Oh, the Terror(ism)!

What follows is a reply to another blog post here. This reply was posted in the comments.
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Should we argue semantics? Get all hung up on the “true” meanings of words? Yes. It’s why we have them.

It’s why Charles Manson was a mass-murderer. Son of Sam a serial killer. Why guys who get tired of delivering the mail “go postal.”

We have so many words to describe things, you really need to look at why.

There are definitely double standards, which I think was the point of this post.

When the Ft. Hood shootings happened, when it became public knowledge that the shooter’s last name was Hassan, immediately the media was filled with “was this an act of terrorism?” His shouting, “glory to god” (I believe the translation of Allah Akbar) didn’t help matters.

Did anyone call the VA Tech shooter a terrorist? He wasn’t white. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t born here, either.

There have been other school shootings, since Columbine, and since 9-11 – they are sadly almost cliche. How many of them were labeled “terrorism?”

I’ll also point out that when that small private plane crashed into an apartment building in Manhattan (it killed a baseball player – I’m too lazy to look up details), “terrorism” was the initial, unqualified, panicked response, as people there are still a bit edgy about planes flying into buildings. (turned out someone just fucked up)

People who protested the last presidential administration were labeled “terrorists,” or at the very least terrorist sympathizers. What terror did they instill – in anyone other than elected officials?

The riots in LA after the Rodney King verdict – terrorism? Or rioting?

We have violence. We have crime. We have violent crime. We also, now, have legally defined “hate crimes.” Beating up someone for being gay – terrorism? I know for a fact a lot of homosexuals who might otherwise come out to their communities don’t for fear of physical assault, among other things. They live in constant fear.

All bigots are terrorists? The KKK certainly did a lot to instill fear in black communities. There are, sadly, very many white-supremacist groups. They are organized. They have a political and social agenda. They use violence and fear of more violence to convey their message. Perhaps their time has come to be labeled appropriately?

Violence directed (rightly or no) against a government office – terrorism? With what message? “We’re going to resist paying more taxes!” or was it, “I’m destroying everything and I’m taking you with me!”

At risk of going off on a tangent, do I think taxes are fair? The way they’re currently levied, no. The tax burden is ridiculously upside down in this country. But I do believe in taxation. We all live in a community, a society, and derive a benefit from that, and we all need to contribute to that to make it work for all of us. I like roads. I like schools. I like police and fire departments. I believe those who derive the largest benefit should contribute the largest amount. That would be the corporations that have judicial and legislative systems that create and enforce laws for their benefit.

The clerk, who wanted a secure job with a pension, checking to see if your returns were filled out properly, is not evil incarnate (typically) and does not deserve to be murdered.

If you attend an organized protest of the wars in Afghanistan, you can, under the PATRIOT act, be grabbed up off the street, held as an “enemy combatant,” without bail, without advice of an attorney, subjected to “enhanced interrogation” such as water boarding, even though you’re a US citizen, all without being charged with anything other than being a suspected “terrorist.”

A guy flying a plane into an IRS building in a fit of destructive, violent, homicidal rage? I wouldn’t be too quick to apply the term “terrorist” to him. Throwing labels around like that and some of them might bounce back and stick.

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Insert tab A into slot B

Well, I guess it’s time for what’s getting to be my monthly posting about trips to Wisconsin – or as I like to call it, Chez Cheese. I know, I know, I haven’t posted in two months. I actually wrote this one last month, but I never got around to finishing it. I didn’t have anything to say about the month before because, frankly, it was uneventful (well, from a travel standpoint, anyway).

I did have the multiple gate-change, 4-hour layover fiasco in Chicago’s O’Hare. (I was going to call the post, “O’Harried” or “O’Harrowing.” Perhaps fortunately the post never happened.) While I was walking to my gate at one end of the terminal – the end of the terminal – they changed my gate to one in a completely different terminal. Let me say it again – changed while I was walking there. I lugged my 40 lb. shoulder bag (because who needs wheels?) and my backpack with laptop and accouterments (is that were luggage comes from, or is it the other way?) around the football stadium that is O’Hare for 4 hours. I had time to kill, and what was I supposed to do, buy a book and sit and read it?

They changed my gate 3 more times while I waited. Others told me that it was par for “No’Fare.” So, while arduous, I didn’t feel it particularly interesting enough to write about. Except that, well, I just did.

I knew what my topic was going to be last month, however, very soon after I landed. There is the unsung villain, perhaps villainous sidekick, rather, to air travel – car rental.

First off, there is the possibly illegal, though certainly unethical practice of tricking you into an upgrade. You reserve a small to midsize car, and when you show up to collect your reservation they say, “I have a monster SUV, or a fancy, high-end sport sedan available…?” Oh, they have plenty of smaller cars, too. But they’re making you say, “OK” to the bigger car by presenting them, and only them, as options, usually without telling you they’ll cost more.

Last month I switched to Avis from Enterprise, because I didn’t like the later’s practice of being a mere $10 cheaper, but offering a car so stripped down I was lucky to have automatic windows. (Does anyone have manual, roll-down windows anymore? But then what motion do you use when you want to talk to the person in the car next to you?) They (Enterprise) told me that for a “modest upgrade” I could get things like a stereo radio, cruise control (essential to keeping to the speed limit in a foreign state) and a key fob, so I don’t have to fumble with gloves on in the snow and rain to get a key in and unlock one door then reach over and manually unlock the others to let in my passengers who’re still standing outside. You know, the stuff we never had when we were kids. I know the corporate bean counters back home would balk at the word “upgrade” on my receipt, so I opted for the one who gave you all that stuff in the base rate.

If only they would give you the base rate. Booking the car through my corporate travel site, there’s a price quoted for a midsize sedan of $48/day. Last month, when I got to the counter, the helpful woman at the counter said, “I have a Saturn Vue…?” Knowing as much about cars as I do economic foreign policy, I say, “m’OK,” and am surprised to see a sporty little SUV waiting for me. And here I am thinking, wow, how nice of Avis to have such nice cars – worth the extra $10. There was some monster snow that weekend, so it turned out to be fortuitous.

So this time at the counter I’m told, “I have a [some brand I forget], which is a midsize SUV.” Then, as I pause for a moment to consider what could be “midsize” for a monster truck that’s far too huge for most people to get around in, and how it still qualifies as one, “it’s $89 on your corporate rate.” It’s late at night and I’m tired, so my mental gears aren’t completely greased.

“No,” I say, “I certainly don’t need anything that big,” remembering the seats-6-with-all-their-luggage-and-a-kiddie-pool Vue.

“I have a Dodge Magnum…?”

“m’OK,” I relent. She could have said, “I have Gursis Baba Friggle Bibby…?” and I would have said the same thing, because the only thing I can picture with the word “magnum” is condoms.


I’m not sure how I would classify the Dodge Magnum. It’s got the look of a car for people who like to collect speeding tickets, but it’s got a cargo area in the back. It’s too short to be a van, but can you really call it a hatch-back? My van technically has a hatch on the back, but “hatch-back” brings other cars to mind. The Ford Pinto is a hatch-back. So is the AMC Gremlin. Back in my day, the name we used for cars that had a cargo area connected to the cab instead of a trunk was “Station Wagon.” So, yeah, the Magnum is a fancy, sporty station wagon, albeit one in which you might actually be able to pick up a date.

Now the gears in my mind catch. Is this car, also $89 “on my corporate rate?” They didn’t quote me a price, but is that what I paid last time? It’s still bigger than I need, certainly not “blah,” and I don’t recall explicitly saying, “no, I want something cheaper.” “No, not that big,” should mean, to most people, “don’t try to upsale me, just give me what I asked for.”

This is decidedly dishonest for their use of the words, “on your corporate rate.” They know I made the reservation trough a corporate travel agency. “Your corporate rate” is meant to imply that your company has agreed to the price. They haven’t. That’s the price Avis is offering to charge your company, and not necessarily discounted.

They handed me the barely discernible, used-up ink ribboned, dot matrix printout with, “initial here, here, here and here and sign here,” but I didn’t notice anything about a rate. It certainly wasn’t told to me. I assumed, perhaps naively, that when my travel preferences explicitly state, “small to midsize” and quote a specific price when I make a reservation, that’s what I’ll get. No one at the airport asks me, “I have a first class seat available…?” when I get my boarding pass.

Yes, yes, caveat emptor, and I should check what I’m paying before I sign, but I already agreed to one price, so unless someone specifically says, “this is more,” then that’s all I should pay. They did say (this time) a particular car was more, but to that option I said, no. Without being told, upfront, before I say, OK, what the price of the other option is, I have to assume it’s what I agreed to.

Not that I’m paying for it. I’m expensing the car. I just don’t want the people whose corporate pockets the cost is coming out of coming by my office, jabbing their finger at my credit card statement, going, “explain this!” I’m sure I can manage a good, “b’wah…?” and reiterate the above. They’ve been letting me slide on my two beers with dinner (expensing alcohol is verboten) so I’m hoping they’ll let this go, too.

Now we come to the little exercise I like to call, “Insert tab A into slot B.” When was the last time you got into a car that came with instructions? OK, technically they all come with instructions, but when have you ever felt it necessary to read them? These are the keys that were in the car (broken ring hole, tape and all):

First, why do car rental agencies feel it necessary to give you two keys, then insist on bolting them together? What am I supposed to do with the second key? Use it when some distempered valet snaps the other one off in the lock?

Turns out, I don’t know what to do with either key. They slide into the ignition, but that appears to be all they do. They slide so far into the ignition, with the head of the key so small, that I can just barely get my fingers in there to try to turn them. I don’t try to twist too hard for fear of snapping them off or lacerating my fingers on the edges.

To that point, I’ve seen keys like this before – small, hideaway ones that slide into the remote fob. I’ve assumed they were there in case the remote battery died, so you could still open the door. These slide into the ignition, but so far that you can’t turn them, so now I’m looking all over the interior for a start button, something other than the familiar turning key that’s so much a given they’re on my son’s baby toys.

I shine a light into the ignition socket, and then I take another look at the key fob. That’s when I remember that the point of most technological “innovation” is to be capricious and unnecessary. (Technology for its own sake, adding complication to simplicity because it’s kewl.) And it dawns on me – the plug-shaped fob is the key. I jam it into the socket and twist and voilá, it starts up.

If two keys is mockingly unnecessary, then two keys that don’t work, bolted onto something that doesn’t look like a key but is, is just fucking with me.

For this I paid extra.

Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 8:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Quiznos can suck my ass

“Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm, mmmm, zzzzzzz…..”

Right through the security screening at Chicago O’Hare (which I got through with one of those dangerous, deadly bottles of water in my bag – forgot it was there, but noticed my bags on the x-ray screen as the screener’s back was turned to it to talk to the “security” person behind him – your tax dullards at work, don’t you feel safe now?) is tiny Quiznos sub stand.

Long story short: the timestamp on my reciept is 1:19PM, my order number is 86. I realize how much of an error I’ve made when, waiting in a crowd of other people still waiting for their sandwiches, they’re still calling numbers in the 70’s.

There’s three people working behind the counter – one person ringing up sales as fast as people queue up on line, one person making sandwiches as fast as she cares to make them, and another handing them out as fast as they roll out of the oven (i.e. not very).

Some 15 minutes later, and they’re calling numbers in the low 80’s, and I think I might actually get to eat something before my flight. “84!” Soon, very soon. “85!” OK, any minute now.

Except now there’s a shift change for the person pulling the subs out of the oven. She leaves, and is out of sight before her replacement waddles (and I do mean waddles) into view. The replacement doesn’t look like she’s in a hurry to breathe (and appears to be using most of her mental capacity to remain doing so). There’s an empty wire rack from the last sub at the end of the oven conveyor, and it’s keeping the current sub from leaving the oven completely. So while the relief wrapper is punching in and slowly (I don’t think she bent her knees once) squeezing her oompa-loompa frame between the sandwich maker and the oven, I’m watching what I assume to be my sandwich (read on) approach cumbustion.

“87!”

“What about 86!” I bark, and am sumarily ignored.

It’s now more than 20 minutes past the time on my receipt. “90!” (they failed to call 88 or 89 as well) 20 minutes – this is lousy service on the season opener of Hell’s Kitchen. How long should I be expected to wait for a god-damned sandwich? They only have 4 or 5 kinds on the menu, so it’s not like I confused anyone with something unusual. It’s not like they do anything else.

I decided I wasn’t going to stand for such [dis]service and went back to the cashier and waited on line again to demand a refund. Of course there’s a form that had to be filled out. I’m asked to sign at the bottom, then, “sorry about that.” On the bottom it’s noted, “customer said they waited too long,” as the reason. (The man behind me asked, “what’s good here?” I told him another place down the terminal. When he laughed, I related the above and he heeded my advice.) She handed me back my original receipt, and that was it. I paid with a credit card, so there wasn’t anything necessarily to physically give me, but there was no button pushing on the register, either. We’ll see if it shows up on my statement in a week.

[Disclaimer: I do realize that the quality of service (or lack thereof) of this particular, possibly franchised, establishment may not be indicative of the level of service of the entire chain. I can recall eating at at least two other Quiznos before, and getting my food in a timely enough manner. I’ve also worked for a number of years in the retail food business, so please don’t try to tell me I should have been more respectful of the people who’re only taking whatever jobs are available to them and/or that perhaps I don’t understand the strains of the job.]

Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 2:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Air Fair 3: Return to the Ticket Counter

How was flying again? In a word: AAAAUUUUGGGGHHHH!!!!!

That’s not a word? How about this word: motherfucker.

Technically two words, but Merriam Webster says it’s one, defining it as a “generalized term of abuse.”

To give you an idea, I started writing this before most of it happened. The more I typed, it seemed the worse it got.

Due to time constraints, I can’t be so free with the airline or price this time. There’s not a whole lot that doesn’t leave too early the day before (the latest was at 7, I was working until 10) or arrive too late in the day the next day. A lot of those not only left obscenely early – 6-7 am – but had up to 4(!) hour layovers. (Flying due east to Wisconsin? You won’t mind a 3-hour stop in Georgia – because it’s on the way. You can walk around outside, in your winter coat.)

Have you ever flown before? On a plane? Ever watch with irritated bemusement when they start boarding, calling first class and people with special needs (same thing, I know), and some twitchy fuckers with refrigerator dollies for luggage crowd around the gate, like it’s the Wyoming land rush and someone’s suddenly going to yell, “go!” and they can race for the best seat – a seat which was assigned before they go there. They crowd right up to the rope, with postures that scream, “me? me now? now? me?” because they might call the rows in alphabetical instead of numerical order.

This may actually be the case now. See, I figured I’d be smart this time (ha!) and not opt for the middle seat near the front, nor over the wing, next to the engine. No, I grabbed the completely empty (at the time) row at the back of the plane (a little ways from the lavatory, of course). I should be in the first group to board. I print out my boarding passes, which have a big number “4” on them.

Apparently United – whom I’ve now flown for the last time (or at least attempted to, read on) – shuffles everybody around, and boards by these numbers which, as far as I could tell, don’t correspond to anything. People who boarded with the 1’s were sitting near me, and some other 4’s were sitting near the front. If it works for them, so be it. Just bolloxes up my cunning plan.

I can still hear George Carlin voicing over my son’s Thomas the Tank Engine DVD’s: “Then, there was trouble.”

Seems there’s a hydraulic problem with one of the wings. (Don’t hydraulics have to do with water? If we’re flying in the air, why is this a problem?) By 6:30 (6 am departure, been there since 5, up since 3:30) I’m waiting in the (now) long line at the gate, trying to get rebooked so I can make it to Chez Cheese before my press runs, if not my connecting flight.

Verizon is connecting me to United customer (dis)service – or so they say, before hanging up on me. I manage to get through, and button mash my way to an agent. Let’s just say that my company’s java-laiden flight booker in my old browser on my older system works faster than this guy. Turns out there’s not so many flights – at least on United

He tells me the next flight out doesn’t leave until 8:30. The next connecting flight gets me in at 2:30 – which, accounting for time zones is really 3:30. There were other flights, direct or connecting through other cities that would have gotten me there earlier, but they all leave around 6, so they’re gone now. How terribly efficient.

When I tell him to book me a flight on another airline, he tells me, “that’s not possible.” Never mind that I can hear the gate agent booking people on Continental.

The pilot had said he didn’t expect the issue to be solved for at least another 45 minutes at the earliest, and that it didn’t look good. Chucklehead on the phone says, “it looks here like your flight is scheduled to depart at 7:15 (riiiight), so perhaps that’s your best bet.” I wouldn’t make my scheduled connection, but I’m booked on the flight after, which is still early enough.

Are there still seats available on the 8:30? Oh, yes, he says, plenty of seats. “Plenty” of seats? Or “a lot” of seats? “I’m showing a lot of seats still open.” I figure I can rebook if I have to if the plane isn’t fixed presently.

…which, of course, is as soon as I get off the phone. Everyone get your stuff, we’re deplaning now. (and now I have Hervé Villechaize in my head again.)

Oh, and that 8:30? Now sold out.

Don’t feel sorry for me. There were a lot of kids on this plane. The mere ordeal of flying was already causing some of them to melt down. This kind of stuff is torture to them. One child, who couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old, was managing to sleep through it all. Pity her parents, who have to lug around all the stuff that comes with traveling with children. If you think it’s hard to go through this, go through this with children who’re going through it, too.

One thing did manage to brighten my morning. A cute little tyke, jumping up and down and squealing a happy squeal in the carrier her mom wore over her chest. I smiled. I caught her mother’s eye and said, “I love kids.”

Surprised, she said, “you do?”

“Yes,” I said, “they’re delicious.”

Waiting in line again, I get on the phone with my corporate travel office – which is only open during business hours (it’s 7 am on Saturday). Still, I get through to someone. They rebook me on a Midwest flight (official airline of the Milwaukee Brewers, thank you very much, and that cookie they serve during the flight – mmm…), leaving around 11:30, but still getting in just under the wire. I’m told to have the United gate agent print me a ticket. The agent, after waving his hands that he didn’t rebook it so he can’t verify that I have a seat, blah, blah, he prints out what looks like a ticket and a receipt. He then tears up my original boarding passes, so now this is the only proof I have that I’ve paid for any flight at all.

It was not a boarding pass, which I thought, but which the TSA agent kindly informed me. I need to check in at the ticket counter. (This is why I check in online and print my boarding passes.)

Only there’s no one at the ticket counter. First, the Midwest counter is at the complete, opposite end of the terminal – the very last one, in fact. And it’s closed. (Why would it be open? They don’t have any planes leaving for hours yet.) And while even AirTran has dozens of self-serv kiosks, Midwest has one, sad, unattended counter. So I get to start writing this post, for an hour, before it’s staffed again.

“Then, there was trouble.”

Turns out the paper I have isn’t a boarding pass, nor is it a ticket. It’s got a whole bunch of numbers and codes on it that say, “he was ours, he’s your problem now.” The agent tells me I need a ticket to check in. So she sends me over to the United counter – at the other end of the terminal – to get a ticket.

This counter is staffed – though the staff insist I can use the self-serv kiosk. I’m belligerent enough that they take a look at my stuff, and they can’t understand why the gate agent didn’t print the ticket out. Here you go, no problem.

Back to the Midwest counter.

“Then, there was trouble.”

The agent says she can’t give me a boarding pass, because she needs to attach it to a ticket. Now, I just handed her what looked and felt like an airline ticket, and it was stapled to my other paperwork, so I’m befuddled.

See, there’s a ticket number, but at the top it says, “e-ticket.” Apparently this means it ceases to be made of paper. And, being electronic, you can’t actually staple a boarding pass… to the paper… with “e-ticket” written on it.

I consider suggesting writing “put me on a friggin’ plane, you dolt” across the top, but deign to listen to her tell me it’s the system that won’t allow her to do it.

So she sends me back to the United counter.

At the other end of the terminal.

Still carrying my bags.

The United staff share my “are you a freakin’ idiot?” moment and write me a “do this” note to take back.

Now I can has barding pasz. One with “SSSS” written all over it. It apparently stands for “Super Secret Special Screening.” Because, before, when I booked my flight myself, I was OK. But now that they’ve canceled my flight and I’ve been standing around the airport for hours, now I’m a security risk. I’ve been through security once already, and I haven’t left the airport, but now I might be carrying a bomb.

Which, come to think of it, doesn’t seem that far fetched. Though I’d be more inclined to bomb the useless plane I kicked off than the one that might actually take me where I’m going. I just hope they don’t put the toddlers through this.

(I should note that the very polite gentleman who checked all my stuff, explaining that it’s common to be “selected” in cases of canceled flights, who was using his high tech gadgets to detect microscopic traces of explosive components on my laptop, was a bit awestruck at the discovery of my Bluetooth headset. He hadn’t seen anything like it before. Way to keep up with technology.)

It’s OK. I’ve got nothing on me that would warrant a FBCS (figure it out). And I’ve got hours before my plane leaves. Take your time. I should be able to get to the press just in time.

(I’ll point out that I got to the press, went to my hotel, finished writing most of this, watched a movie, went to bed… and then went to approve the color on press, 11 hours later. Again, don’t feel bad for me. I keep thinking about my 2-yr-old son, who woke up looking for daddy. When he told me on the phone, “I want to go to the airport, too,” he still could have.)

The Midwest ticket agent asked me if I would be willing to accept sitting in an exit row (“sorry, that’s all I have available”) – oh, hell yeah. “Willing to accept” extra legroom? Are you kidding?

Except when you’re sitting next to someone who’s booked the exit row because they need the extra room. The shoulders of the linebacker sitting next to me extended into my headrest. I spent the trip leaning out into the aisle.

Still, I managed to sleep. Except for when I kept getting hit by the drink trolly.

That cookie was pretty good.

Published in: on November 25, 2008 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

EULA-sive signal: there’s no such thing as a free wi-fi

Like every other person with a laptop, I’m trying to get some work done while I wait for my plane. (real work, not this blog.) That work requires internet access. Like every other traveler who travels infrequently enough to not warrant a wireless broadband card, I’m lamenting having to pay through the nose for the same wi-fi access I can get free with a cup of coffee, or by merely sitting in the park.

The service is provided by Boingo. My choices are $5 for one hour, or $8 for 24 hours. The later would seem a bargain, if you expect to be waiting a while or, like me, will have a layover in Detroit for an hour and a half (see below). But wait! For $9.95* you can get service for a whole month! (* for 3 months, after which it’s $22/month.)

These are called “teaser rates” (yes, like the one on your mortgage) or a form of low-balling. Low-balling is a sales technique where they get you to agree to a low price, so you start to consider the item yours already, then they raise the price, sometimes incrementally, a little at a time. Emotionally you want the item, and you (in your mind) have already made it yours, so a couple bucks more isn’t going to dissuade you from your purchase – you’re a fish on a hook now, and you’re not going to walk away.

This is a typical car dealer tactic – they “cut” the sticker price, for you, ‘cus you’re nice, and they really want to sell it, and you really want to buy it, right? As you sit down to sign the paperwork, the sales person steps out to have a cigarette “talk to his boss,” who unfortunately tells him he “can’t sell it at that price,” but “let’s see what we can do.” Then back out for some coffee to haggle with the boss, on your behalf, and they “come to a compromise” on the price – which is a lot more than you agreed to pay.

Then they start tacking on the “extras,” or stuff you thought came with the car because, you know, it’s on the one you looked at. (“Oh, no, that one sells for the sticker price. The price you agreed to is for a different car – one without a radio.”)

Teasers are not like Leaders, which are sometimes ridiculously low prices, just to get you interested in buying something enough to get you into the store. Because if Leaders are like the price for regular gas (87 octane), then Teasers are Super (89), as compared to Premium (91), or the price of a medium soda at the theater (there is no small, so what’s it in the middle of?) compared to the large. The difference in price is nominal, so since you’ve mentally agreed to the price point, why not get the much better/bigger item? Why buy 16 oz. of crap your body doesn’t want or need (for half the price of the ticket), when “for just .35¢ more” you can have 32 oz? You’re going to get your money’s worth, dammit. (and do the peepee dance all through the third act of the film, because you have a 28 oz. bladder.)

I’m in an airport at most 2 times, every other month – usually much less. (And I usually plan it so I’m waiting less than an hour.) If I wanted unlimited wireless internet access for, say, my phone, it wouldn’t cost me $22/month. This is for the desperate, not those with legitimate need.

But as it’s only $10/month for the first 3, perhaps I can just sign up, then cancel. Canceling should be easy, right?

From the End User License Agreement:

Can I cancel my subscription?

1. Once your order is finalised, you cannot cancel it before the end of the subscription period you have requested, unless our service is not in accordance with this Agreement and that entitles you under normal legal rules to terminate your order.
2. You can prevent your subscription automatically renewing for a further period by notifying us before your present subscription ends in accordance with clause 15.1. [emphasis mine]

So, you have to request a cancellation before the subscription ends, but you’re not actually allowed to cancel it at that time. This, I suspect, is what ropes people into fraudulently-named “free” credit reports and Girls Gone Wild videos. See, you have to make the request in writing. Their address is prominently displayed – at the bottom of the EULA, which you can see while you’re inside any airport they service.

(My plane boarded rather soon after, so all ended up doing was starting to write this post.)

On to the layover in Detroit. After deplaning (and I always hear Hervé Villachaize saying that), I find out my connecting flight is the same friggin’ plane I was just on. Though my stuff is safer with me than alone with the cleaning crew, I’m lugging it around the terminal now. One moving walkway away, I notice the Online Cafe, with people with laptops and little terminals at some of the booths. Perfect – I really do need to touch base with the office.

Ordering [second] breakfast, I’m now a paying customer of the Online Cafe. “I can has free wi-fi nau?” “No, not yours.” It’s $5 for 15 minutes (because who sits and eats longer than that?), but for only a few dollars more you get it for longer than you plan on being there. Fabulous. I’m expensing it, anyway.

(And I really did appreciate the waitress, very discreetly at the top of her lungs, announcing my login and password to the rest of the terminal. I’m the only one authorized to use it, so it’s safe.)

Published in: on October 24, 2008 at 2:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Air Fair 2: Dyspeptic Bugaboo – TSA rules hard to swallow

I’m a fan of BoingBoing.net. They have several ongoing threads regarding the current state of the Security Theater™ under the oppression of which we now live. Among the heart-rending stories of children being forcibly removed from planes and grandmothers being accused of paedophilia for taking pictures of empty playgrounds, are numerous stories about the malfeasance that is the TSA. One of the more recent is the TSA employee who managed to walk out of Newark “Liberty” (ha!) International with a couple hundred thousand dollars of high-end electronics (cameras, laptops, GPS’s) from passengers’ bags over the course of (at least) several months, with not even the TSA noticing.

So, I’m flying out of Newark this trip. Didn’t have any issues this time (unlike others, see below). I even went through with the Swiss Army nail clipper that I had meant to take out of my bag. (it doesn’t have a knife, but the nail file is rather pointy. and then there’s that miniature screw driver…) After reading all the stories of people having things like nail clippers confiscated, I was surprised to find it there later. Either they’re allowing people to trim their nails on planes now, or they just didn’t notice. Past experience would suggest the later, but since they did find the two 1 oz. bottles of shampoo and conditioner I saved from the hotel’s refuse on the return trip, I have to assume they saw it and let it go.

Do you know what else they’re apparently allowing on planes now? Knitting needles.

Knitting fucking needles.

Yeah, I know, you can’t really see them in the shot, but trust me, that old lady was pearling two while I was trying to surreptitiously snap a pic with my phone. I was wary of being frog marched off the plane for the “suspicious act” of taking a picture. Because only terrorists use cameras and only little old ladies use 8-inch metal spikes. On planes.

They’re apparently also exempt from the “please put all carry-on items under the seat in front of you” rule. You put the loose stuff that’s not tied down under the seat so that it doesn’t fly across the plane in an accident. The damage you’d take from the “rapid deceleration trauma” of the plane suddenly meeting concrete isn’t made any better by metal spikes suddenly meeting the back of your head.

(I probably would have let it go in this case, too, as where she was sitting they would likely only fly through first class.)

Bruce Schneier [Schneier.com] is my hero. I’ve read many articles and blog posts written by him in the realm of computer security. His expertise is not limited to mere computers but encompasses Security in general. He should be granted sainthood. He contributed to an Atlantic Monthly article recently [“The Things He Carried”] which showed just how easily airport security [theater] can be circumvented. If you think a bunch of near minimum wage, marginally educated, authority abusing, blue-shirted baggage [mis]handlers are keeping you safer, you need to read this article.

And if you think it the height of irresponsibility to show just how easy it is to create a fake boarding pass, walk right around things like no-fly lists, with prohibited items in your pockets, consider this: I used to share your opinion.

I once considered it morally and ethically reprehensible that someone would publish ways of circumventing the things that keep us safer. A number of things changed my mind. One, of course, was Mr. Schneier. Another was the book Little Brother by BoingBoing contributer Cory Doctorow. They caused me to see the instructions on how to defeat most padlocks with a soda can in a new light.

You buy locks to keep your things yours. You now know that a great many people know how to walk right through that lock like it’s not there. After you get over the initial fear that nothing is safe anymore, you go out and buy a new, functional lock. And that makes you safer.

My mother lives in a “gated” community. I say that in quotes because the “gate” is operated by people who are not working for the TSA, for what ever reason, and can be walked right around – and frequently is. When you pull up and say, “hi, I’m here to see my mom,” they ask, “do you have the number?” being too lazy to look it up. (I’m only assuming laziness – there could be other reasons they might not be willing or able to discern the numbers and their order in a book.)

“Sure,” I say, “it’s [my wife’s cell phone number].” My wife, sitting next to me, answers the ringing phone in her hand when the “guard” calls and says, “OK, let them in.”

Did I harm anyone (besides the gate operator’s feelings)? Did I point out a flaw in the system? If you live there, do you feel safer knowing this? Do you really think no one of criminal intent has already found – and possibly already exploited – this flaw? Should you chastise me for pointing it out to everyone (put the keyboard down, mom) or should you find a way to fix it?

Not only are the TSA’s rules seemingly arbitrary, they’re capriciously enforced. (big “DUH!” if you’ve flown recently.)

  • My wife and I are waiting on the security line to board a plane. I take from her hand, by mistake (because I would never purposefully try to create a stir that could get me arrested), her ticket and passport. Handing them to the agent who took enough time from talking his buddy to hold out his hands, he looks them up and down, determines they’re valid, and hands them back to me all without looking at my face. Many men have feminine-sounding first names, and it’s possible dye one’s hair from blond (in the photo) to brown (mine) or vice-versa, but the scruffy, unshaven man holding the boarding pass is decidedly not female.
  • I’m flying out of Newark, not long after one guy tries (and fails) to light the shoelace fuse on his shoe bombs. Everyone now has to take of their shoes. On the return trip from a, shall we say, less urban airport, I ask, “do I have to take my [boots that lace all the way up past my ankles] off?” “Nah, g’head.” So, is rural America safe from us big city folk, but not the other way around? Wait…
  • Coming back again from said not-so-urban-but-then-I’m-an-east-coast-elitist airport, Sheriff J.W. Pepper pulls my bag aside. “Is this your bag, sir?” I’m expecting a world of crap for the rat’s nest of cables and wires for all of the electronics I’m carrying. Pulling items from my bag, he takes the time to remind me that all liquids must be carried in a sealable, zippered, clear plastic bag. He then proceeds to take my toiletries from the zippered, clear plastic bag that came with my luggage, and so doesn’t say “Ziploc” on it.
         When I foolishly attempted to argue with the double-digit IQ that was detaining me, saying, “I flew out of New York with everything like that,” he says, “New York is a very busy area; they don’t take security as seriously as we do here.” Truth be told, no one’s crashed a plane into anything near there recently. (And then there’s those knitting needles…)
         After my dangerous toothpaste was secured in a provided baggie, we all became safer and could fly again. I proceeded down the end of the corridor to put my shoes back on, and my deodorant et al. back into my toiletry bag, in full view of TSA personel. (because real terrorists are not able to get into plastic bags, once they’re sealed.)
         In case you were wondering, the only thing this policy keeps safe is your shirt, when the change in cabin pressure makes things like shampoo bottles pop open and drip down out of the overhead. But then perhaps you should be threatened with arrest for being inconsiderate and careless.

As Schneier points out in the Atlantic Monthly article, even when it works, it only keeps you safe from the stupid terrorists.

  • On another trip, I headed to the automated check in kiosk, instead of the attended but otherwise vacant ticket counter. Attempting to get my boarding pass, I was asked for the credit card on which it was purchased – a corporate card, which I don’t have. Next choice was scanning my passport, which I didn’t bring for a domestic flight, then my driver’s license, which didn’t cooperate. Typing in the confirmation number manually produced no results, so it was off to the ticket counter. They were very friendly (really) helping check in the man with only basic ID, without the card under which the ticket was purchased, who attempted to get a boarding pass with no human interaction and failed. It was when I was going through the security check that I noticed the “OOO” on my boarding pass (when the person checking my ID highlighted it).
         Singled out for “additional screening,” I waited for someone to go through my bag and wipe my laptop with one of those papers that turns blue or something when you’re pregnant or there’s explosives inside. Unfortunately it was lunch time, so no one was available, except the supervisor (I think) who x-rayed my bag. He said, since he’s the one who x-rayed it, he’s not supposed to be the one to check manually. This makes perfect sense. He was very apologetic, admitting how silly it was that he had to be the one to look through everything, since he just looked through it on a screen.

The bomb only needs to get through once. If anyone really meant us harm, how many times would they attempt to get truly hazardous things like beer past security, when the worst that happens is they get turned away? 100? 1000? At how many different airports? No amount of Dramamine® can help the sick feeling in your stomach that should cause.

Published in: on October 24, 2008 at 1:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Air Fair: Adventures in air travel, cont.

Ah, yes, another blog post griping about air travel. It’s a lot like the weather, in that everyone complains about it, but most of us feel powerless to do anything other than check the internet frequently for updates to its status.

Where to begin? The beginning, of course, and that would be the Booking phase.

So I’m going through my company’s corporate travel site, as I’m required to, to make my near monthly, last-minute flight reservation to Wisconsin (or as I like to call it, Chez Cheese). As is my custom, I skip right past the Deltas and the AirTrans (are they still in business?) and head straight for the Continentals. I like Continental – never had a problem, and check-in is a breeze as I can do it from my cell phone the day before, with my boarding pass sent straight to the phone.

$1300+change. Ouch. But, it’s last-minute, right?

Our corporate travel policy makes the system spit back some alternate flights with lower fares. Fair enough, let’s save money if we can. One flight on Northwest, leaving at the same time, is $400+change. Like the Continental, there’s a layover in Detroit for an hour and a half, at the same time, landing in Milwaukee at the same time. That’s when I notice the “operated by Northwest” on the Continental flight. Yes, they are one and the same plane – at three times the price. They’re both Coach, the only difference is the Class code (more on that later).

Now, I’m all for saving the company money, and I don’t need someone in the travel office asking me why I paid three times as much for the same plane, but dammit, Continental is where all my frequent flier miles are.

This is where I start to do the math. It’s the same flight out, but different flights back. If I use the NWA return on the Cont. (say that out loud) departure, the price goes up, because technically it’s mixed carriers, even though it’s the same goddamned plane. So I try different options to attempt to figure out the NWA price for the same seat Cont. is charging me. I come to the conclusion that it’s capricious and arbitrary.

So I call, and ask the Cont. Customer Service rep if they can do better on the price, seeing as it’s the same plane and all. No. You see, even though it’s the same coach seats on the same plane, same flight attendants, same room for baggage, there’s those different classes – those determine the fare. With everything else being equal, what’s the difference? The Elite Status frequent flier miles granted. (turns out NWA is a Cont. partner, and they share miles.)

Turns out the Cont. airfare is three times more because it comes with an extra 50% of frequent flier miles towards achieving Elite Status. (remember that “Status” thing for later.) For the algebraically-challenged, that’s $400 for 500 miles or $1300 for 750 – one and a half times the miles, 3 times the price. As I type this, it occurs to me that I could have booked two flights on NWA (still less) and gotten two times the miles (more) – plus a lot more leg room. This is something I’ll be sure to bring up to a booking agent.

Not seeing a way to make more miles for me sound like a bargain for the company, I go back and book a flight on NWA, 6 AM to Milwaukee, stopping in Detroit, which is now, the next day, curiously only $260.

Shortly, my wife calls. “Did you mean to fly out of LaGuardia?” Shit. Back to the site, cancel the flight, start the whole thing over again. Only now when I select the Cont. flight (now $1600, thank you), it says, “OK, paid, thanks.” So much for that list of cheaper alternates I was expecting (I swear).

Remember all those reasons I said I liked Cont.? Gone. Not only can’t I pick my seat, I can’t check in for the “partner” flight online. So why exactly am I booking the flight through you, Cont.? The privilege of paying more money per mile?

So it looks like I’m a NWA flier now. I singed up for their program when I went to their site to get my boarding pass.

Remember all those “extra” Elite Status miles I’m getting for the Cont. price? Miles that, eventually, when you accumulate enough, you can redeem for things like First Class upgrades? NWA offers to upgrade me to First for $115. Yeah – one hundred fifteen dollars. In the end, instead of paying $500 for a First Class $400 flight, I pay $1600 for a $400 coach flight with an extra 250 miles that, someday, maybe, with a whole lot more miles, I may try to use to get an upgrade.

Epilogue: while I’m waiting in line to board the plane – general boarding, all rows, all seats – some guy comes up and says he has a First Class ticket and, because he missed the earlier announcement, he should get in front of me. I’d like to think that, had I not been up since 4 AM, I would have thought of something clever to say. I stepped past him.

Published in: on October 20, 2008 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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