I had a banana and some Biscoff cookies, if you were wondering). I tried to use the Delta Studio streaming entertainment but could not get it to work. Every time I connected I received a screen like below and could never get to the list of shows.
An hour and half later and we were on the ground in Milwaukee and I was on my way to work.
Overall, there was nothing about the experience that blew me away making me want to switch permanently to Delta. The boarding process was just as chaotic as United’s, with people blocking the boarding lanes 15 or 20 minutes before the flight is scheduled to board.The way the delayed flight was handled left a lot to be desired. I didn’t want to go into details above but the agent was not proactive in finding other options and I had to suggest a number of things. She also insisted on putting me in coach until I pushed back about being in first class. I am not an elite on Delta so I wonder if that had something to do with it.
For flying a relatively old fleet, the Airbus I was on is 23.3 years old, Delta does a pretty good job keeping the interiors clean and well kept. I didn’t see any panels loosely hanging or build ups of dirt and grime anywhere. The lavatories on both flights were the cleanest I have ever seen on an airplane.
I was happy to finally get to try Delta on a mainline flight in first. I am planning a few more flights on them since some of their schedules to certain destinations are better than what United offers. I am also flying Alaska back to Seattle at the end of this week and hope write a review about their new E-175 service as soon as I can.
Last week, United announced that they would be moving their p.s. (Premium Service) operation from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport. At first, I scratched my head, then I watched the flood of posts about how this is a terrible move, then I read rebuttals that it is a genius move. As with most things, the reality is somewhere in the middle.
United will cease operations at JFK in October of 2015 and move the p.s. flights to Newark. This means there will be no more service at all for United at JFK. This was done via a slot swap with Delta, basically trading landing rights at each airline’s hub. United has said that this will help boost connecting traffic via Newark from the west coast, especially the European destinations served only out of Newark and United’s only flights to India. The move will also give business class customers a flat-bed seat from the west coast to those same destinations.
With the addition of p.s. service at Newark Liberty, United customers flying on transcontinental flights to and from Newark in the BusinessFirst cabin will, for the first time, enjoy flat-bed comfort for their entire journey when connecting to and from flights across United’s extensive trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific networks.
As Seth points out, there are some huge operational benefits as well, including having 757-200s with more BusinessFirst seats at their disposal. It also frees up some Airbus and Boeing planes to operate other routes rather than doubling up on New York service as United was doing previously.
These aircraft are also occasionally serving Hawaii and other domestic destinations as the older 752s are being retired out of the fleet. By putting all of them into the same pool of potential aircraft it is possible to shift capacity much more easily.
The rest of Seth’s analysis is worth a read too, as usual, he’s level headed and reasonable when it comes to reporting aviation news.
At first, I had very mixed feelings about the move. Terminal 7 at JFK where United operates is a prime example of how bad an airport experience can get. Terrible security lines, no real amenities in the terminal, and at times, a lot of overcrowding all made me despise the experience. But, JFK is convenient for a lot of Brooklyn, Queens, and the rest of Long Island. I took a few red-eyes from the west coast to be at our offices around the Brooklyn area and it was a really quick transfer. I find the transfer from Newark to Manhattan to be about as long as the one from JFK to Manhattan and sometimes Newark is faster, depending on traffic and which way your cab driver decides to go. Also, Newark has come a long way in terms of amenities. It’s clean and for the most part well lit and while I am not a huge fan of the OTG changes, the food options are still much better than what is available at Terminal 7 at JFK. The one big downside of moving things to Newark is the United Clubs. I do not use them a lot, but every time I do they are packed. As in, can’t find a seat packed. It is usually around the time of the west coast and European departures but I have also seen it that crowded early in the morning. If United does something to help alleviate the crowding issues, there is not much left to say about this not being a good move.
Just think about it. You live in San Francisco but have a meeting in Hartford, Connecticut. With this move by United you can now fly in BusinessFirst overnight and catch the early morning flight to Hartford at Newark, rather than having to drive from JFK up that way. Or, if you are catching a European connection, you can now get the BusinessFirst experience rather than a domestic first class seat, all the way from your origin to your destination. Still don’t want to trek to Newark? There are always the flights out LaGuardia.
A recent United flight from Houston to Portland diverted to Salt Lake City and the pilot had a family removed from the plane. The mother claims the removal was due to discrimination against her daughter’s autism. United claims that the situation became disruptive and the pilot made the decision to divert. The mother is now saying she is planning to sue United for discrimination. That is the simplest way to describe this odd story but, for a number of reasons, I think it only touches the surface of what happened.
Before I jump into the multiple aspects to this incident I want to state a few things that I think are important.
- I am not a lawyer nor am I an airline employee. I simply fly a lot for work and leisure and I see a lot of things, some of them crazy, on planes.
- I have family members with mental disabilities as well as friends who are the parents of children with mental disabilities. It is not my intention to diminish the fact that raising a child with disabilities is difficult, stressful, and trying. Parents who work so hard to give their children “normal” lives and provide for their needs are definitely not my issue in this post.
- I believe there is more to this story than what is being presented by the news outlets. United, being threatened with litigation by the mother, is unquestionably going to be tight-lipped about the entire thing. The story has seemingly morphed since it was originally on television here in Portland as well, with more details coming to light and wording being changed.
With all of that said, where do we even start with all of this? Dr. Beegle, the mother of the autistic child stated that the family had dinner in Houston’s Intercontinental Airport but that her daughter did not partake. The mother, being thoughtful and caring, grabbed some snacks, knowing that her daughter may need them onboard.
The family ate dinner in Houston, Beegle said, but Juliette refused to eat. Beegle brought some snacks on board for her because “if her blood sugar lets go, she gets frustrated and antsy. We try to anticipate that and prevent that.”
When the family boarded, Dr. Beegle asked a Flight Attendant if they had any hot meals due to her daughter being a “picky eater” (her words not mine). The flight attendant let her know what they had a hot sandwich, but then, when everyone was served, the sandwich was room temperature.
The mother is clearly preempting her daughter’s needs, I appreciate that. The flight attendant is working with the information they have. Hot food is usually catered on United afternoon and evening flights, sometimes it is not due to catering screw-ups. What happened here is one of those pieces of information that we just don’t have. Did the flight attendant’s not heat up the meal? Were the hot sandwiches not catered?
Anyway, Dr. Beegle then asked to purchase a hot meal from first class. The flight attendant told her that was not possible.
“I asked if I can purchase something hot for my daughter and [the first class flight attendant] said no” she said. “I called him back over and I said to him, ‘Please, help us out here,'” but he again refused.
“He came back again and I said, ‘I have a child with special needs, I need to get her something.’ And he said, ‘I can’t do that,'” she explained. “I said, ‘How about we wait for her to have a meltdown, she’ll be crying and trying to scratch in frustration. I don’t want her to get to that point.'”
This is where I see some odd differences in the wording and also the point in the tale where things start to go downhill. First, the original story by KOIN6 news stated that the mother said she’ll “get to the meltdown point” and “maybe scratch someone”, yet the AP story has different wording. I would like to know what was actually said. And if “scratch someone” was used, why was that necessary to say? I would also want to know if this was the first time the mother mentioned the child having special needs. If it was, why did the mother not bring it up the first time when the sandwich arrived cold?
After the mother made the above statement the flight attendant brought rice and jambalaya from first class. Again, we are lacking a little detail here. Was it an extra serving, did someone not want their meal, or was it a crew meal? That may not seem important but I have seen a comments stating that the flight attendant was cold hearted and should have just done something to help. If the flight attendant originally told the mother that he couldn’t bring something from first class, it may have been because he was still serving first class and didn’t know if there would be any meals available.
Soon after this occurred an announcement was made that the plane would be making an emergency landing because of a passenger with “a behavior issue”. What happened in between the two events I can only speculate about but for the pilot to make the decision he had to receive the details about the encounter with Dr. Beegle and then decide whether or not to continue with the flight. On domestic flights, when a pilot leaves the cockpit a flight attendant enters the cockpit so that the door can be opened when the pilot returns. This has been a policy since a little after 9/11. At the same time, a flight attendant in the front galley usually blocks the aisle with a food cart. I believe this is a policy on United only but you may see it at other airlines. With these measures, it is not possible for the pilot to walk back to the Beegles and assess the situation himself. He can only make a decision based on the information given to him by his flight attendants.
If the wording used by Dr. Beegle was actually “she may try to scratch someone” and that was passed along to the pilot, then the decision to divert was probably not a difficult one. A passenger who may threaten others can lead to a situation that escalates quickly and dealing with violence on an airplane is not easy. When you are on a plane, the pilot is the final say in safety matters. If he feels something is a danger, whether it be mechanical or human, he makes the decision on what to do with the plane. Diversions are not taken lightly either. It is not like a pilot wakes up one morning and thinks to herself, “you know, today I feel like going to Salt Lake City on the way to Portland, wonder if I can cause a diversion?”.
There are some side notes about the comments made after the plane landed. The medic’s comments I deem unimportant. When flights call in their diversions, there is very little information usually given other than maybe “we have an unruly passenger and would like to be met by emergency personnel”. For a medical professional to come onboard and then find that nothing was wrong medically then proceed to say it was an “overreaction” by the pilot, I think that’s unprofessional. When the pilot stated that he didn’t feel comfortable continuing with Dr. Beegle’s daughter onboard, Dr. Beegle stood up and asked the rest of the plane what they thought. That’s a red flag in my book as well.
In the end I think there is blame to share on both sides. The flight attendants could have done a better job asking what needs the child had when the mother first brought it up to them. The mother could have chosen her words more wisely and tried to explain what was going on more clearly. I don’t read the stories about this and see anything that stands out as discriminatory against autism though. It is not like the pilot came over before takeoff and said “we see your daughter has special needs and we can’t accommodate her, you will need to get off the plane” which would be direct violation of the Air Carrier Access Act.
I also do not see anything that says the pilot’s decision was based on anything physical the girl did, which leads me to believe that it was the mother’s statement about scratching that caused the diversion. The mother’s reason for using that statement bugs me. Someone told me on Twitter “It’s sad to me that people have to watch what they say so carefully now.” when I mentioned the wording being a potential problem. I agree and disagree. You are in a metal tube at 35,000 feet, things can go badly very quickly. Does this mean you need to be completely censored? No, it just means you do not use the potential of violence in your conversations, especially when you are wanting something from a flight attendant. Think about how that comes across, “she needs a hot meal or she may scratch someone”.
Again, there are, I’m sure, plenty of details that we are missing. Those details may fill in the gaps on things such as tone and composure of the mother and the flight attendant. Also, the family was put on another flight on Delta to get from Salt Lake City to Portland and from what I can find, that flight was the same day. In the grand scheme of things, it was an inconvenience for everyone, the Beegle family, the other passengers on the United flight, and the crew. I also believe there was a little bit of overreaction by Dr. Beegle and the flight attendant. Maybe if each had taken a minute to think about the situation and spoken a little less, the plane would have continued on to Portland with no diversion. But, as with most stories, there are two sides, and we are only hearing the one side that has been covered in the news and on social media. Just as with the flight attendant and the mother, maybe we all need to take a step back and understand that not everything about this has been made public and maybe we should reserve judgement for when more information is made available.
I do hope this raises more awareness of autism and the different forms it can take. Alaska Airlines has a program where they invite families with an autistic child experience a day at the airport and on an airplane as well teach their employees how to be sensitive to the needs of such passengers. AIR (Autism Inclusion Resources) also recently teamed up with United and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to host a dry run of a travel day for families with an autistic child. So awareness and training is growing.
In March I had a three week work assignment in the Los Angeles area. My Sundays were free so one weekend I headed to LAX and took photos of the mid-afternoon arrivals. The planespotting at LAX is a lot of the same traffic day after day but the experience of it is always a blast. If you have a long layover in Los Angeles I highly recommend making a stop at the In-N-Out on Sepulveda Boulevard, grabbing a burger and fries, and watching the planes come in. You can do this by catching the Parking Spot parking shuttle (Sepulveda location). The Parking Spot is well aware of people doing this and they are happy to oblige. Hop on the bus and at the drop off point inside the garage, just head for the single door, you will be able to see In-N-Out through it.
If you have a bit more time, there is another spotting area called Imperial Hill that is just as great for spotting but does not have the In-N-Out (or restrooms).
Below are a few of the shots I was able to get while at LAX. It really is a fun place to watch really large airplanes land.
My arrival at LAX was met with a huge rainstorm. I took the rental car shuttle for Avis and found my name on the board with a “See Preferred Counter Staff” note next to it. I walk inside and I am quickly greeted. The gentleman informs me that he has a number of different SUVs. I ask for a car, to which he replies, “well, the only available car I have for you is on the other side of the lot”. It is pouring outside and LAX rental car locations don’t have covered parking. Why should they, they don’t get enough rain to warrant it, but it’s 11:30pm and I just want to get to the hotel and get some sleep before a 4am wake-up.
I take the SUV, a Hyundai Tuscon. 28,000 miles on it but the Tuscon drives alright. Like most rentals, the windshield is filthy with a film on the inside making it difficult to see in the pouring rain. Rental companies, if you are reading this, clean the inside of the windshields! It’s important!
I end up driving the Tuscon for a few days all around Los Angeles. It guzzles gas like it is going out of style. I do not have to pay for the gas, but the client does and I think having to fill up once a week is a bit excessive, especially since I am only driving 40 miles a day. So, I place a phone call to an Avis location near the office and ask if they will swap out the Tuscon for a car. Nope, only SUVs left. I call another location, same response. I find a place that does have a car but it’s a Hyundai Elantra with 45,000 miles on it. No thanks.
Eventually, I call the Avis counter at Burbank airport and explain that I would like a car. They have some! It is a bit further of a drive but I make it there and inform the counter agent that I had called and requested a car. He thanks me for being an Avis First member, one of the “elite” levels in their program, then informs me that he has a Ford Mustang or a Nissan Altima. I ask if he has a Prius available, I saw three of them when I was walking to the counter. “Nope, they’re reserved”.
This is where I have to speak up. On Avis’s website, I had reserved an intermediate car, instead, they auto-assigned me a SUV as an upgrade. Yet, there is no way for me to specify that I want a hybrid vehicle or fuel efficient vehicle. Avis even touts their Prius rentals, yet there is no way to specifically reserve one.
Then there is the counter experience. If you have a lot full of cars and especially 3 or 4 Priuses yet when I ask to grab one of them and the answer is “they’re reserved”, how is that even possible? How is someone reserving that specific car? And, if they didn’t reserve it but it was assigned to them, why can’t you assign them something else.
I tried to have a little bit of this discussion with the person helping me but he was insistent that the only options he had were an Altima or a Ford Mustang. I took the Altima and it’s better to get 30mpg than the 20mpg I was getting with the Hyundai Tuscon, but the rental car experience is really abysmal. It is not just Avis, but all of the different car companies. Sure, there are “pick your own vehicle” rows with most companies but there is no guarantee those vehicles are not completely beat up inside or don’t smell like smoke. Even my Silvercar rental over the Christmas holiday was mediocre. The car had dings in it, the attendant pointed them out to me, yet he had a bunch of cars sitting around available.
There has to be a better way to do this. Let me look at your inventory and reserve a specific car or even a specific class of car. Let me state “no SUVs” in my profile and have that honored. Let me know how many miles a car has on it before I walk to it.
All of these things would make the entire experience better. I am interested to hear your thoughts on the rental car process. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.